One of the most highly anticipated matchups of this NFL season finally arrives in Week 9. Two of the AFC's best will square off when the Buffalo Bills take on the Cincinnati Bengals. The question for us is, which of these two super teams will deliver the most fantasy juice? Fantasy analysts Scott Pianowski and Jorge Martin play a little game of "Would You Rather" and take a side for which offense they like most in this matchup.
The case for the Bills
Oh man, the choices we had this week. The center cut of the Week 9 games is easily the best of the season.
We could have steered into the Dolphins and Chiefs putting on a show in Germany. But sometimes I wonder how well teams will play when they're asked to compete in a game that's so radically different than their usual routine. I love Miami and Kansas City as an appetizer to the Sunday slate, but I get why it's not our writing topic.
Baltimore vs. Seattle highlights the 1 p.m. ET window, two perennial contenders, two great coaches, two fun offenses. They're not our topic, either; maybe it's because out-of-conference games don't always seem to have the maximum stakes attached. But I fully expect to catch every snap of that one, in real time.
Dallas and Philadelphia collide in the later window, one of the NFL's best rivalries (I often wonder what NFC East rivalry is the best; they're all tasty). Of course, they're going to play a second time, a Sunday nighter in Week 14. We can probably already slide that onto our December budget.
Buffalo at Cincinnati, you're our final signature game, and the 8:20 p.m. ET window is all yours. Three of the next five Cincinnati games are island games, neatly colliding with Joe Burrow's recovery from his summer calf injury.
Full disclosure: I had a very difficult time picking a fantasy side here. Cincinnati and Buffalo are neighbors on my recent Power Rankings, the Bills are just one slot higher. I'm not dug in on a side. I saw Burrow's improved mobility last week, and the sharp game against a very good (if temporarily slumping) 49ers team. Ja'Marr Chase is uncoverable. Joe Mixon was sharp last week.
But sometimes I wonder if we take Josh Allen for granted. He didn't play well in the season opener at the Jets, but since then, he's been uber-consistent for our game: QB7, QB8, QB1, QB2, QB13, QB4, QB2. His interception rate is a little higher than expected, but all his other indexed metrics are above code. He leads the league in completion percentage, understanding the patience you need against the shape of today's defense, and he leads the league in QBR. Allen's not running as much this year, but he's resourcefully punched in five rushing scores.
Allen's last four seasonal ranks at quarterback chart this way: QB1, QB1, QB2 and QB1. Maybe Joe Burrow is a little cooler, a better quote. And let’s be clear: I'd follow Burrow into a burning building. But Allen is a clinic, man.
Buffalo's ancillary pieces also have me interested: Dalton Kincaid has spread his wings the last two weeks, and Khalil Shakir has become a problem in the slot. With Cincinnati doing all it can do to make sure Stefon Diggs doesn't dominate Sunday night (and good luck with that), there's a good chance Kincaid and Shakir are heard from again.
The backfield isn't special, sure, though there's talent. Gabe Davis went from Fantasy's Mr. Polarizing back in 2022 to a boring WR3 option this year, though he's on pace for a quiet 66-922-11 season. With full respect to the Bengals, who might be going to the moon if Burrow is finally locked in, I see a little more fantasy juice on the Buffalo side.
And come on, Buffalo wings over Cincinnati chili, seven days out of seven. — Pianowski
The case for the Bengals
Scott, now you have me hungry. I’ll give you the Buffalo wings side of the argument. So good, it’s worth the mess it makes on the hands, face and even occasionally clothes. The Bengals and Bills, well, they’re going to give us a mess of points on Sunday night. And it’s going to be just as tasty and hot as the spiciest Buffalo wings.
The playoff game these two teams played in Buffalo last year — a 27-10 Bengals victory — is not a barometer for this week. The Bills were a spent team by then. Allen was still dealing with a barking elbow, and the Damar Hamlin situation understandably had left the team feeling like a wrung-out sponge. (Hamlin, glad you’re back with the team — wishing you good health. Salud!)
As far as picking a side, I’m picking Cincinnati over Buffalo the same way I’d pick Clayton Kershaw over Justin Verlander as the best pitcher of the last 15 years. Both are fantastic, but one is just a hair ahead. I’ve been wondering if Joe Burrow would ever be healthy in 2023; that calf of his is about as bothersome as if it were my own. We got the confirmation on the first drive of the day in Week 8, a seemingly innocuous third-down play. Burrow rolled out and was met by the San Francisco defense, where four separate defenders got their hands on him before he delivered a pass that Tee Higgins converted for the first down. Yes, a fifth 49ers defender hit Burrow right after unleashing the throw. Joey B sure is back, baby!
Now Burrow comes home, healthy and back at the top of his game. He’s one of the few quarterbacks who could go toe-to-toe with Allen, pass for pass. Seriously, this could be a lot of fun. In Burrow’s last three games, he has passed for eight touchdowns, with 317 yards against the Cardinals in one game and last week’s 283-yard dismantling of a 49ers team that had a fan base picking out Super Bowl parade routes a few weeks ago. Burrow even ran a little, showing off his wheels with 43 rushing yards.
More of the same is coming for the Bills.
And joining forces with Burrow will be his buen amigo, Ja’Marr Chase. Quietly, Chase is having a great season. Amid all the flowers being thrown at Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown — and deservedly so — for their otherworldly excellence, Chase has just as many receptions as Brown (60). He’s also tied with Hill for the NFL lead in first-read targets. The 70 total yards that Chase had combined in the first two games are a distant memory in the minds of fantasy managers. Chase is facing a Buffalo defense that just came off shutting down the Buccaneers' Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, limiting them to 93 combined yards. Though both scored a touchdown each. Chase is getting the ball on a lot of screens and short passes, then allowing his play-making ability to take over. That will happen here.
Higgins? I still like the talent, and he looked healthy last week too. He’s starting on fantasy rosters, though I’m not sure I’d take a shot on him in DFS.
I’m not sure if it was because he was playing near his home and in front of his high school football coach, but against the 49ers Joe Mixon was as good as he has looked in a while. And this looks like a good matchup for him, as the Bills are 21st in fantasy points allowed to the running back. Rachaad White had 109 total yards against Buffalo, with Scott's compadre Rhamondre Stevenson putting up 85 yards. Mixon is going to run just enough to soften the Bills’ D for Burrow to pick apart.
Pour me a bowl of some Skyline Chili to have with the wings, and Welcome to the Jungle. However, instead of Axl Rose, we’ll see Anthony Muñoz leading the battle cry. Always follow the O-linemen.
Bengals outlast the Bills on Sunday night in a great game. — Martin