Pro Bowl quarterbacks Josh Allen and Joe Burrow were slated to have their initial confrontation earlier this month.
But Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest emergency postponed that battle after nine-plus minutes.
Instead, the two gunslingers will have their first official duel on a much bigger stage when the second-seeded Buffalo Bills entertain the third-seeded Cincinnati Bengals in an AFC Divisional playoff game on Sunday afternoon at Orchard Park, N.Y.
Burrow guided the Bengals to the Super Bowl last season and Allen craves a similar run for the Bills. Burrow is the first Cincinnati quarterback to win playoff games in consecutive seasons while Allen is aiming to steer Buffalo into the AFC Championship Game for the second time in three seasons.
Both teams are red hot: The Bengals have won nine straight games and the Bills have prevailed eight consecutive times.
“It feels like two deserving teams,” Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said of the matchup. “Buffalo is one of the greatest environments to play in in all of football. I’ve been there many, many times and it’s a fun environment.
“It’s a worthy playoff environment and so our guys are going to be juiced up and ready to go.”
The Bengals were the surprise team last season when they crashed the Super Bowl and lost to the Los Angeles Rams. Now they are part of a tough trio of AFC contenders along with the Bills and top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs.
“We’re in a great spot,” Burrow said. “We have great leaders in the locker room and Zac puts us in the right mindset to create positions to go and succeed. We have the utmost faith in each other to go make plays to win the game.”
The Bills are 6.0-point favorites at several sportsbooks. That includes BetMGM and BetRivers, where the underdog Bengals have been backed by 67.5 percent of the spread-line tickets – second-most among the eight teams playing this weekend behind only Kansas City.
The 5.5-point spread at DraftKings has drawn lopsided action with the Bengals backed by 72 percent of the total bets along with 59 percent of the money.
The Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens 24-17 in the wild-card round with defensive end Sam Hubbard scoring the winning points on a 98-yard fumble return that is the longest in postseason history.
Meanwhile, Buffalo has won 13 of its last 14 home playoff games after posting a 34-31 victory over the Miami Dolphins. The Bills were up 17-0 before sloppy play — they committed three turnovers — allowed the Dolphins back in the game.
“You can’t try to eliminate every single turnover and play scared,” Allen said. “We’re aggressive. We want to score touchdowns. That’s the gist of it.”
Sunday’s matchup comes 20 days after the matchup in Cincinnati in which Hamlin collapsed during the first quarter after tackling Bengals wideout Tee Higgins. He was administered CPR on the field and taken to a nearby hospital and the game was later postponed.
Hamlin has made a miraculous speedy recovery as the teams reunite for the playoff showdown.
“I’m sure it’s gonna be a little bit emotional,” Allen said of facing the Bengals. “I will say that I’ve got so much respect for the Bengals, their staff, their organization, and their players after everything that transpired. The way that we came together and kind of talked with them — they were extremely open to the whole concept of not continuing the game and making sure that we were OK.”
Also of note is that the Bills are playing in the division round for the third straight season. They went 1-1 the past two campaigns.
“We’ve been here before,” Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said. “We’ve got good experience in the divisional round. We’re grateful for that. … So, it’s the next game on our radar. And we’ve got to prepare for it.”
Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase Anytime TD (+135 at DraftKings): Chase has been the fourth-most popular Anytime TD scorer among the four games this weekend, and offers by far the biggest potential payout among the top five at the sportsbook. Chase has scored at least one touchdown in eight of 13 games this season, including six of his past eight. Buffalo ranked 26th against the pass during the regular season while allowing an average of 258.1 yards per game, and struggled to contain Dolphins rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson last weekend.
Over 49 Total Points (-110 at BetMGM): Not only are these two of the hottest teams in the league going head-to-head, it’s two of the most potent offenses in the league. Of concern with this prop are the injuries along Cincinnati’s o-line – down three starters. But Buffalo’s defense has also been vulnerable in recent weeks. The expectation here is that Burrow and Allen are trading punches for four quarters and that every offensive opportunity will need to be maximized.
The Bengals lost left tackle Jonah Williams (dislocated kneecap) during the win over Baltimore and will be without three starting offensive linemen. Right tackle La’el Collins (ACL) and right guard Alex Cappa (ankle) were previously injured.
“It’s an interesting spot,” Cincinnati center Ted Karras said. “We have to have guys step up. We’ve lost three starters. That’s never a huge recipe for anything good.”
Cornerback Tre Flowers (hamstring) was ruled doubtful in the Bengals’ final injury report.
For the Bills, defensive tackle DaQuan Jones (calf) and nose tackle Jordan Phillips (shoulder) were ruled questionable. Buffalo cornerback Dane Jackson (knee) and safety Jordan Poyer (knee) were limited earlier in the week before advancing to full-practice participants.
The size of the spread is somewhat surprising given the battle between two of the hottest teams in the league. Injuries along the Bengals’ offensive line have contributed to the spread and are a legitimate concern, but quarterback Joe Burrow has an extremely strong record in elimination games dating back to college.
Meanwhile, the Bills had to survive a scare against the Dolphins due to a few poor decisions by Allen, some sloppy ballhandling and an inability to consistently get off the field on defense.
–Bengals 30, Bills 27
–Field Level Media