2021 NFL Regular Season Recap and New Playoff Predictions
This past Sunday, the 2021 NFL regular season came to an end when the Las Vegas Raiders defeated the Los Angeles Chargers in overtime to clinch the last playoff spot in the field. With the game-winning kick by Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson, the win sent Las Vegas and the Pittsburgh Steelers into the playoffs, while the Chargers were sent home for good despite the late-game heroics by Justin Herbert. Fourteen teams now remain with a shot for the Super Bowl and the matchups for wild-card weekend will look like this:
(1) Green Bay Packers (Bye)
(2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. (7) Philadelphia Eagles — Sunday Jan. 16 1:00 PM
(3) Dallas Cowboys vs. (6) San Francisco 49ers — Sunday Jan. 16 4:30 PM
(4) Los Angeles Rams vs. (5) Arizona Cardinals — Monday Jan. 17 8:15 PM
(1) Tennessee Titans (Bye)
(2) Kansas City Chiefs vs. (7) Pittsburgh Steelers — Sunday Jan. 16 8:15 PM
(3) Buffalo Bills vs. (6) New England Patriots — Saturday Jan. 15 8:15 PM
(4) Cincinnati Bengals vs. (5) Las Vegas Raiders — Saturday Jan. 15 4:30 PM
Before we get into our predictions for the playoffs, I wanted to take a look at the predictions I made before the season started in August. An easier way to go about this may be to just highlight the teams that I was correct in assessing going into the season, as well as the ones that I whiffed on. So that’s what we’ll do.
Cincinnati Bengals (10–7) My Prediction: 5–12
The Bengals are probably the team that I whiffed on the hardest when making my season predictions back in August. While I technically was 5 games off in my predictions for two other teams (we’ll get to them later), I truly did not expect the Bengals to be anywhere near the playoffs. Despite stating that I did like their offense and thought they could generate some fireworks at times with Joe Burrow as their leader, I thought their offensive line issues and iffy defense would keep them at the bottom of a stacked division. While the offensive line was horrendous (Joe Burrow was sacked 51 times this season, most in the league) and the defense was average (18th in YPG allowed, 17th in Points Allowed), I underestimated just how good Joe Burrow would be in his sophomore season with the addition of former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase.
Burrow was fantastic in 2021, throwing for 4,600 yards, 34 touchdowns and garnering a 108.1 passer rating through 16 games, while Chase was equally impressive with 81 receptions for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns as the clear favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Joe Mixon was effective as both a runner and receiver on the year and amassed 1,500 total yards and 16 touchdowns, while Tee Higgins continued on his impressive start to his own career by going over 1,000 receiving yards and catching 6 touchdowns of his own. This Bengals team was extremely fun to watch this year and greatly exceeded most people’s expectations on the year, despite some of my preseason concerns about the team coming to light.
Seattle Seahawks (7–10) My Prediction: 11–6
The Seattle Seahawks appeared to be headed in the right direction back in August, as all the trade rumors surrounding franchise QB Russell Wilson had faded away after some demands were met in the acquisitions of OL Duane Brown and TE Gerald Everett. There was also assurance from the front office that Wilson would be more involved in the overall offensive decision-making going forward. Despite this, there were clearly still some issues with the team that they had been dealing with for a while, mainly an inefficient running game and poor pass defense. This year, those issues finally seemed to come back and bite them. These two units were horrible for much of the season until it was too late, and Russell Wilson suffered a finger injury that sidelined him for 4 games in which backup QB Geno Smith amassed a 1–3 record. Although I knew these issues were there with the Seahawks, I thought that they would be able to overcome them as they had in previous years. Though I think the Seahawks would’ve had another one or two wins if Wilson were healthy all year, the issues this season around him became too big to ignore and resulted in missing the playoffs and Wilson’s first losing season of his career.
Las Vegas Raiders (10–7) My Prediction: 7–10
The Las Vegas Raiders, as mentioned in the opening paragraph of this article, somewhat surprisingly made the playoffs this year after a chaotic season in which the team had multiple chances to call it quits when it seemed the sky was falling down on their organization. The one constant throughout the season? QB Derek Carr’s ability to galvanize the team during tough times and grit their way to close victories, as the team went 4–0 in games that were decided in overtime.
