Here are my five takes on Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium:
1. Avoid a letdown. It sounds obvious, yes, but it really isn't. Although odds-makers have made the Bengals a three-point favorite, there are plenty of reasons the Bills could be inclined to drop their guard.
First, there's the Bengals' 1-3 record. Second, their only victory came last week, against the winless Cleveland Browns. Third, the Bengals have performed poorly in most phases. When the Bills watch videotape of them, they're going to have a hard time working up the feeling that this will be a difficult challenge.
At 3-1 and after victories against the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, the Bills have plenty of reason to feel good about themselves. Maybe too good, especially when going back to the place where they scored one of their seven victories last season.
Sean McDermott realizes how hard it will be to keep his players focused, which is why on Monday he made sure to say to reporters, "We're not where we need to be." That's the message he wants everyone at One Bills Drive to live by for the rest of the season, and beyond, but especially this week.
2. Run the ball with authority. The improvement in the Bills' running game has been gradual, but it's far from where it needs to be. The best part of what the Bills did on the ground against the Falcons was be persistent. Although they only averaged 3.3 yards per rush, they did run 36 times and that helped control the tempo and keep Matt Ryan and his elite passing arm off the field.
This time, the Bills need to do more than slow down the pace of the game. They need to start showing the kind of production they had in their season-opening victory against the New York Jets.
LeSean McCoy and his offensive line must start showing that they've become substantially more comfortable with the wide zone-blocking scheme of offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. The Bengals rank 17th in the NFL against the run, so there should be opportunities for McCoy to rip off some long gains and average better than the 3.8 yards per attempt he had last Sunday.
3. Stop the run with authority. Run defense was one of the big disappointments of the Falcons' game, especially given how solidly the Bills had played against the run through their first three games. The Bills allowed Atlanta to rush for 149 yards and average 5.1 yards per carry. Granted, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman (who ran for 79 yards and averaged 8.8 yards per rush) form one of the better backfield duos in the league.
But the Bills have to do better. Their defensive front is capable of doing better. If they allow another opponent to have success on the ground, they might very well not weather that storm as well as they did a week ago.
Winning the physical battle up front could easily instill the sort of confidence that just might carry the Bengals a long way.
4. Don't let the Bengals have success with their quick-passing game. The Bengals try to overcome their poor pass protection by having Andy Dalton get the ball out of his hand as fast as possible to pass-catchers running short and intermediate passes.
It's hard to defend, as the Browns discovered. Dalton set a career high for completion percentage (83.3) by completing 25 of 30 passes for 286 yards and four touchdown passes with no interceptions. His 146.0 passer rating was the second-highest of his career. The week before, Dalton was equally efficient against the Green Bay Packers. In completing 79 percent of his throws (third-best of his career), he connected with nine different receivers.
The Bills can't waste any time getting into the backfield, which means their best penetrators up front -- Jerry Hughes, Lorenzo Alexander, Kyle Williams, Eddie Yarbrough, Ryan Davis, and Cedric Thornton -- need to be at the very top of their game.
Linemen, linebackers and safeties must be particularly sharp in coverage. Look for them to also mix up coverages to try to confuse Dalton and draw him into mistakes.
5. Keep moving Tyrod Taylor in the pocket and setting him up to find Charles Clay for big throws. Taylor is at his best on play-action passes, when he's rolling out and firing downfield. He doesn't have much in the way of deep-threat receivers, but he does have a play-making tight end in Clay.
Taylor should plan on making extensive use of him again to hit some back-breaking plays. The essence of the Bills' plan must be to take the will out of a team that has done more wrong than right so far.
Clay's speed and athleticism give him the ability to win one-on-one coverages that he's expected to frequently face against the Bengals' blitz-happy defense.