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The Cincinnati Bengals host the Las Vegas Raiders in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs on Saturday. It will be the second matchup between these two teams as the Bengals traveled to Las Vegas to beat the Raiders in Week 11 following their bye week.
A lot has changed for both teams since the first meeting. Specific to the Bengals, the team really found its offensive identity against the Raiders. The Bengals showed not only are they an explosive offense in the passing game, they can win games running the ball first, too. Running back Joe Mixon rushed for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns in the 32-13 win.
The Raiders enter this game on a four-game winning streak and the Bengals were able to rest majority of their starters in the final week of the regular season.
Here’s how Cincinnati can beat Las Vegas to secure its first playoff win since 1991:
Protecting Joe Burrow is the first and most important thing Bengals must do
Burrow was sacked a league-high 51 times in the regular season. The Raiders own two of the best pass rushers in the NFL in Yannick Ngakuoe and Maxx Crosby. How the Bengals protect Burrow will be the single most important part of Saturday’s game.
When Burrow is sacked more than four times, the Bengals have won only one game. When they keep Burrow’s pocket clean, typically good things follow.
Burrow is the heart and soul of this Bengals team and they will go as he goes. If Cincinnati’s offensive line allows Las Vegas to start teeing off on Burrow, the Bengals won’t be able to get into rhythm offensively.
And as the rest of the league saw in the final two weeks of the season in which Burrow played, he and the Bengals’ offense is rolling, and they are one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL.
Crosby led the NFL in quarterback pressures this season and will certainly try and take advantage of his matchup against backup tackle Isaiah Prince who has taken over as the starter since veteran Riley Reiff was placed on injured reserve.
Play turnover free football
The Raiders are one the worst teams in the league at forcing turnovers on defense and the Bengals can’t afford to give the ball away to Las Vegas. Burrow has not thrown an interception since Dec. 5 when he threw two against the Chargers.
Playoff wins usually come down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes. This is another reason why Burrow’s protection must be solid because if he’s on the ground more than he should be, there’s more opportunities for the Raiders to force a fumble or pass deflection at the line of scrimmage.
Win individual matchups on defense
Las Vegas’ biggest strength on offense is their skill players with Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller and slot wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. The Bengals did a good job limiting the production of both in the first meeting and they’ll need to do so again.
Renfrow finished with more than 100 receiving yards in three straight games. Waller caught seven passes for 116 yards in the first matchup against the Bengals, his best performance of the season.
If Cincinnati’s second-level of defense can step up and force quarterback Derek Carr to make mistakes, the Bengals should have no problem containing the Raiders’ offense enough to win the game.
Linebacker Logan Wilson, Vonn Bell, Jessie Bates and Mike Hilton are the four players to keep an eye on Saturday for the Bengals.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: How the Bengals can beat the Raiders in wild-card playoff round