I was a believer in Derek Carr before the season started, and it was his clutch play in crucial moments during the season that willed this feisty team to the playoffs, along with an improved defensive front and an admirable job by interim HC Rich Bassacia. The offensive line, which I thought was an issue going into the season, did rear its ugly head at times, as Carr was sacked more than all but four other quarterbacks and the team struggled at times to establish a consistent running game. That being said, this team time and time again was able to rise to the occasion and win meaningful games to keep them alive, something this squad had not been known for in previous years.
Carolina Panthers (5–12) My Prediction: 10–7
Boy, where do we start with this team? After a surprising 3–0 start to the season in which the Panthers’ defense played lights out and was getting very solid QB play from newly-acquired Sam Darnold, this team quickly turned back into the pumpkin that it truly was all along.
The offensive line was absolutely abysmal on the season, ranking at the bottom of the league in both run blocking and pass blocking. Sam Darnold went back to his NY Jet days after the good start by proceeding to throw 10 interceptions over a crucial six-game span of the season while only having 4 touchdown passes. The defense, though exceeding expectations on the year by finishing second in yards allowed, was penalized a ton and struggled to force turnovers and just make plays in general when they needed to. I genuinely thought that there could have been something brewing with this team before the season started, with a new face at QB and expected improvement from second-year HC Matt Rhule, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The offensive line’s complete ineptitude and lack of continuity, along with poor play from Darnold, the absence of superstar RB Christian McCaffrey for most of the season, and clueless nature of Matt Rhule at times really derailed what was a talented team with a very gettable schedule. Maybe next year for the Carolina Panthers, right?
New York Giants (4–13): My Prediction: 9–8
Though I did not have the NY Giants making the playoffs in my preseason predictions, I did think that this would be a much improved squad with the expected development of QB Daniel Jones and the defense adding to an already very solid unit in 2020. Along with the additions of some weapons at receiver and the expected return of RB Saquon Barkley at the beginning of the season, I thought this Giants team would be a clear peg up of their NFC East counterparts, the Washington Football Team and Philadelphia Eagles.
Again, I was very wrong about this team in a bad way. The defense got off to a horrible start to the year, getting gashed at times by very pedestrian offenses both on the ground and through the air. The offensive line somehow regressed from the year before, hardly generating any running room at all for Saquon Barkley and allowing Daniel Jones to be hit too many times for him to be able to get into any rhythm whatsoever. While Jones was certainly not great this year (84 passer rating, 10:7 TD-INT ratio) and suffered a neck injury that sidelined him for the last 6 games of the season, the complete incompetence around him on offense was hard to ignore. Along with Joe Judge’s obnoxiously conservative play-calling and complete inability to instill any hope into the team or fanbase in any way, this season was a total failure for the GMen and kickstarted a reset for the franchise. The Giants cut ties with aforementioned HC Joe Judge and GM Dave Gettleman over the last two days. In what was once a very proud and respected franchise, the team has hit rock bottom and can only go up from here.
Cleveland Browns (8–9) My Prediction: (10–7)
The Browns were definitely dealt a bad hand this season, as QB Baker Mayfield and RB’s Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb battled through injuries all season and it never really seemed like we saw this team at full strength. The team also had to deal with the media drama over the Odell Beckham situation at the trade deadline, with Beckham’s father publicly criticizing Baker Mayfield for not getting his son the ball and Beckham eventually being released by the team. However, even in the few games when their main players were available, there was just an overall bad vibe around the team this year. The Browns were still competitive overall and did boast a top 5 defense in what was a much improved unit, but it’s hard to look at this season as anything other than a disappointment if you’re Cleveland.
Arizona Cardinals (11–6) My Prediction: 8–9
Though the Cardinals technically may feel like they underachieved “only” getting a wild-card spot in the daunting NFC West after their terrific start to the season, I was not under the impression that this was going to be a playoff team at all before the season started. I thought that Kyler Murray’s size and running tendencies may get him into injury trouble again , and wasn’t sold enough on the offensive line and defense to allow them to truly compete with their NFC West foes.
And again, some of these things did end up being true. Kyler once again dealt with injuries this year that sidelined him for 3 games, and the offensive line, while overall a decent unit this year, was exposed at times. Star receiver Deandre Hopkins was also limited to just 10 games on the season. However, this Cardinals team was the definition of resiliency during the season, battling injuries and grinding out tough wins on the road against key opponents during the middle of their schedule. This allowed for a small late-season collapse to not ruin their playoff hopes. The defense was rock-solid all season and finished 11th in both points and yards allowed, and received double digit sacks from both DE’s Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. The offense got some good contributions from some unexpected veterans such as TE Zach Ertz, RB James Conner, WR AJ Green and even veteran backup QB Colt McCoy when his number was called, as well as excellent play from Kyler Murray when healthy. Though the Cardinals are licking their wounds a bit heading into the playoffs, the fact that they are here at all is a success in its own right and something I did not foresee going into the year.
