Las Vegas Raiders (10-7, 8-9 ATS) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-7, 10-7), 4:35 p.m., Saturday
Brolley’s Raiders Stats and Trends
The Raiders had to win four straight games just to reach the postseason, and they’ve covered in their last three contests after their dramatic overtime victory over the Chargers.
Las Vegas is 4-1 ATS in its last five games as an underdog.
Even with their late-season surge, they’re sporting the worst point differential in the playoffs at -65, which ranks 23rd in the NFL and 13th in the AFC.
This is only the franchise’s second postseason appearance since they lost to Jon Gruden’s Buccaneers in the 2003 Super Bowl.
Derek Carr will be making his first postseason start. He broke his leg in the second to last game of the 2016 season, which was the last time the Raiders made the postseason. Only Ryan Fitzpatrick and Archie Manning have started more regular season games than Carr without starting a playoff game, but Carr will finally take himself off that list this week. Carr’s 4804 passing yards this season broke Rich Gannon’s previous franchise record of 4689 yards set in 2002. Carr broke a seven-game run with fewer than two TD passes with 186/2 passing last week. He managed 215/1 passing while averaging 8.0 YPA in their loss to the Bengals in late November.
Hunter Renfrow has scored touchdowns in four of his last five games with five total TDs in that span after posting 4/13/2 receiving on five targets against the Chargers last week. He’s scored 16+ FP in seven of his last 10 games heading into the postseason. One of his down games came against the Bengals when Renfrow saw just five targets for 4/30 receiving when these teams met in Week 11.
Zay Jones has become a big part of this passing attack, posting 7+ targets and 5+ catches in five straight games. He had run off 50+ yards in three straight games before managing just 5/27 receiving on eight targets last week. The Bengals are giving up the 15th-fewest FPG (34.7) to WRs this season.
Darren Waller looked rusty in the season finale, managing just 2/22 receiving on nine targets and a 78% snap share after missing the last five weeks with a knee injury. Waller went off for 7/116 receiving on eight targets against the Bengals in Week 11, and Cincinnati is allowing the seventh-most FPG (14.9) to TEs this season.
Josh Jacobs matched a season-high with 28 touches and he finished with a season-best 144 scrimmage yards in Las Vegas’ play-in game last week against the Chargers. Jacobs has posted double-digit FP in 14-of-15 games this season, and he managed 9/37 rushing and 5/24 receiving against the Bengals in late November. The Bengals are allowing 4.3 YPC and the 11th-most FPG (24.7) to RBs this season.
Brolley’s Bengals Stats and Trends
The young Bengals wrapped up their first AFC North title since 2015, and they were the only non-favorites to win their division at whopping +2500 odds.
HC Zac Taylor owned just six wins through two seasons, but Cincinnati reached 10 victories in 2021 and they exceeded their season win total by 3.5 victories.
Cincinnati is 0-7 in the postseason since Boomer Esiason led them to a Wild Card victory over the Houston Oilers during the 1990 season.
The Bengals have covered four straight games and in six of their last seven contests, which started back when the Bengals smoked the Raiders 32-13 in late November as 2.5-point road underdogs in a game totaled at 51 points.
The Bengals are 5-1 toward overs in their last six games as a favorite.
The Bengals used the last week of the regular season to rest QB Joe Burrow, who led the league in completion percentage (70.4%) and YPA (8.9) in his second season. He ended his season on an absolute tear with 4 TDs while averaging 11.4 YPA in each contest of his last two games with 971 combined passing yards against the Ravens and Chiefs. Justin Herbert needed 64 attempts to post 383 yards and three TDs against the Raiders last week. Burrow posted 148/1 passing in this matchup in Week 11.
Ja’Marr Chase broke Chad Johnson’s single-season team record with 1455 receiving yards, which is also the most by a rookie in the Super Bowl era. He erupted for 11/266/3 receiving for 55.6 FP in his last full game against the Chiefs in Week 17, and he has 19+ FP in three of his last four games. The Raiders are giving up the fifth-fewest FPG (31.0) to WRs this season, but the Chargers had three different WRs reach 11+ FP against them last week. Chase managed 3/32/1 receiving when he met the Raiders in Week 11.
Tee Higgins has finished with fewer than 10 FP in two of his last three games, but he had a monster performance (12/194/2 receiving for 43.4 FP) against the Ravens in the middle. He still has 13+ FP in seven of his last 10 games and 60+ receiving yards in eight games in that same span. Mike Williams posted 9/119/1 receiving for 26.9 FP in this matchup last week.
Tyler Boyd has strung together five consecutive performances with double-digit FP, and he’s scored in three consecutive games. He’s been doing a lot with limited targets, seeing 5-6 targets in four straight games. Keenan Allen finished with 6/52 receiving on eight targets against the Raiders last week. Boyd paced the Bengals with 49 receiving yards when these teams met in Week 11.
C.J. Uzomah is coming off a career-best season with 49/493/5 receiving on 63 targets in 16 games. He’s posted 3+ catches in 10 of his last 11 games but he hasn’t scored in nine straight games. Jared Cook went for 4/80 receiving on seven targets in this matchup last week.
