NFL Super Wildcard Weekend- Saturday Preview
The NFL playoffs begin with a bang on Saturday as the Cincinnati Bengals host the Las Vegas Raiders, and the Buffalo Bills face fellow divisional foes, the New England Patriots. Three of the four quarterbacks will be making their first playoff appearance, while Josh Allen will be looking for retribution from last year's AFC Championship heartbreak.
Las Vegas Raiders @ Cincinnati Bengals- 4.30pmEst
The Cincinnati Bengals will host the 5th seed Las Vegas Raiders in the first playoff game this season, and it should be a great game. Both offenses can turn it on when they need to, and both teams are coming off fantastic late-season runs. The Bengals came off the back of huge wins over the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs to secure the AFC North title in Week 17. The Raiders took the Chargers down to the wire in overtime of the final regular season game, where the highly anticipated tie looked set to happen. That was until Rich Bisaccia sent out Daniel Carlson to kick a game-winning field goal as the clock expired to send the Raiders into the postseason. Derek Carr and Joe Burrow will both make their playoff debuts on Saturday, and both will be hoping to earn their franchise a first postseason win in what feels like forever. The Raiders have not won a playoff game since their Super Bowl run in 2003, while the Bengals have not won a playoff game since 1991, over three decades in the making. Many demons will be squashed by one team on Saturday. It just depends on who.
Bengals- The most important piece of news for Cincy is that star quarterback Joe Burrow was a full participant in practice all week. He tweaked his knee in the win over Kansas City but will be good to go against Las Vegas. Tee Higgins came up late on the injury report this week as a limited participant due to a foot problem, so that will be something worth looking out for. Josh Tupou is unlikely to play, having missed practice all week, while Jalen Davis and Stanley Morgan will be questionable.
Raiders- The Raiders may have a few key players on the injury report, but most of them appear to be ready to go for Saturday. Casey Heyward, Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs were all limited participants in practice this week but will be good to go from the start. The only player questionable will be Johnathan Hankins, who has struggled with a back and knee issue.
Prediction: Raiders 20-34 Bengals
When the two met earlier in the year, the Bengals won convincingly 32-13 after running away with the lead in the fourth quarter. Things could go similarly again on Saturday. Joe Burrow's magical second season will continue as he leads that explosive Bengals offense against a defense that has struggled with inconsistency all season. With Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd all on fire and Joe Mixon finally healthy, it is hard to see them be stopped. Another key factor will be the rest that the Bengals had in Week 18. They have essentially had two weeks off while the Raiders played till the final seconds of the final regular season game of the season with a shorter turnaround than usual. Regardless, it will be an exciting game.
New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills- 8.15pmEst
Buffalo will host a home playoff game at full capacity for the first time in almost 30 years as they host their fierce rivals in the Patriots. New England returns to the postseason after a year out, and Mac Jones will hope to continue his growth with a statement win over Sean McDermott and the Bills in the biggest moment of his career to date. The two teams split victories earlier in the year, with New England's coming after throwing the ball just three time. However, it was the Bills who put together four straight wins, including one over the Patriots, to win the AFC East title. Buffalo will be hoping to get back to the AFC Championship game at least after last year's heartache, while Bill Belichick hopes that Saturday could start a new dynasty led by Jones.
Bills- The Bills will be all guns blazing heading into Saturday. Everyone appears to be healthy and ready to go, with Cole Beasley and Stefon Diggs being given days off for rest ahead of the huge grudge match against the long-time kings of the AFC East.
Patriots- The Pats will be without Isaiah Wynn, who was downgraded to out on Friday. David Andrews, Kyle Dugger, D'Onta Hightower, Adrian Phillips, Jakobi Meyers, Jamie Collins, Christian Barmore, Damien Harris and Lawrence Guy are all questionable. A host of crucial players not being fully fit could dent New England's chances of pulling off a huge win.
Prediction: Patriots 13-24 Bills
In the freezing conditions of Buffalo, Saturday night should be another tight battle between the two teams. Defenses will likely be on top with the ball being placed in the hands of the running backs. Even Buffalo has begun to establish the run, with Devin Singletary emerging as a key part of the offense. They have run the ball 20+ times with running backs in three of their last four games, and that balance will continue to help take the pressure off Josh Allen. The emergence of the run game will be the difference as it will open the game up for Buffalo, who scored 31 points the last time they faced New England. The Patriots and Mac Jones will offer a stern test, but that defense will have too much for Jones, who has had turnovers in three of his last four games. He threw two picks against the Bills in the previous meeting and he may suffer a similar fate on Saturday night.