Philadelphia Eagles (9–8) My Prediction: 7–10
To be fair, I did provide a hypothetical in my preseason predictions that if this team got good quarterback play out of Jalen Hurts and the defense played well, this team could compete for a division title and make some noise. That being said, I also said in my preseason predictions that I likely did not see that happening. I was wrong.
The Eagles’ playoff berth this season was because of the two things I stated in my preseason hypothetical, as well as a surprising number one rushing attack that was downright dominant once it got going. Although this team did not fare too well against the tougher teams in the league (0–6 against teams in the playoffs), they were competitive in most of these games, and also seemingly never stooped to the level of inferior opponents. This second part is easier said than done in the NFL, and is a sign of a team that is in the process of building something special under first-year HC Nick Sirianni.
Miami Dolphins (9–8) My Prediction: 8–9
The Miami Dolphins were a surprise team in 2020, going 10–6 last season under then-second year HC Brian Flores and an opportunistic defense that generated more turnovers than any team in the league. After an offseason in which they added some much needed playmakers on the outside in Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle and former Texans WR Will Fuller, the team was expected to take another step in the division and compete for an AFC East title. However, I was a little skeptical of this team after looking a little closer at some of their numbers from the 2020 season, and rightfully so.
The defense, which I mentioned in my preseason predictions, had a rather fluky performance in 2020, as they heavily relied on turnovers in a true “bend-don’t-break” mentality. This year, the Dolphins “shockingly” took a step back as their defense was one of the worst units in the league in their 1–7 start. I’ll give credit to their defense in that they did right the ship during the middle of the season and get back to their turnover-inducing ways by preying on mediocre QB’s and offenses, however it was too little, too late at that point. The running game, which I also mentioned could be a potential problem in my preseason predictions, was downright dreadful, finishing 30th in the league at 92 yards a game. Tua was just okay for most of the season, looking competent at times but lacking the ability to really influence a game when other things weren’t clicking. This was a team that I never bought into last season and didn’t see them as true contenders like some people were saying heading into the year, so it felt good to be proven right by this so-so 9–8 season.
New England Patriots (10–7) My Prediction: 11–6
I’ll admit, I did peg the Patriots as a playoff team in my preseason predictions under the assumption that QB Cam Newton would be the starter for most, if not the entire season for the team. Newton ended up being released two weeks before the start of the season in favor of rookie Mac Jones. However, the main reason that I predicted the Patriots would make the playoffs before the season started did end up being the driving reason for their success.
New England’s defense, which finished middle of the pack in most stats during the 2020 season, was dominant this season, finishing 4th in yards allowed per game and 2nd in points allowed. I’m not sure why so many people glossed over the fact that this team had nine defensive starters opt out in 2020 due to COVID when assessing the team’s outlook for 2021. Bill Belichick is still the best coach of all time and knows how to run a defense, and that was on full display throughout this year. Additionally, the Patriots were able to rely on their ground game to control the clock and score points while rookie Mac Jones figured things out, though Jones performed admirably as well in a offense that was schemed for quick throws and utilizing the middle of the field. This Patriots team, though certainly not the most talented in the league, was able to maximize their potential this season through a calculated approach of doing what they do well, which is running the football, playing sound defense, and taking away their opponents’ strengths.
Washington Football Team (7–10) My Prediction: 7–10
The Washington Football Team, like the Miami Dolphins, were another team that surpassed expectations last year and had a lot of positive momentum heading into the season after a strong performance from the defense under first-year HC Ron Rivera. I still had reservations about the team, however, due to the question marks at QB that some people thought were solved in the offseason signing of Ryan Fitzpatrick and the re-signing of Taylor Heinicke. Turns out, the concerns I had at the QB spot for the team were warranted.
Journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick was unable to make it through the first game of the season, suffering a hip injury that didn’t allow him to play another snap all year. Taylor Heinicke, who came into the season as the number two, performed admirably at times and made some off-script plays that made you say “WOW”, but for every one of these plays that Heinicke made, there were two questionable ones that made you say “Oof”. Inconsistent play from Heinicke and the offense as a whole, combined with a defense that severely underwhelmed after performing so well last season, ended up being too much to overcome for this squad. In a season that surely disappointed Washington fans, this team is left with more questions than they’d like to have after seeming to find an identity towards the end of the 2020 season.
San Francisco 49ers (10–7) My Prediction: 10–7
I, along with many other people, believed that the San Francisco 49er’s 2020 season could simply be chalked up to a lack of continuity caused by injuries and some unfortunate bounces. I thought that the return of QB Jimmy Garoppolo, along with some key players on the defense, would result in this team looking more like the 2019 version of itself when it made the Super Bowl rather than the disappointing 5–11 squad from 2020.
Though it definitely was rocky at times during the middle of the season, the assumption that this team would be more like the Super Bowl in 2019 was the right call. The team was once again bit by the injury bug, as starting RB Raheem Mostert went on season-ending IR after the first week, TE George Kittle and WR Deebo Samuel missed three games apiece, and Jimmy G even missed a couple of games. However, the defense was able to stay relatively healthy for most of the season, which was the big difference in this team compared to a year ago. The unit finished 3rd in yards allowed and 10th in points allowed, as DE Joey Bosa and LB Fred Warner made their presences felt after missing the previous season. The offense, which was predicated on a dominant run game in 2019, went back to their bulldozing ways as rookie RB Elijah Mitchell was the leading rusher for an attack that ranked 7th in the NFL. Along with a breakout campaign from the aforementioned Deebo Samuel and the continued dominance of Kittle when on the field, the Niners were able to finish with double digit wins and return to the playoffs.
Dallas Cowboys (12–5) My Prediction (10–7)
I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was completely right about the Cowboys, as I predicted that they would win two less games than they actually did. However, although understated in my preseason prediction, I was correct in the reasons that I gave for them being my pick to win the division.
The defense, under the supervision of first year DC Dan Quinn, was a revelation for this Cowboys team that had not experienced any success on that side of the ball for a long time. LB Micah Parsons, whom I mentioned in my preseason predictions as a reason for the defense’s likely improvement, was way better than even I imagined this season, amassing 13 sacks and 3 forced fumbles on the year while wreaking havoc on opposing offenses on seemingly every play. Second-year corner Trevon Diggs also had an All-Pro worthy season of his own, finishing with a whopping 11 interceptions and even taking a couple back for touchdowns. The defense as a whole was much more sound this year under Quinn and had a knack for forcing turnovers and making plays when it mattered. This, along with the very good play from QB Dak Prescott and the offense in general, allowed the team to cruise rather easily to a NFC East title.
Updated Playoff Predictions
(2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. (7) Philadelphia Eagles
Initial Prediction: (2) Green Bay Packers vs. (7) Carolina Panthers
These two teams squared off against each other in Philly earlier in the season on a Thursday night, with the Bucs defeating the Eagles 28–22 despite an admirable comeback from Jalen Hurts and company. In this matchup, Tom Brady was able to throw the ball with relative ease, spreading the ball around to multiple guys and converting on 7 of 13 third-down tries to keep the Eagles’ D on the field. Hurts was largely ineffective as a passer, struggling to find open receivers all night, though he did have some success running the football in the second half.
These two teams are both much different than what they were back in October when they met, for better or for worse. The Eagles have recently found success in committing to the run and taking some of the responsibility off of Hurts, which has allowed him to be more effective as a passer in both play-action and RPO situations. The Bucs, conversely, have dealt with a myriad of injuries and exits from their star players, as RB Leonard Fournette and WR Chris Godwin both have gone on IR and WR Antonio Brown was dismissed from the team after his public outburst against the Jets in Week 17. The tough thing about this matchup for the Eagles is that their newfound biggest strength, running the football, just happens to be the Bucs’ biggest strength of their defense. The Eagles have been sound in the secondary recently and should be able to limit some of the damage Brady does through the air, especially with the absence of the aforementioned weapons, however I think the Bucs will be able to do enough offensively to hold off this better-than expected Eagles squad.
