Burrow: Cincy beyond viewing Bills as litmus test

  • ESPN Staff Writer
  • Previously a college football writer for The Dallas Morning News
  • University of North Texas graduate

CINCINNATI — No extra hype is necessary for the upcoming matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football.

The two teams are among the best in the NFL and are vying for the conference’s No. 1 playoff seed, which would mean home-field advantage throughout the postseason. In previous years, this might have been a good measuring stick for the Bengals.

But after the wave of success the past two seasons, Cincinnati is well aware of its potential.

“We’ve beaten everybody,” Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said. “We know we can play against everybody. We’ve done it in the biggest of moments. Like I said, we’re treating every game the same. We’ve played everybody the last two years.”

Starting with Week 17 of last season, Cincinnati has beaten the Kansas City Chiefs three straight times, including in last season’s AFC Championship Game.

Burrow, a third-year quarterback, contrasted this year’s Week 17 showdown against Buffalo with last year’s Week 17 showdown against Kansas City. By beating the Chiefs in that game, the Bengals won the AFC North and clinched their first playoff berth since 2015.

“We hadn’t played the upper echelon of the AFC at that point,” Burrow said. “So that was a big win for us.”

However, Burrow noted that Buffalo (12-3) is one of the teams Cincinnati (11-4) has yet to face since the Bengals morphed into Super Bowl contenders. The last time Cincinnati faced Buffalo was in Week 2 of the 2019 season, which was at the beginning of a downturn that led to the Bengals having the league’s worst record. That presented them the opportunity to select Burrow with the first overall pick in the 2020 draft.

Cincinnati enters Monday’s game as one of the NFL’s hottest teams. Its seven-game winning streak is the longest in the AFC and is one shy of a franchise record.

Burrow and Bills quarterback Josh Allen have combined for 78 passing and rushing touchdowns, tying the NFL record for the highest total by two opposing quarterbacks entering a game, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.

Cincinnati wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs both rank in the top six in touchdowns and receiving yards over the past two seasons. Chase called Monday’s game a meeting of the “best of the best” that will highlight a team’s quality.

“This is what the NFL is for — the best of the best to play and give the fans what they want on. Put on a show for the whole world to see,” Chase said.

Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins, who hit the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season, agreed with Burrow on Cincinnati’s self-confidence heading into Monday’s game.

“We definitely know who we are as a team,” Higgins said. “At the end of the day, we just got to go out there and be who we are. Y’all know what we can do. We know what we can do. We just got to go out there and do it.”

Cincinnati’s offense will be going up against a Bills secondary that Higgins believes is one of the best in the NFL. The Bengals are expected to have starting tight end Hayden Hurst back, coach Zac Taylor said. Hurst, who has missed the past three games with a right calf injury, was a full participant at Thursday’s practice, according to the team’s injury report.

During his weekly news conference, Burrow was asked about preseason chatter that had the Bills as the hot pick to reach the Super Bowl. Caesars Sportsbook received twice as much money on Buffalo to win the Lombardi Trophy than any other team in the league, including Cincinnati, last year’s runner-up.

But then and now, Burrow carried minimal concern for how the Bengals stacked up against the NFL’s best.

“The offseason is the offseason,” Burrow said. “People are going to find stuff to talk about. We knew the season was gonna play out the way it has. We knew we were gonna play really well, so we weren’t too worried about it.”

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