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The first matchup of wildcard weekend will be between two teams that nobody thought would be in the playoffs. Over the last month of the season, the Bengals and Raiders have been two of the hottest teams in the NFL. The Raiders have overcome injuries, coaching controversies and player issues and at one point a month ago were sitting at 6-7, and their season looked over. The Bengals started the year with questions about Joe Burrow’s knee, and most felt the Bengals were a year or two away from being a playoff team. This matchup has been played out before as the teams met in Las Vegas in late November in a game, the Bengals dominated 32-13; can the Raiders make it more interesting this time around?
This is an easy one to figure out! The Raiders possess the ninth-ranked pass defense in the NFL, making it difficult for Burrow, Chase and Higgins on the back end. The only offensive weakness the Bengals have on offense is the offensive line. Coupled with solid coverage, edge-rushers Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby should be able to collapse the pocket and pressure Burrow consistently. Burrow has taken the most sacks (51) this season. Under constant duress, he’ll make a couple of mistakes, allowing the Raiders to score off turnovers. That’s how the Raiders can win the game. Now, the ninth-ranked pass defense is predicated on the pass rush, and it’s imperative that Burrow be careful with the ball and not take too many chances. Remember, Burrow is young and prone to mistakes, and this is his first appearance in the playoffs.
Get Joe Mixon going because if they do, it can slow down the Raiders vaunted pass rush allowing Burrow more clean pockets to throw from. Contain Josh Jacobs, the Bengals have had issues against the run this season, and if they do here, they could be ripe to be upset. The most crucial thing in this game could be emotion and controlling it. This seems like the Bengals best shot to snap a ridiculous streak of thirty-one straight years without a playoff victory. The home crowd can work for you or against you here.
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The Bengals are well-rested while the Raiders played until late Sunday night to make the playoffs. The Raiders have to travel cross country to play this game which is never easy. I think the Raiders emotion keeps the game close for a half, and then a big day from Mixon will wear down the Raiders defense leading to a second-half blowout. Pick: Bengals 37 Raiders 21
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