Cincinnati @ Buffalo
Recommended Wager: Cincy +4.5
Spread update: This one has moved slightly away from the model, with the Bills now being listed as 5.5 point favorites. 4.5 to 5.5 isn't a big movement since it doesn't touch any key numbers.
Keys to the game: The Bengals offense vs the Bills defense should be an exciting matchup - the Bengals offense is 4th in DVOA and 5th in EPA/play while the Bills defense is 4th in DVOA and 7th in EPA/play. Joe Burrow finished the season ranked 1st in PFF passing grades, 3rd in overall PFF grades among QBs, completed 68.5% of his passes, and gained 7.3 yards per attempt. Burrow's 2.1% turnover worthy play percentage -- a metric from PFF that measures how frequently you put the ball in harm's way (regardless of if it was intercepted) is 3rd best in the league. Stylistically, Burrow has favored shorter passes -- his average depth of target of 7.5 is 32nd highest in the league this season (among 41 qualifiers). His average time to throw of 2.49 seconds is 3rd fastest. That strategy should continue in this one -- the Bengals offensive line was already without RT La'el Collins (ACL) and now will be missing LT Jonah Williams (knee) and RG Alex Cappa (ankle). Williams struggled this season in pass protection, but Cappa was their best lineman this season. What's left is an offensive line that is one of the worst in football against an solid Bills pass rush, even without Von Miller. Edge rusher Gregory Rousseau is the scariest of the bunch, who's pass rush win rate of 20% is 14th best in the league. DT DaQuan Jones, DT Ed Oliver, DE Boogie Basham, and DE Shaq Lawson are all decent as pass rushers as well -- I wouldn't normally be too terrified of them, but given the state of the Bengals line, I'd expect them all to get their share of wins. Burrow's quick passing ideas won't be easy -- the Bills are better defensively against short passes (5th in DVOA) then deep passes (15th). Part of this is due to LBs Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds, both of whom excel in coverage. It should be no surprise that the Bills also excel at covering tight ends (1st in DVOA) and running backs as receivers (3rd). The Bengals advantage comes from their receivers against the Bills secondary -- everyone is already aware of the Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd trio, and they should outclass the Bills corners. Tre'Davious White is the best corner the Bills have -- he may be a household name, but he suffered a late season ACL injury in 2021 and wasn't able to return until week 12. Players notoriously do not return to their normal form post ACL injuries, and White is no exception -- in 7 games he has a 62.1 coverage grade from PFF. The Bills also rank 29th in DVOA against #1 receivers -- making it crystal clear where Cincy should look to in order to generate offense. The receivers should win, and they should win quickly. Burrow doesn't go deep often, but when he does he's one of the best in the game at it. If the line can manage to hold up on a few plays, taking shots down the field will be a good idea. As for the run game, I'm not expecting much -- the Bengals are 4th in rushing DVOA, but given the injury situation they'll be man-handled in the trenches, and RB Joe Mixon has not been great at creating yards on his own. Mixon's 2.58 yards per contact after attempt ranks 52nd in the league out of 60 qualifiers. The Bengals also rank 1st in situation-neutral pass rate and project to be trailing. The run game should not be featured.
The Bills offense sits at 2nd in DVOA and EPA/play while the Bengals defense is at 11th in DVOA and 8th in EPA/play. Josh Allen had another extraordinary season, ranking 1st among QBs in PFF grades. Allen turned into the ultimate big play threat -- his big time throw rate of 8.0% is by far the highest in the league (Mitch Tribusky was 2nd at 5.8%, Rodgers was 3rd at 5.7%). Allen's 10.2 average depth of target was 2nd highest in the league while his deep passing rate of 15.8% was 7th. His rushing upside also can't be ignored -- Allen finished 2nd among all QBs in total rushing yards. He forced 27 missed tackles in the run game and averaged 3.22 yards per attempt after contact, which ranks 18th in the league among all players. Chasing upside comes at a cost, and Allen's turnover worthy play percentage of 4.3% was 5th highest in the league and his 16 fumbles were 2nd most. Due to a combination of a bad offensive line (only LT Dion Dawkins is good) and a long time to throw, Allen deals with consistent pressure -- his pressure rate of 34.7% is 15th highest in the league. This matchup should be no different as the Bengals rank 13th in pressure rate at 22.4%. The primary source of pressure is edge rushers Trey Hendrickson (64 pressures) and Sam Hubbard (56). Hendrickson sticks to the right side while Hubbard plays on the left, which gives Hubbard a far easier matchup. Pressure isn't known to slow down Allen by much, however, he's routinely one of the best in the league against pressure -- Allen's 83.9 PFF grade under pressure is by far the best in the league (Tribusky was 2nd best at 75.4). The Bengals, much like the Bills, have strong coverage linebackers (Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt) and safeties (Jessie Bates and Von Bell). It should be no surprise that they excel in coverage against tight ends (5th in DVOA) and running backs as receivers (2nd). Their issues are at the cornerback position as they've been unable to find a solid option since Chidobe Awuzie tore his ACL in November. Their only good option at corner is slot man Mike Hinton, which means WR Stef Diggs will have a massive advantage whenever he's lined up on the outside (which he does 69% of the time). The Bills offense is heavily reliant on Diggs -- Gabe Davis (outside), Isaiah McKenzie (slot), and Dawson Knox (tight end) have all flashed big play upside, but all have been inconsistent. There's a few reasons for optimism: the Bengals ranks 6th in DVOA against #1 receivers, 31st against #2 receivers, and 24th against "other" receivers, which is a testament to them being able to take away top options schematically. Both McKenzie and Knox have difficult matchups, so the question is which version of Davis shows up. Davis is equally capable of games like last week where he caught 6 balls for 113 yards and 1 touchdown and games like his week 13 games where he caught 2 balls on 7 targets for 15 yards. The run game is the weaker part of the Bills game (even with Allen at QB) -- they're 11th in DVOA running the ball vs 2nd passing. Allen, Devin Singletary, and James Cook are all solid runners, but they're hindered by their offensive line. The Bengals run defense ranks 14th in DVOA, which should lead to an even matchup. DT D.J. Reader is fantastic against the run and should have his way against the Bills interior.