The Bills head to Cincinnati the face the Bengals (1-3) in Week Five. Here are five things to know about them.
1. Last game: The Bengals picked up their first win of the season Sunday, beating the Browns 31-7 and holding them to just 250 yards of total offense. Both teams entered the game at 0-3. Bengals QB Andy Dalton threw four touchdown passes while Browns rookie DeShone Kizer was pulled late for Kevin Hogan (box score).
2. They're playoff chum: It feels weird thinking about the playoff implications of the Bills' Week Five game in a year they were presumed to be rebuilding, but at 3-1 it's not crazy. The Bills have a viable path to 10 wins if they beat the Bengals (1-3), Jets (2-2), Chargers (0-4), Colts (1-2), and Dolphins (1-2) twice, plus one of Tampa/Oakland/New Orleans/Kansas City/New England (x2). Every mention of the Bills actually having a shot comes with obligatory reminders to, 1) pump the brakes, and 2) remember nothing ever goes this smooth in the NFL ... but this scenario strikes me as not unrealistic. If the Bills are thinking playoffs, this is a game they have to have.
3. Backfield conundrum: The Bengals have split running back duties between Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard for the last three seasons, but added Joe Mixon in this year's draft. Three running backs is too many to get each one enough carries. Mixon, the rookie, seems to be the favorite so far but has struggled, averaging only 2.6 yards per attempt after Sunday's 17-carry, 29-yard performance. Bernard has the highest rushing average on the team but received only three attempts in the blowout against the Browns. It seems like the back the Bills will need to worry about is Mixon, who many thought was the best running back in the draft despite falling to the second round due to a high-profile assault charge against a woman while Mixon was at Oklahoma.
4. Following the Bills' 2016 model: Remember last year when the Bills lost their opener and then lost a Thursday night game in Week Two and fired their offensive coordinator less than seven days into the season? That's how things went for the Bengals this year. They axed OC Ken Zampese after failing to score a touchdown in their first two games and promoted quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor. The team has responded, in a sense, nearly knocking off Green Bay in overtime in Week Three and pounding Cleveland Sunday, though beating the Browns is much different from facing the Bills' defense, which entered Sunday allowing a league-low 12.3 points per game.
5. Who replaces Tyler Eifert? Despite his breakout, 13-touchdown season in 2015, Eifert has had an injury-filled career since being a first-round pick out of Notre Dame. The tight end is expected to miss next week's game as he recovers from a back injury. So who fills that role? That would be Tyler Kroft, who burst onto the scene with six catches for 68 yard and two touchdowns Sunday – all career highs. Dalton seems to like targeting tight ends in the red zone, so keep on eye on the 6-foot-5 Kroft near the goal line.