No one is getting a bigger kick out of this game than Bills radio color analyst Eric Wood.
No, when Wood settles into the Paycor Stadium booth next to legendary play-by-play man John Murphy for Monday night's game against the Bengals (8:30-ESPN and Cincinnati's Channel 9) he won't be wearing any of the three Bengals jerseys still hanging in his closet.
Takeo Spikes. Justin Smith. Carson Palmer.
Also a big fan of Marvin Lewis, who began coaching the Bengals when Wood was playing his final season at Cincinnati's Elder High School, you can also forget the "In Marvin We Trust," T-Shirt he once had, too.
"In our house," Wood says, "we say the Bills pay the bills. We root for them at all cost."
Wood grew up Cincinnati but has become a Buffalo staple. After playing a few games in Paycor for Elder, he went to Louisville and came out a first-round pick in 2009 for the Bills. He started 120 steel-belted games at center during nine seasons and was an anchor for head coach Sean McDermott's re-building project.
With McDermott heading in here Monday with three straight AFC East titles, now's a good to time recall that Wood's last NFL game came in McDermott's first post-season game and was courtesy of Bengals slot receiver Tyler Boyd's 49-yard fourth-and-12 touchdown in the regular season's final minute that beat the Ravens and broke Buffalo's 17-year playoff drought.
"I just think it's good for the NFL when teams like the Bengals and the Bills with very passionate loyal fan bases are good," Wood says. "It just feels like the NFL is better when you have teams like Buffalo and Cincinnati good and just led by perfect individuals at quarterback. The city of Buffalo couldn't love Josh Allen more and the city of Cincinnati couldn't love Joe Burrow more."
Wood, who lives in Louisville, has two kids, seven and almost five, and when a Bengals game is on and they ask if they can root for the Bengals (their grandparents do if the Bills aren't playing), he has to make sure it's not hurting the Bills.
"Last year there was a bitter taste. I was so looking forward to calling an AFC championship game with my hometown team coming to play my team," said Wood, who was 13 seconds away from doing just that until Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes snatched it away.
Wood played his final two seasons with Bengals assistant special teams coach Colt Anderson and around last year's playoffs was about the time Anderson's clothing line sent him some orange and black wear that didn't identify as Bengals but as Ohio.
"I wore it at the AFC championship game at my house and my buddies down here in Louisville rented out a bar for the Super Bowl and I wore it there," Wood says. "All my friends down here are die-hard Bengals fans. I'm working while they're all having fun, but I'm providing the transportation."
Wood says Monday night is going to come down like all the other closely matched NFL games.
"Show me the stat sheet with percentage of red-zone success and turnovers and I'll tell you who wins," Wood says. "A couple of plays. Right to the end."
PRO BOWL MATCH: Wood says his successor, Pro Bowl center Mitch Morse, has cleared concussion protocol and is back after missing last week. They both agree Bengals nose tackle DJ Reader ought to be in the Pro Bowl, too.
"DJ Reader is the best nose tackle in football," Wood says. "I know that's not a hot take by any means. The first time I watched him was in the Houston-Bills playoff game in 2019 and I talked to Mitch Morse and we both agreed even at that time he was probably the best nose tackle and he keeps getting better and better.
"He plays extremely hard. You often see those big nose guards get paid and they don't play quite as hard. The Bengals did their home wok on that one because that guy plays so hard up front."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Bengals kicker Evan McPherson kicked Thursday and Friday and hasn't changed his routine after last Saturday's struggles in icy New England. Last year's folk hero missed a 43-yard field goal and two extra points (one was wiped out by penalty) and Pats kicker Nick Folk missed two PATs in the same windy direction.
Since punter Drue Chrisman became his holder Nov. 20 in Pittsburgh, McPherson has missed three PATs (including the penalty). But that was his first field goal miss with Chrisman after he hit 11 straight.
"It's a little different, not much," said McPherson, who also has a new long snapper this season. "All it takes is repetition and a little more time. It's probably a little of that and me needing just to kick better and the conditions."
Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons isn't panicked, either, because McPherson has moved on to the next kick.
"We tracked every possible scenario through training camp, combinations of snappers and holders, and there was really no negligible difference between who was holding and who was snapping and his make percentage," Simmons said. "Obviously it's something that he's got to get solidified in his own mind. But that's not the issue. The issue is not the operation. He's the one who's got to make the kick. But, it does. And inevitably in the back of your mind, it is different. It's a different snapper and holder than it was a year ago. That's something he's got to fight through. That's not something that's physical. It's a mental thing he's got to fight through.
"Some guys you can deal with differently. Some guys you need to let it roll away or roll off and go onto the next one. Some guys I have a tendency to let it linger. And I've got to learn, and that's what I've tried to do with him. It's been successful so far. So it'll be the same form I try to stick with." …
Reader didn't practice Friday because of personal reasons … Edge Sam Hubbard (calf) went limited for the second straight day …