What to Look for at Saturday’s NFL Playoff Games

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The four teams that headlined Saturday’s NFL wildcard doubleheader know each other well.

The Las Vegas Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals met in November during a three-game slip for the Raiders. The New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, two rivals of AFC East, met twice in the regular season, splitting those games 1-1, with each team winning at the opposing team’s home turf.

A rematch and the final match in this season’s trilogy awaits. Here’s a look at the matchups kicking off the first week of the 2022 NFL playoffs.

4:30 p.m., NBC

The Raiders (10-7) had little time to celebrate their chaotic win over the Chargers last week, which saw Las Vegas secure a playoff spot as No. 5 in the AFC. to the late season and has the number 4 seed.

Joe Burrow, Cincinnati’s undisputed quarterback of the future, was one of the league’s top passers in the second half of regular season as the Bengals (10-7) began using a more pass-heavy game plan. Burrow threw more than 300 yards in three of his last four games and completed more than 60 percent of his passes in each of those matchups. 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 would like.

Many questioned the Bengals’ decision to put Chase at number 5 in the 2021 draft rather than Penei Sewell as an offensive player, and Chase did little to quell that skepticism with a disappointing preseason marked by dropped balls. Since then, however, Chase has nearly walked away with the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, proving that those overreactions early in the season were just that. He led the Bengals in regular-season receptions (81), yards (1,455) and touchdowns (13) and caught 11 passes for over 200 yards in Cincinnati’s win over the Chiefs, lifting Kansas City from first place in the standings. AFC was beaten.

While the combination of Burrow, Chase and receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd has presented a difficult task for the opposing defenses in recent weeks, the Raiders’ defenses largely suppressed Cincinnati’s passing attack when the teams met in Week 11, a matchup that the Bengals won. Burrow went on for a season low of 148 yards and had just a single touchdown in a game much closer than the final score of 32-13 indicated.

The Las Vegas defensive power is up front, where Maxx Crosby, the Raiders Pro Bowl edge rusher, thrives on influencing the passerby. Crosby failed to reach Burrow in the teams’ first meeting, although Las Vegas fired him three times. Yannick Ngakoue, the Raiders’ other disruptive defensive end, scored a fumble on the Bengals’ opening stage of the game. Las Vegas should have little trouble building pressure against a Cincinnati offensive line struggling with pass protection (Burrow was the most fired quarterback in the regular season).

A large majority of players from both teams have never played in a play-off game. The Raiders hadn’t made it through the postseason since 2016, and they last won a playoff game in 2002. If the Bengals win at Paul Brown Stadium, it would be their first playoff win in more than 30 years .

8:15 p.m., CBS

The Bills (11-6) won four of their last five games of the regular season to bag the AFC’s No. 3 seed. The Patriots (10-7) went 2-3 to finish the season, finishing with the No. 6 seed.

They meet at Highmark Stadium on Saturday, where temperatures are expected to be in the single digits with a wind chill of around minus 10 to 15 at kick-off.

That means this game could be a lot like when the teams met in early December, when the Patriots’ rookie quarterback Mac Jones tried just three steps in a heady New York runner. New England won, 14-10, with over 200 yards on the ground.

The Patriots could be without cornerback Jalen Mills, who was added to the reserve/Covid-19 roster on Tuesday, which would be problematic for a secondary who already lacks depth at the corner position.

New England traded Pro Bowl defensive back Stephon Gilmore to the Carolina Panthers during training camp. Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones had surgery at the end of the season in October. Mills and cornerback JC Jackson were the eye-catchers of the Patriots’ thin secondary.

Still, the Patriots’ defense allowed only 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 NFL’s top defensive units, 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 pulled off one of Jones’ worst performances of the year in a double-digit win. Jones completed 14 of the 32 passes and threw two interceptions into the game.

Buffalo’s offense, led by quarterback Josh Allen, has been inconsistent this season, but the threat of the connection between Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs remains. In that Gillette Stadium win, Diggs had six catches for 85 yards and a touchdown.

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