Score Prediction: Bucs 27, Eagles 21
(3) Dallas Cowboys vs. (6) San Francisco 49ers
Original Prediction: (3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. (6) San Francisco 49ers
This should be one of the best games this weekend. These two teams will meet for the first time this season, as Dak Prescott will try to bring Dallas its second playoff win since he took over against Jimmy G and the 49ers. The Cowboys, while dominant at times this season, were rather pedestrian against teams outside the NFC West, going just 6–5 in those games. The 49ers, on the other hand, have dealt with adversity all season and seem to be playing their best football at the right time. The keys to this game will be turnovers and winning the line of scrimmage for both teams, as San Francisco and Dallas both rely on their running games to set up the rest of their respective offenses.
I’m a little worried about Dallas’ ability to hold up against San Francisco’s front seven. The offensive line, while good overall, has been vulnerable at times and prone to letting Dak getting hit too much while not establishing the running game. They are going to need the offensive line at its best in order to move the football and establish a rhythm. San Francisco, on the other hand, will need to have a mistake-free performance from Jimmy Garoppolo if they want to win this game. Jimmy has been turnover-prone at times this season, and there isn’t a team better than the Cowboys in forcing turnovers on opposing QB’s. Both teams have plenty of talent, so this game will simply come down to which team holds down their end of the bargain regarding the points mentioned above. With that being said, I feel like it’s more likely that Jimmy G has an inopportune turnover or two that the 49ers simply won’t be able to overcome, rather than the Cowboys’ offensive line imploding. It’ll be a close one, but I like Dallas to escape with a win.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 31, 49ers 27
(4) Los Angeles Rams vs. (5) Arizona Cardinals
Initial Prediction: (4) Dallas Cowboys vs. (5) Seattle Seahawks
The LA Rams and Arizona will meet for a rubber match in LA in the Wild Card round, as the teams split the regular season matchup with each other, both winning on the road. The Cardinals are limping into the playoffs, having lost 4 of 5 to end the regular season, while the Rams have been playing better as of late, even after the loss to San Francisco in Week 18 (Chalk that one up to Shanahan simply owning McVay). The Rams have been getting more out of their running game with the emergence of Sony Michel, who took advantage of the starting job when Darrell Henderson went down with an injury. Cam Akers also returned last week in a limited capacity after tearing his achilles before the season started. Mid-season signee Odell Beckham Jr. has also provided a jolt to the receiving corps after an injury to rock-solid WR Robert Woods forced him out for the season. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have been trying to find the secret formula, both on offense and defense, that worked for them so well during their early season triumphs. They seemed to find a little bit of that lost magic in a win against Dallas in Week 17 in which the offense and defense played well, but they followed that up with a dud against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 18.
This game will likely come down to who can make the most big plays, both on offense and defense. Neither team has a methodical offensive approach as both rely on big chunk plays to score points. Both teams also are much better when they have a balanced offensive attack. On defense, the Cardinals will need to get after Stafford in order to potentially force some turnovers, as they have been pretty good at getting to the quarterback all year with Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. The Rams will need to try to keep contain of the dynamic Kyler Murray if they want a chance to win, as he’s proven time and time again that he can have his way with a defense if they let him roam free in and around the pocket. Ultimately, I kind of trust Kyler more in this situation than I do Stafford to play his best and not make mistakes. The Cardinals, while still having a good season, have kind of been written off by some after lugging their way to the finish line and will be playing with house money in this one. I think Kyler will be sensational in this game, and the defense will do enough to get the best of Matt Stafford and the Rams.
Score Prediction: Cardinals 31, Rams 24
(2) Kansas City Chiefs vs. (7) Pittsburgh Steelers
Initial Prediction: (2) Buffalo Bills vs. (7) Indianapolis Colts
The Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers will square off for the second time in three weeks as Kansas City pummeled Pittsburgh back in Week 16, 36–10. Pittsburgh is probably happy to just be playing in this game, as the Chiefs all but knocked them out of playoff contention back in that Week 16 game at Arrowhead, but the Steelers were able to rattle off two straight division wins and receive some help around the league to allow them the 7th and final spot in the AFC Playoffs.
The Chiefs dominated the Steelers through the air in the first matchup, as Patrick Mahomes pretty much made any throw he wanted to en route to 3 touchdown passes before stepping off the gas in the second half. Ben Roethlisberger was abysmal in the first game between these two teams, as he struggled to get into a rhythm with his go-to guy Diontae Johnson or his other receivers. Johnson’s fumble in the second half ended up being the dagger for the Steelers, as the Chiefs scored another touchdown directly after the turnover that put the Chiefs up 30–0.
