ORCHARD PARK, NY — The Cincinnati Bengals return to the AFC Championship game.
The conference champions showed why they could be the best team in the AFC for a second straight season by beating the Buffalo Bills 27-10 in the divisional round to secure another title win against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Sunday’s game in Buffalo was Cincinnati’s best playoff performance in the past two years, including its run to the Super Bowl last season. This was another indicator that the Bengals’ team is better this season than the team that lost 23-20 to the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI last February.
Cincinnati never got a chance to stake their claim as the AFC’s top seed during the regular season. But the Bengals underlined their merits in Buffalo.
Worrying trend: Cincinnati has concerns about the future of its offensive line. Bengals center Ted Karras appeared to be recovering from an undisclosed injury during the game. The television broadcast indicated that Karras had a problem with his right knee, but he fought his way through to finish the game. The Bengals can’t afford to lose any more offensive linemen. Cincinnati started Sunday’s division game with three reserves. If Karras also goes down, rookie left guard Cordell Volson remains the only week one starter in the unit. There is some consolation for Cincinnati’s offensive line, however. Even with the backups in the crease, the Bengals ran the ball effectively and did a good job protecting Joe Burrow throughout the game.
QB collapse: This was one of the best playoff performances of Burrow’s young career. He was 23 of 36 for 242 yards and two touchdowns and completed his first nine passes of the game. Even some of the incompletions, including a potential touchdown throw against Ja’Marr Chase that was annulled, were impressive. Burrow took bottom shots when available and tried to get yards when needed. He also passed Ken Anderson for the most postseason passing yards in franchise history and helped Cincinnati maintain a comfortable lead over Buffalo for most of the game.
Describe the game in two words: Dominant performance. Cincinnati hit the road with reserves along the offensive line in snowy conditions and never looked troubled against the Bills. According to Caesars Sportsbook, the Bengals were six-point underdogs in the hours leading up to kickoff. In one of the roughest environments in the NFL, the defending AFC champion showed why he’s just one game away from making a Super Bowl return.
Knowing underestimated statistics: With the Buffalo defense determined not to allow Cincinnati big plays, maintaining offensive attacks was essential to the Bengals’ success. Cincinnati converted five of their first eight third-downs, which played a big part in the team’s ability to play with a lead. The Bengals had 30 first downs in the game. — ben baby
Next game: at Chiefs (6:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 29)
There wasn’t a moment or a game that ended the Bills’ season. Instead, the Bills were overplayed from start to finish at all three stages, ending a season that started so promisingly – as Super Bowl favorites – in overwhelming fashion.
The team’s first home playoff loss under coach Sean McDermott highlighted the weaknesses the Bills had struggled with all season.
The defense was unable to capitalize on an injured offensive line, while the Bills’ offense couldn’t consistently build drives, seemed out of sync, and was overwhelmed with frequent errors. Quarterback Josh Allen didn’t turn the ball over until late in the game, as has been a problem for Buffalo of late, but didn’t seem comfortable behind a struggling offensive line all game. Once again, wide receiver Stefon Diggs couldn’t fit into the schedule consistently and ended up with four receptions on 10 targets.
While the defense struggled with injuries, the unit had no response to slow Burrow and the Bengals paced with ease.
On the grandest of stages, a team that had the Super Bowl as a clear end goal seemed far from it, almost unprepared at the moment.
The Bills now go into the offseason with a variety of questions to answer, including key free agent decisions on defense, needed help on offense and wide receiver, and question marks about the team’s defensive approach.
Worrying trend: Fighting the Bills’ line of defense. Against an offensive line missing two starters, the Bills’ defensive line struggled to control the line of scrimmage. In the first half, the Bengals gained 275 yards, the most yards the Bills have conceded in both halves this season, with 90 of them being on the ground. It was the second-most rushing yards the Bengals had before halftime this season, and more than the first half in all four previous games combined. Burrow was released only once and pressured on seven dropbacks. While the Bills were absent from starting defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, the inability to generate a pass rush or stop running play is a concern for a group the Bills have invested so heavily in in recent years.
Biggest hole on the board: The entire offensive game plan. There’s no excuse for how a healthy offense by the Bills has fared against the Bengals. An early 14-0 deficit didn’t help, but the Bills were plagued with poor play, from playcalling to the offensive line that didn’t give Allen enough time to get thrown off wide receivers. The bills failed to take advantage of Allen’s ability to muddle; He was limited to an out-of-pocket pass on three attempts in the first three quarters. The Bills’ offensive line weakness was on full display and the unit just didn’t look in sync. — Alain Getzenberg
Knowing underestimated statistics: The Bills are 1-6 (single win: Jan. 9, 2021, v. Colts) in their playoff history if their opponent doesn’t turnover, which the Bengals haven’t. The Chiefs didn’t turn the ball over in last year’s Divisional Playoff matchup.
https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/35504113/bengals-shut-josh-allen-bills-set-afc-title-game-rematch-chiefs Bengals shut down Josh Allen, Bills to set up AFC title game rematch with Chiefs