The 2021 NFL playoffs are lastly right here. After 18 weeks, we’re set to start the event that can decide which crew will characterize the AFC within the Super Bowl, which can characterize the NFC, and which win in the end take house the Lombardi Trophy and finish the season as champions.
The first game of the weekend pits the AFC’s No. 4 seed, the Cincinnati Bengals, in opposition to the No. 5 seed, the Las Vegas Raiders. As ordinary, we’re right here to interrupt down the matchup, highlighting the important thing stress factors on each side of the ball. Before we do this, although, this is a glance at how one can watch the game.
How to look at
Date: Saturday, Jan. 15 | Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Location: Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati)
TV: ZellaNews | Stream: ZellaNews Sports HQ
Follow: ZellaNews Sports App
Odds: Bengals -5.5, O/U 49
When the Raiders have the ball
In the primary matchup between these two groups, which happened again in Week 11, neither offense achieved a lot of notice. The defensive traces dominated the proceedings — significantly Cincinnati’s. Derek Carr was beneath stress on 41 % of his dropbacks, based on Tru Media, and that was regardless of the Bengals sending solely 5 blitzes on 29 supposed passing performs. It was relentless, and it was ugly.
Vegas’ passing game consisted virtually completely of isolating Darren Waller on the again aspect of the formation and letting him attempt to win a one-on-one, and hoping he may take a brief go and switch it into an extended achieve. That was even profitable a number of instances, and it created the Raiders’ greatest performs of the afternoon.
Carr was so locked in on Waller all game, although, that it contributed to the interception he threw within the fourth quarter. He did not see Eli Apple sinking off his protection of Zay Jones on an beneath route, and chopping entry to the nook route on which Carr was making an attempt to hit Waller. It resulted in one of many best picks of Apple’s life.
The Bengals ought to once more have matchup benefits up entrance on this game, significantly with Sam Hubbard dashing off the left aspect of the defensive position in opposition to proper sort out Brandon Parker, who has struggled in go safety each this season (he ranked 74th out of 88 qualifying tackles in go-blocking grade at Pro Football Focus) and all through his profession. Kolton Miller ought to be capable to maintain up a bit higher in opposition to Trey Hendrickson on the other aspect, however no person has actually been in a position to maintain Hendrickson at bay this 12 months. He completed the 12 months fourth amongst edge rushers in complete pressures, notching 14 sacks alongside the way in which.
The Raiders must rely on Waller and Hunter Renfrow to win their respective matchups in a short time. That’s most likely Renfrow’s single-finest ability, and there are only a few corners who can cease him from profitable within the slot. Bengals slot nook Mike Hilton is stable, and really skilled, and he had a little bit of a bounceback season in protection this 12 months. Getting Waller matched up on linebackers, if at all attainable, is probably going the Raiders’ finest guess for success by way of the air. Waller missed an excellent portion of the latter half of the season, although, and performed a season-low (besides for the game during which he obtained injured) 78 % of snaps in his return final week. We do not but know if he is again to full power. (He caught solely two of 9 passes in opposition to the Chargers, however he did must take care of Derwin James for a lot of the night.)
The Raiders gained 4 consecutive video games to finish the common season, however didn’t precisely play inspiring offense alongside the way in which. They really turned the ball over a number of instances in every of the primary three victories, and narrowly escaped with a win in every of them. The Bengals are extra seemingly than the Browns, Broncos, or Colts to make them pay in the event that they make those self same sorts of errors on Saturday. Protecting Carr and guaranteeing he can throw from a clear pocket must be precedence No. 1.
Cincinnati’s rush protection was really higher than its go unit this season, per Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and the Las Vegas rush offense was a backside-half of the league unit. Josh Jacobs did have a pair 100-plus yard video games down the stretch, although, so one may argue they’re hitting their stride at the appropriate time. Still, it is seemingly that the destiny of the Raiders offense rests on Carr’s proper shoulder, and people of the boys tasked with preserving rushmen away from him.
When the Bengals have the ball
Going again and watching the Bengals offense from their game in opposition to the Raiders earlier within the season is like touring to a parallel universe. Cincinnati was a large number in that contest, and nonetheless managed to attain 32 factors. Joe Burrow, although, was simply 20 of 29 for 148 yards and a landing, repeatedly throwing screens and brief passes over the center of the sphere whereas working within the face of heavy stress. The Bengals offensive line was incessantly overwhelmed, and Burrow typically appeared like he was working for his life.
All that stress led to repeated checkdowns, with Burrow firing the ball to the closest receiver to the road of scrimmage merely to keep away from getting hit. It’s no marvel he averaged lower than 5 yards per try on the game.
The few deep pictures the Bengals had been in a position to try had been simply pressured one-on-one soar balls, and even these had been thrown with defenders in Burrow’s lap. He obtained completely clocked on a deep ball to Ja’Marr Chase early within the game, to the purpose the place I used to be type of stunned he did not must go get checked within the medical tent.
Burrow’s one landing go within the game was an absolute laser to Chase behind the top zone, which he ripped excessive of two closing defenders. It definitely didn’t damage that the beneath cornerback fell down as he tried to leap and break up the go, however I’m unsure it will have mattered.
After that Raiders game, although, is when Burrow took off. Through the remainder of the season, he went 151 of 205 (73.6%) passing for 1,966 yards (9.6 per try), 13 touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 118.5 passer score. He ranked third within the NFL in EPA per dropback from that time on, per Tru Media monitoring, and he really ranked first in EPA per throw; what dragged him down had been sacks. (The offensive line was nonetheless a difficulty, with Burrow beneath stress on 37.8 % of dropbacks from Week 12 on and sacked on 10.1 % of them.)
What was most notable, although, was how typically the Bengals beat groups with the deep go. That’s not one thing they did a lot of throughout Burrow’s rookie season, for causes regarding each the road and Burrow himself. Acquiring Chase modified that, and leaning into his and Tee Higgins’ capability to win downfield led to Burrow’s six landing tosses of 30-plus yards down the stretch of the 12 months.
It will likely be a problem to offer Burrow sufficient time to search out his receivers deep. Maxx Crosby led the NFL with 101 pressures this season, and he’s an absolute menace. The Bengals can be clever to offer chip assistance on his rushes, however that additionally removes a receiving possibility early within the snap, and Burrow likes to eliminate the ball shortly. Still, the perimeter receiving expertise is so overwhelming that it is powerful to see Las Vegas stopping these guys from transferring the ball by way of the air… as long as Burrow has time to throw.
It wouldn’t be shocking to see Joe Mixon play a bigger passing-game function within the playoffs than he did in the course of the common season, when it appeared like his relative lack of third-down utilization was extra about managing his reps. Cincinnati was very run heavy early within the 12 months, however pivoted onerous to an assault based mostly round Burrow and the receivers after they went on their second-half run. The Bengals offensive line can lean on defenses when within the lead and assist Mixon run it out, but it surely’s seemingly that they will use the go to arrange the run, slightly than the opposite manner round.
Prediction: Bengals 27, Raiders 20