The Steelers will need to establish the run game early in this game, as although Harris was effective back in Week 16, it was largely in garbage time when the Steelers were already out of it. Roethlisberger needs to be calculated in his decisions and look to get the ball out to his receivers in space to allow for them to make plays after the catch. For the Chiefs, I imagine they’ll go to the same gameplan that worked well for them in the first matchup. Mahomes will look to attack early and often, and I imagine they’ll try to get RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire involved upon his return from injury. I think the Steelers should fare better defensively this time around, as it can’t get much worse than last time, however I doubt Big Ben and company will be able to do enough offensively to pull off the upset. Chiefs should roll in this one.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 26, Steelers 17
(3) Buffalo Bills vs. (6) New England Patriots
Initial Prediction: (3) Baltimore Ravens vs. (6) Cleveland Browns
These two division rivals will meet for the third time this season as the Patriots will travel to Orchard Park to take on the Buffalo Bills. These two teams split the regular season series, as many thought New England would win the AFC East after they defeated Buffalo on the road in Week 13 to take control of the division. However, the Bills would go on to defeat the Patriots in Week 16 and win out from that point to take the division for the second year in a row. The Patriots, besides a 50-point outburst against in the Jaguars in a Week 17 win, are slightly trending downward going into the playoffs, while the Bills appear to have hit their stride and are playing some of their best football of the season right now.
I think it’s fair to throw out the first matchup between these two teams back in Week 13. The playing conditions largely limited the two teams to running the football, which favored the Patriots and ultimately lead to them winning the game. In Week 16, however, the weather conditions were much more mild and the two teams were both able to employ their full offensive playbooks, which resulted in a Bills win. At the moment, the weather conditions should not play a factor in the game, which would lead one to believe this game should play out more like the most recent matchup between these two teams. However, I don’t think this one will be that easy for Josh Allen and company. Bill Belichick is probably the greatest coach in history at taking away opponents’ strengths and making adjustments, and in order to win this game, the Patriots will have to do that. I expect there to be a greater focus on keeping Josh Allen inside the pocket and not allowing him to throw on the run or use his legs to get first downs. This should make more it more difficult for Allen to find open receivers against New England’s elite secondary. That being said, the Bills’ defense was also elite this year, especially against the pass, which should make for a difficult night for rookie QB Mac Jones. Though the Patriots should have success running the football, they’re going to need a more balanced attack to win this game on the road, and I’m not sure I’m confident enough in Mac Jones yet to believe that happens. This game should be a low-scoring affair and will be close, however I like Josh Allen to do enough to move on and send the Patriots home.
Score Prediction: Bills 21, Patriots 17
(4) Cincinnati Bengals vs. (5) Las Vegas Raiders
Initial Prediction: (4) Tennessee Titans vs. (5) New England Patriots
This matchup features two teams that will make their first playoff appearances in a while, as the Raiders are making their first appearance since 2016, while the Bengals were last in a playoff game in 2015. The two teams met in Las Vegas back in Week 11, in which the Bengals won the game 32–13. This game was closer than the final score may indicate, as the Bengals held a narrow three point lead early in the fourth quarter of that game. Ultimately, a couple costly turnovers by the Raiders on offense proved to be too much for them to overcome and sealed their fate in the loss.
Despite the lopsided loss on paper, there are still some good things the Raiders can take away from that first matchup. The team did well in limiting Burrow from making plays downfield, as Burrow threw for only 149 yards in that Week 11 game despite completing 20 passes. They were also able to pressure Burrow repeatedly that afternoon, sacking him three times. Joe Mixon did gash the rush defense to the tune of 130 yards, but the Bengals have shifted more to a pass-centered offense as the season has progressed and haven’t relied on Mixon as much. The Bengals could decide to go back to the game plan that worked for them in the first matchup, but I think it’s more likely that they stick to the downfield passing attack that’s worked for them in general as a team recently. This should play into the Raiders’ favor. As good as Joe Burrow has been this year, it’s a lot to ask a second-year QB to win a playoff game as the main driver behind a talented but young offense. Derek Carr, while also not having played a playoff game himself, has played in numerous close games in his 8-year career and come out on the winning side. I think his experience will play a big factor in a game that could easily turn into a shootout with each team going blow-for-blow. Given that the game will likely be close going into the fourth quarter, I like Carr and the Raiders to make some big plays in the final frame to keep the Raiders’ season alive.
Score Prediction: Raiders 30, Bengals 28