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Five Things To Watch: Bengals vs. Bills

LB Logan Wilson celebrates during the Seahawks-Bengals game on Sunday, October 15 in Week 6 of the 2023 season.
LB Logan Wilson celebrates during the Seahawks-Bengals game on Sunday, October 15 in Week 6 of the 2023 season.

The Bengals take on the Buffalo Bills in a prime-time showdown Sunday night at Paycor Stadium. The game airs at 8:20 p.m. on NBC. Here are five things to watch:

1. Joe vs. Josh

Sunday night's game features a clash of two of the AFC's top quarterbacks in Joe Burrow and Josh Allen. Both stars have guided a top-10 ranked passing offense in each of the past two seasons while also showcasing an ability to create plays with their legs. Allen this season leads the league with 22 total touchdowns (17 passing, five rushing), and Burrow is coming off a season-high 43 rushing yards in Week 8 at San Francisco.

Burrow claimed his sixth career AFC Offensive Player of the Week award for his performance against the 49ers that saw him complete 87.5 percent of his passes (28 of 32) for 283 yards and three touchdowns. He is set to make his 50th career start on Sunday night versus a Bills defense that he notably picked apart in January's Divisional Playoff. In that game, Burrow started nine-for-nine and had a pair of touchdown throws on Cincinnati's first two drives to quickly silence the Highmark Stadium crowd.

Though Sunday's matchup boasts two AFC contenders that pride themselves on being complete in all three phases, it may come down to which Pro Bowl quarterback can make more plays in key moments.

2. Wilson, defense look for more takeaways

The Bengals and Bills both have benefited from opportunistic defenses that can flip a game, as Buffalo this season is tied for the third most takeaways leaguewide (14) while Cincinnati is tied for fifth (13). Lou Anarumo's group forced three turnovers in the second half at San Francisco, highlighted by the underrated linebacker duo of Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson each coming up with an interception.

It was the third pick of the season for Wilson and the 10th of his career, the most by any linebacker since he entered the league in 2020. He now prepares for a familiar face in Allen, who he spent three years with as teammates at the University of Wyoming. Allen has thrown an interception in each of the Bills' last four games, and his three fumbles this season all have come during Buffalo losses. If Wilson and his defensive teammates can continue their knack for taking the ball away, the Bengals' offense could find itself with advantageous field position.

Cincinnati additionally has a tendency of forcing late-game turnovers that have helped either seal a win or give the offense chances to climb back in. Since the start of the 2022 season, the Bengals in the fourth quarter of games have the fourth most fumble recoveries (seven) and 10th most interceptions (eight) in the NFL. In that same span, Allen has six fourth-quarter interceptions, tied for the fourth most leaguewide.

3. Offense starting fast

Part of Cincinnati's offensive success in recent weeks can be traced back to its fast starts. The Bengals have scored a touchdown on their opening possession in three straight games for the first time since the 2016 season, and Burrow and company have been able to carry that momentum forward following early success.

The Bengals have scored 31 points in the first quarter over their past three contests, the second most in the NFL since Week 5 — even with their Week 7 bye. Cincinnati is 3-0 on the year when leading at halftime, and 4-0 when holding a lead going into the fourth quarter.

Conversely, Buffalo has scored three first-quarter points since Week 5 and is 2-2 this season when its opponent opens the scoring. The Bills have totaled 111 points when leading, good for seventh in the NFL, but their 65 points when trailing a game ranks 21st. If the Bengals can once again get out to a hot start and put points on the board early, the recent trends suggest it would go a long way toward a prime-time win.

4. Run game encore

The Bengals' rushing attack had its most efficient outing of the season last week, netting a season-best 172 yards on 5.1 per carry. Joe Mixon led the way with 87 on the ground, including a 20-yarder that helped set up a first-quarter touchdown and then his own five-yard score that put the game away late.

This week, Mixon and the Cincinnati offense take on a Buffalo defense that allows 122 rushing yards per game (22nd in NFL) and 5.1 per carry (31st). Couple that with Burrow appearing as mobile as he has all season at San Francisco, and the Bengals may find opportunities to pick up chunk plays in the run game.

5. Young secondary faces tall task

Cincinnati's young secondary members consisting of Cam Taylor-Britt, DJ Turner II and Dax Hill have impressed through seven games, but Sunday night presents possibly their most difficult assignment yet. Buffalo leans on the NFL's fourth-ranked passing offense (263.8) that, in addition to a lively Allen arm, features three-time Pro Bowl Stefon Diggs and deep threat Gabe Davis as outside receivers.

Through eight weeks, Diggs is in the top five in the league in receptions (first), receiving yards (fourth) and receiving touchdowns (third). Davis, meanwhile, averages 14 yards per catch and his five receiving scores are tied for sixth most among all players.

The Bengals could benefit from Taylor-Britt showing the same effectiveness that he did in the Divisional Playoff, when he helped hold Diggs to just four grabs on 10 targets (35 yards). The second-year cornerback paces Cincinnati this season with six passes defensed and has two picks in the past three games.

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