The NFL playoffs officially get underway on Saturday afternoon when the Cincinnati Bengals play host to the Las Vegas Raiders. These two teams met in Vegas back in November, with the Bengals winning 32-13, although it was only 13-6 in favor of Cincy heading into the fourth quarter. For Saturday, the Bengals are listed as 5.5-point home favorites, with the over/under set at 49 points.
The Bengals clinched the AFC North title in Week 17, allowing them to take it easy and get healthy in Week 18. Before that expected loss in Week 18, Cincinnati had won three in a row, including a blowout of the Ravens and an impressive comeback over the Chiefs. The Bengals now get to host a playoff game for the first time since the 2015 season.
On the other hand, the Raiders were the last team to clinch a spot in the playoffs, doing so in the most dramatic way possible. For a while, things looked bleak for Las Vegas after losing five of six games. But the Raiders won four in a row to finish 10-7 and get to the playoffs for just the second time since losing Super Bowl XXXVII.
Drive My Carr
In many ways, the effectiveness of the Las Vegas offense depends on the play of Derek Carr, perhaps more than any other quarterback in the playoffs. Carr has had some struggles down the stretch and has been turnover-prone all year with 14 interceptions. But he’s made enough big throws to win games despite a short-handed supporting cast that continues to battle injuries and absences.
Surprisingly, the Raiders have been able to lean on their defense late in the season. Before the wild season finale against the Chargers, Las Vegas had held four of five opponents to 20 points or less. While their numbers on the season are a mixed bag, the Raiders have been strong against the run and have two Pro Bowlers in their front seven.
Burrow the Lead
The Bengals averaged over 27 points per game on the season, with Joe Burrow playing at an MVP level during the final weeks of the season before he sat in Week 18. However, there are still questions about the Cincinnati offense, even if the week off allowed Burrow to fully recover from a knee injury. Keep in mind that Burrow was sacked 51 times in 16 games behind a porous offensive line while Joe Mixon and the running game struggled down the stretch despite the team’s winning streak.
At the same time, the Bengals can’t be sure how much they can rely on their defense in the playoffs. In fairness, the Cincinnati defense looks good at the line of scrimmage, especially with Trey Hendrickson’s 14 sacks this season. But the Bengals have holes elsewhere on their defense and did lag behind during the regular season when it came to creating takeaways.
With the Las Vegas defensive line coming on strong and questions about Cincinnati’s offensive line, this is not a favorable matchup for the Bengals. Carr could also be an X-factor against a vulnerable Cincinnati defense. Despite what happened the first time these teams met, bet on the Raiders to at least beat the spread and possibly get a road win on Saturday.
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