Those Bengals secured the AFC North and 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 the Curse of Bo.
The Raiders are a pretty amazing story too, of course. They’ve won 10 games and secured a playoff berth in the final seconds of overtime in Week 18. This, while overcoming more drama than any other team in the league, be it Jon Gruden’s firing, the Henry Ruggs tragedy and so much more.
We do have a prior meeting to draw from when previewing the game. The Bengals won in Las Vegas back in Week 11, a 32-13 victory that featured 123 yards and a score from Joe Mixon. That final score is a bit of a lie though — Joe Burrow only threw for 148 yards and the score was only 16-13 a few minutes into the fourth quarter.
But plenty remains true from now to then. The Raiders still struggle 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 pass-rushes in the league too headed up 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 right tackle Riley Reiff this time to stop Crosby, so key schematic approaches from Zac Taylor and coaches could outright decide the game.
On a positive note, Burrow’s even more mobile than he was in Week 11 as he’s steadily gotten that back all season on his repaired knee. And Taylor has evolved the offense since the last meeting, implementing more misdirection and unpredictable looks. Over his last two games, Burrow threw for 525 and 446 yards.
It’s really those factors that swing this game in Cincinnati’s favor. Burrow’s the better quarterback in the matchup. He’s facing exploitable corners who won’t be able to stop Ja’Marr Chase. This Raiders defense couldn’t stop Mixon on the ground last time out — they’re probably not doing it in 22-degree weather.
There’s also the logistics to consider. While the Bengals rested starters in Week 18, the Raiders were playing five full quarters of football just to qualify for this game. One could argue they’ve got big momentum now, but the reality is they’re turning around after that to travel cross-country on a very short week to play in freezing temperatures against a team that already beat them.
Like most of the year, the biggest threat to the Bengals on Saturday is beating themselves. They’ve bested some of the NFL’s best like Kansas City and played Green Bay within an overtime field goal. When they’ve struggled, it’s largely been self-inflicted wounds like poor execution or bad game-planning or management from coaches.
Absent any silly mistakes, the Bengals should pop an early lead and sit on it with a strong ground game before thinking about a divisional-round opponent.
Prediction: Bengals 30, Raiders 24
Raiders vs. Bengals: 4 things to watch and a prediction in playoffs