Joe Mixon finished his fifth season with career-highs in attempts (292), rushing yards (1205), rushing TDs (13), targets (48), and receiving yards (314) in 16 games. He hasn’t topped 65 rushing yards and 3.8 YPC in five straight games but he’s still averaging 16.8 attempts per game in that span. Mixon did post 11+ FP as a receiver in two consecutive games to end the season before sitting out Week 18. Austin Ekeler posted 16/64/1 rushing and 5/35/1 receiving for 28.9 FP in this matchup last week. Mixon managed 30/123/2 rushing when these teams met in late November.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 28.7 (19th)
Plays per game: 66.9 (12th)
Pass: 63.6% (8th) | Run: 36.4% (25th)
Pace: 29.9 (27th)
Plays per game: 64.3 (23rd)
Pass: 61.5% (14th) | Run: 38.5% (19th)
If the Bengals are going to make a deep run in the playoffs – and I think they can – they have got to unleash Joe Burrow and let him carve everyone up. Outside of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, Burrow was the best quarterback in the league in the back-half of the season and that was despite his coach putting a governor on this offense at times. HC Zac Taylor has inexplicably relied on the need for “balance” in certain games this year and it’s cost his team winnable games.
In their six games from Weeks 9-15, the Bengals were perfectly balanced on early-downs (51% pass | 49% run) despite those runs generating a sub-par 4.2 YPC. Cincy went 3-3 in this span and were fighting for their playoff lives. The lightbulb came on in their last two games, though, as Burrow attacked the Ravens depleted secondary and the Chiefs in two dominant performances. In those two games, Taylor completely switched their tendencies and went 72% pass-heavy on early-downs – which led the league by a mile in those two weeks. My fingers are crossed that the Bengals keep it rolling and play aggressive here and all throughout the postseason.
Hats off to the Raiders for weathering two gale-force hurricanes this season and making it to the postseason with four-straight wins. They’ve got their hands full here, though, and they have got to wake up their offense if they are going to keep up with the Bengals. Vegas was held at or below 17 points in seven of their final 10 games with two over-time wins against the Cowboys and Chargers mixed in where they scored 35 and 36 points. As 6-point underdogs, the Raiders game plan projects to be extremely pass-heavy as they will have to match points with Burrow and the Bengals. Only the Buccaneers (73.2%) were more pass-heavy when trailing than the Raiders (72.6%) were this season.
While the pace in this game is bad – it’s the worst game of the six on Wild Card weekend from that perspective – Raiders-Bengals still has a ton of scoring upside. If Cincinnati lets Burrow loose again, Vegas will respond with a pass-heavy plan of their own.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
Cincinnati has put two of the top-20 perimeter corners on the field this season between Eli Apple and Chidobe Awuzie. While Mike Hilton has also been solid on the inside, the Bengals are currently allocating 60.5% of their FPG allowances to receivers aligned in the slot (fifth-most).
Based on the alignment numbers on the season, Ja’Marr Chase is going to align across from Brandon Facyson on around 56% of his reps. Some of them will be against Desmond Trufant when the Bengals put four wideouts on the field, but those routes against Facyson are particularly enticing. To be clear, in Chase’s last full game, he collected 11-of-12 targets for 266 yards and three tuddies within the coverage of Rashad Fenton and Charvarius Ward. If Chase comes out on Saturday with anything close to the level of amazo that he represented in Week 17, even Casey Hayward Jr. will stand little chance of slowing him down.
Assuming Chase remains among the realm of mere mortals – from the perspective of an NFL level of skill, Facyson handed his coverage 0.39 FP/CS (second-most), 1.59 YPCS (fourth-most), 0.26 AY/CS (the most), and a 105.7 TPR (18th-highest among 79 qualified outside corners).
Dolan’s Vantage Points
The Bengals are getting healthy in time for the playoffs, part of their rationale for resting starters — including QB Joe Burrow — in Week 18.
Joe Burrow says the rest was good for his knee and mentally it was weird watching his team and not being with them #Bengals— Kelsey Conway (@KelseyLConway) January 11, 2022
Bengals activate Joe Mixon, six others from COVID-19 reserve list. https://t.co/rmDgTm4lWC— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) January 10, 2022
John Hansen has talked about this all week, but my favorite individual play for Cincinnati this week is WR Tee Higgins, who should benefit from top Raider CB Casey Hayward occupying Ja’Marr Chase’s time, while Tyler Boyd will have a difficult go of it with slot CB Nate Hobbs.
Obviously, Higgins didn’t have a big game when these two teams played in Week 11 — Joe Mixon carried the load for the Bengals — but I think this passing game has just totally taken off since and I expect Cincy to adjust accordingly.
For the Raiders, WR Hunter Renfrow had a down game the last time these two teams took the field, but I think that was more of a fluke than anything else. Renfrow does have a tough draw with the physical Mike Hilton, but Hilton will occasionally give up catches — his 54 catches allowed in the slot this year were third-most in the NFL, and his 4 TD tied for third. Of course, for a full-time slot player, those numbers will be inflated, and Hilton’s value to the Bengals also comes via blitzes and strong run defense.
TE Darren Waller returned to the field last week, and though he had just 2 catches, his 9 targets led the Raiders in his first game back. He crushed the Bengals for 116 yards back in Week 11 — his second of only two 100-yard games in a disappointing 2021 campaign — and the Bengals have been exploited by TEs all year. Waller is a strong option for those looking for a premium TE this week.