Early in Sunday night's broadcast, NBC flashed an interesting stat. Based on its projections, the Buffalo Bills would have just a 47% probability of making the playoffs with a loss against the Cincinnati Bengals.
It's November. The season is more than halfway over for the Bills. And one of the NFL's preseason Super Bowl favorites is worse than a coin flip to make the playoffs, if you believe NBC's analytics.
Sunday night was a tale of two teams that both started the season with some bad losses but are now going in opposite directions. The Bengals have gotten things together and got their fourth straight win beating the Bills 24-18.
The Bills, meanwhile, look lost. They're 5-4, with more losses already than they had all of last season. The offense struggled to move the ball consistently on Sunday night. The defense got things together after a slow start against Cincinnati but that unit doesn't look the same after some key injuries, and the Bills couldn't get enough big stops to win the game.
It seems like there's plenty of season to go, but it's getting late early for the Bills.
A fast start for both teams
Both offenses started fast. The Bengals had an impressive nine-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to start the game. The Bills answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive. The Bengals came right back with another touchdown drive. There were three touchdowns and 232 yards in the first quarter and it looked like we were in for a classic shootout between two of the NFL's best teams.
Then the defenses dug in and the offenses started to stall. The Bengals scored the only touchdown of the second quarter, when tight end Drew Sample ran through some tackle attempts for a 22-yard score and a 21-7 halftime lead.
The start to the second half was even quieter. The Bills got a field goal and that was the only score of the third quarter.
The Bengals played well in the first half but couldn't put away the Bills. The Bills had chances to get back in the game but couldn't take advantage. A fun start to a marquee game fizzled fast, but in a game with huge stakes it was competitive going into the fourth quarter.
The Bills just couldn't do their part to make it a classic finish.
Bills face 4th-quarter deficit
The Bills had a good drive going in the fourth quarter. They got a stop on fourth-and-5 at their own 35-yard line, then started moving the ball. The Bills entered the red zone on a catch by rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid. But when Kincaid was upended, he fumbled while he was in the air and the Bengals recovered.
That summed up the Bills' night and in many ways their season. Everything seemed to be a struggle. Even when something went well, it fell apart quickly.
The Bengals weren't great offensively after their first two drives. Buffalo did a pretty good job limiting big plays from Cincinnati. But it didn't matter. The Bengals took a 24-10 lead in the fourth quarter after a drive stalled inside the red zone. Usually with a quarterback like Allen and 8:08 to work with the situation wouldn't seem too dire, but the Bills were not their normal selves on Sunday night. They haven't been in many weeks.
The Bills stuck in the game. They scored on an Allen pass to Stefon Diggs and got the two-point conversion to cut Cincinnati's lead to 24-18 with 3:32 left. But when the Bills needed a big stop they couldn't get it. Burrow hit Tyler Boyd for a huge 32-yard gain. On a third-and-3, Von Miller missed a tackle on Joe Mixon in the backfield and Mixon ran for a game-sealing first down.
Cincinnati seems like it is back. Its season was in trouble early as it had problems that seemed hard to fix. But the Bengals have fixed some of those issues, and Burrow's calf injury mostly behind him has been a huge factor. Burrow had 348 passing yards.
Cincinnati made the adjustments it needed to make and turned around its season. Can the Bills do the same before it's too late?