Final score predictions for Raiders vs. Bengals in Game 1 of playoffs

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It’s a chance to end a 31-year drought Saturday night for the Cincinnati Bengals with the Las Vegas Raiders in town for a wild card showdown.

These Bengals secured the AFC North and a playoff berth with a win over Kansas City in Week 17 and rested starters in the season finale. They’ve spent most of this year exceeding expectations, winning 10 games, sweeping Baltimore and Pittsburgh and positioning themselves for a chance to break Bo’s curse.

The Raiders are also a pretty amazing story, of course. They won 10 games and secured a playoff berth in the dying seconds of overtime in Week 18. This, while overcoming more drama than any other team in the league, whether it was the dismissal of Jon Gruden, the tragedy by Henry Ruggs and more.

We have a pre-meeting to shoot when previewing the game. The Bengals won in Las Vegas in Week 11, a 32-13 win that included 123 yards and a score from Joe Mixon. That final score is a bit of a lie though – Joe Burrow threw for just 148 yards and the score was just 16-13 minutes into the fourth quarter.

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But a lot remains true until then. The Raiders are still struggling defensively (25.8 points per game allowed, seventh in the league and 114.3 rushing yards per game allowed). They still have one of the most dangerous passes in the league also led by Maxx Crosby, owner of eight sacks and four pressures – and he had his best game of the year against this Bengals team in Week 11.

What’s changed since week 11 is even more notable. The Bengals won’t have the right tackle Riley Reiff this time around to stop Crosby, so key schematic approaches from Zac Taylor and the coaches could downright decide the game.

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On a positive note, Burrow is even more mobile than he was in Week 11, as he’s been steadily picking that up all season on his repaired knee. And Taylor has evolved the offense since the last encounter, implementing more misdirection and unpredictable looks. In his last two games, Burrow has thrown for 525 and 446 yards.

It’s really those factors that tip this game in Cincinnati’s favor. Burrow is the best quarterback in the game. He faces exploitable corners that won’t be able to stop Ja’Marr Chase. That Raiders defense couldn’t stop Mixon on the ground last time out — they probably don’t in 22 degrees.

There are also logistics to consider. While the Bengals rested the starters in Week 18, the Raiders played five full quarters of football just to qualify for this game. You could say they have great momentum now, but the reality is that they are turning around after this to travel across the country in a very short week to play in freezing temperatures against a team that has already beaten them.

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Like most of the year, the biggest threat to the Bengals on Saturday is a fight. They beat some of the NFL’s best like Kansas City and faced Green Bay in an overtime basket. When they’ve struggled, it’s largely been self-inflicted injuries like poor execution or poor game planning or poor coaching management.

Barring any silly mistakes, the Bengals should take an early lead and sit on it with a solid ground game before thinking about a division-round opponent.

Prediction: Bengals 30, Raiders 24

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