Final Raiders vs. Bengals Preview & Prediction: Joe Burrow and Josh Jacobs are both crucial to the outcome

As we preview the Las Vegas Raiders vs. Cincinnati Bengals Wild Card Weekend matchup, what is our prediction for how the game may go?

The matchup between the Las Vegas Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals looks set to be one of the more intriguing games of Wild Card Weekend. Let’s preview what might be the crucial elements in this Raiders vs. Bengals matchup and make a prediction for how the game may play out this afternoon.

Las Vegas Raiders vs. Cincinnati Bengals Preview

What an incredible year both the Raiders and Bengals had in 2021. The Bengals have completed an incredible turnaround that has seen them go from the first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to winning the AFC North this season.

Meanwhile, the Raiders have ridden a roller coaster this season. Their coach resigned, and one of their players was arrested in a serious incident that caused a fatality.

Following those events, the Raiders slumped from 5-2 to 6-7. Yet, they rallied to win their final four and finish as the fifth seed in the AFC.

Now, they head to Cincinnati hoping to prolong an emotional season. Let’s examine the factors that could determine the outcome of this matchup between the Bengals and Raiders.

Turnovers tell the story of Cincinnati’s season

It has been a strange year for Bengals QB Joe Burrow. His performances upon his return from a knee injury have Burrow on the fringes of the MVP conversation. In 16 starts, he has thrown for 4,611 yards with 34 touchdowns at a rate of 6.5%.

Burrow has also added 2 rushing touchdowns and 118 yards on top of that. However, turnovers are cited as the reason he is not closer in terms of the MVP odds. Burrow has thrown 14 interceptions (2.7%) with 5 fumbles.

The reason those turnovers are significant? The Bengals’ record this season is based on turnovers by their offense. Excluding Week 18 (when the Bengals played their backups), Cincinnati is 5-0 this season when they do not turn the ball over at all. When they do turn the ball over, Cincinnati has a 5-7 record.

However, the team has not won a single game this year (0-5) when turning the ball over 2+ times. Overall (again excluding Week 18), the Bengals are 10-1 when turning the ball over 1 or fewer times — they are 0-5 with 2+ turnovers. As a comparison, the Raiders are 7-3 when turning the ball over 1 or fewer times and 3-4 when committing 2+ turnovers.

The role of Josh Jacobs is crucial in this Raiders vs. Bengals preview

We have seen both of these running games have their ups and downs this season. Still, we have seen the Bengals prove they can put the game on Burrow’s back. The Bengals have receiving weapons like Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd at their disposal.

Meanwhile, the Raiders rely heavily on Hunter Renfrow and the emerging Zay Jones in their passing game. The injury to Darren Waller has been somewhat of a hammer blow to this passing offense.

In the past six games, the Raiders have not topped 250 passing yards once. In the first 11 games, they topped that number seven times. That is where the role of Jacobs becomes vital.

Derek Carr is not viewed as the QB that can put the team on his back, and he does not really have the weapons at his disposal to do so. A hallmark of the Raiders’ Week 18 victory over the Chargers was the ability of Jacobs to rip off chunk yardage and keep the Raiders’ offense ahead of the sticks, including on the final drive.

The Raiders’ red-zone woes could prove costly

When you look across some of the Raiders’ numbers, it seems incredible they have managed to advance to this point. They rank in the bottom half of the league in terms of points scored, points allowed, and the equivalent in points per drive. Part of the problem has been in the red zone (both on offense and defense). The Raiders rank 26th offensively (51.7%) and last in the league defensively (81.4%).

The Bengals themselves are hardly proficient in the red zone. On offense, they’ve scored touchdowns on 59.6% of their red-zone drives. Meanwhile, on defense, they rank 19th, allowing touchdowns on 60.4% of red-zone drives. That 21% difference in defensive red-zone efficiency is a wide gap and helps explain why the Raiders are allowing 2.3 points per drive compared to 1.88 for the Bengals.

Raiders vs. Bengals betting odds and game prediction

  • Spread: Bengals -5 (Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Moneyline: Raiders +175; Bengals -210
  • Total: 48.5

There are a lot of intriguing elements to this Raiders vs. Bengals preview that shape a potential prediction. The impact of turnovers and their shape on the Bengals’ season in 2021 cannot be underestimated. However, they face a Raiders team that ranks last in the league in interceptions and fourth-to-last in terms of turnovers as a whole.

Meanwhile, the Bengals’ red-zone advantage is significant. Cincinnati has the advantage in several areas, and the key element for the Raiders (the run game) comes up against a 13th-ranked run defense in yards per attempt.

Those elements make it tough to see how the Raiders win this game unless the Bengals make egregious errors. The Bengals have the ability to attack the Raiders’ defense both through the air and on the ground. The Raiders’ defense has somewhat impressive numbers on a per-play basis (eighth in net yards per attempt and 10th in rush yards per attempt). Nonetheless, they rank 26th in the league in scoring defense.

The key for the Raiders will be their pass rush. If Maxx Crosby and Co. can put the Bengals’ offensive line under pressure, they can potentially force mistakes from Burrow. However, the Bengals will utilize Mixon and the run game to help wear the pass rush down. The Bengals should be able to win this one comfortably and cover the spread in the process.

Raiders vs. Bengals Prediction: Bengals 27, Raiders 21

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