The four teams headlining Saturday’s NFL double wildcard are familiar with each other.
The Las Vegas Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals met in November amid a three-game skid for the Raiders. The New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, two AFC East rivals, have met twice in the regular season, splitting those games 1-1, with each team winning on their opponent’s home court.
A rematch and the final game of this season’s trilogy await. Here’s a look at the matchups that will kick off week one of the 2022 NFL Playoffs.
Las Vegas Raiders vs. Cincinnati Bengals
4:30 p.m., NBC
The Raiders (10-7) had little time to celebrate their chaotic win over the Chargers last week, which helped Las Vegas qualify for the playoffs as the No. AFC. The Raiders will face a Cincinnati Bengals offense that made its way to the playoffs and has the No. 4 seed.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati’s undisputed future quarterback, was one of the league’s best passers in the second half of the regular season as the Bengals (10-7) began using a more game plan heavy. Burrow has thrown for over 300 yards in three of his last four games, completing over 60% of his passes in each of those encounters. Much of that success is due to Burrow throwing to wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who has been as solid a safety net as any quarterback could want.
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Many have questioned the Bengals’ decision to pick Chase No. 5 in the 2021 draft over offensive tackle Penei Sewell (a front-line offensive prospect), and Chase has done little to quell that skepticism with a disappointing pre-season marked by stray bullets. Since then, however, Chase has pretty much run away with the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, proving that those early-season overreactions were just that. He led the Bengals in receptions (81), yards (1,455) and touchdowns (13) in the regular season and caught 11 passes for more than 200 yards in Cincinnati’s win over the Chiefs, which made dropping Kansas City from first place in the AFC.
Although the combination of Burrow, Chase and receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd has been a tough task for opposing defenses in recent weeks, the Raiders’ defense largely suppressed Cincinnati’s passing offense when the teams met. in Week 11, a game won by the Bengals. Burrow rushed for a season-low 148 yards and had just one touchdown in a game much tighter than the reported 32-13 final score.
Las Vegas’ strength on defense is up front, where Maxx Crosby, the Raiders’ Pro Bowl rusher, thrives on affecting the passer. Crosby did not reach Burrow in the teams’ first meeting, although Las Vegas sacked him three times. Yannick Ngakoue, the Raiders’ other disruptive defensive end, recorded a backpack fumble on the Bengals’ first practice of this game. Las Vegas should have little trouble generating pressure against a Cincinnati offensive line that struggles to protect passes (Burrow was the most sacked quarterback of the regular season).
A large majority of players on these two teams have never played in a playoff game. The Raiders hadn’t made the playoffs since 2016 and they last won a playoff game in 2002. If the Bengals win at Paul Brown Stadium, it will be their first playoff victory in over 30 years.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
8:15 p.m., CBS
The Bills (11-6) have won four of their last five regular season games to grab the AFC’s third seed. The Patriots (10-7) went 2-3 to close the season and finished with the No. 6 seed.
They meet at Highmark Stadium on Saturday where the temperature is expected to be in the single digits with a wind chill around minus 10-15 at kick-off.
That means this game could look a lot like the one the teams met in early December, when Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones attempted just three passes in a violent, violent game in New York. New England won, 14-10, with over 200 rushing yards.
The Patriots could be without starting cornerback Jalen Mills, who was added to the reserve/Covid-19 roster on Tuesday, which would be problematic for a secondary that already lacks depth in the corner position.
New England traded Pro Bowl defensive back Stephon Gilmore to the Carolina Panthers during training camp. Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in October. Mills and cornerback JC Jackson were the centerpieces of the Patriots’ thin secondary.
Still, the Patriots’ defense allowed just 17.8 points per game, the second-lowest total in the league (Buffalo allowed 17.0). The Bills finished the regular season with one of the best defensive units in the NFL, leading the league in several defensive categories, including fewest yards allowed per game and fewest passing yards allowed.
In the teams’ second meeting, the Bills forced one of Jones’ worst performances of the year in a double-digit win. Jones completed 14 of 32 passes and threw two interceptions in the game.
Buffalo’s offense, led by quarterback Josh Allen, has been inconsistent this season, but the threat of Allen’s connection to receiver Stefon Diggs remains. In that win at Gillette Stadium, Diggs had six catches for 85 yards and a touchdown.