Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. Eastern.
Television: The game will air nationally on NBC-TV. In the Bengals’ home region, it will be carried by WLWT-TV (Ch. 5) in Cincinnati, WDTN-TV (Ch. 2) and WLEX-TV (Ch. 18) in Lexington. Broadcasters are Mike Tirico (play-by-play announcer), Drew Brees (game analyst), Kathryn Tappen (sideline reporter) and Terry McAuley (rules analyst).
Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).
The game also will air nationally on Westwood One Radio. Broadcasters are Ryan Radtke (play-by-play), Mike Golic (analyst) and Ben Leber (sideline reporter).
Setting the scene: The AFC North Champion Cincinnati Bengals make their return to the playoffs on Saturday, when they host the Las Vegas Raiders at 4:30 at Paul Brown Stadium. It will be Cincinnati’s first playoff appearance since the 2015 season.
“These games are special,” said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. “You’ve earned this opportunity. It’s the best against the best. Everybody who is earning a spot on this AFC side is going to be a really dang good football team. It’s going to be a battle, just like we’ve had these last couple weeks.”
Cincinnati, which clinched the AFC North title in Week 17 with a win over Kansas City, used the final week of the regular season to rest nearly all of its starters. The Bengals fell 21-16 to the division-rival Browns in cold and windy Cleveland, however the game carried minimal playoff seeding implications after Kansas City beat Denver on Saturday to officially remove Cincinnati from contention for the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye.
“There was no perfect decision,” Taylor said of resting his starters. “We just felt like we need to be healthy — perfectly healthy — going into next week. There were so many things out of our control in terms of where the seeding was going to be, that we just felt it was best to rest some key guys.”
Only two of the 22 players who started for Cincinnati in Sunday’s finale were regular starters. One of those was rookie WR Ja’Marr Chase, who entered the contest needing 12 yards to break Chad Johnson’s team record for receiving yards in a season (1440). Chase played five snaps, caught two passes for 26 yards to eclipse Johnson, and then promptly exited for the rest of the afternoon.
“I really didn’t know if it was a fumble or not,” Henderson said of the play. “I was always taught as a defensive player to scoop the ball just in case. Then they said it was a touchdown, and I was like, ‘How did they review it that fast?’ But it was a good feeling for sure.”
A Bengals TD and FG in the second half kept the game close, but the Browns recovered a late onside kick and were able to drain the remaining clock to hold on for a win.
“Our guys really gave us an opportunity there in the second half,” Taylor said. “It was kind of a strange half — the offense only had three possessions — but our defense held them to seven points. We had opportunities, and our guys fought hard all the way through that onside kick, but we just didn’t make the most of some of them.”
Saturday’s game will be the third-ever playoff meeting between the Bengals and Raiders. The Bengals lost both previous matchups, including the last one on Jan. 13, 1991 in Los Angeles, when the Raiders called L.A. home. That game is infamous for what turned out to be a career-ending hip injury to Raiders star RB and multi-sport athlete Bo Jackson. But for Bengals fans, it’s equally infamous for beginning a string of eight straight playoff losses, which Cincinnati is looking to end on Saturday.
Prior to last weekend’s game at Cleveland, Cincinnati’s offense had been hitting its stride. Chase against the Chiefs set a Bengals single-game record with 266 receiving yards, which also counted as the most-ever by an NFL rookie. Burrow passed for a combined 941 yards in his last two starts — 525 vs. Baltimore, 446 vs. Kansas City — giving him the second-highest two-game passing total in NFL history, and making him the only QB ever with at least 400 yards, four TDs and no INTs in back-to-back games.
But if Burrow is to continue his hot streak, he’ll have to do it against a close family friend in Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who coached with Jimmy Burrow (Joe’s dad) at North Dakota State University in 2003 and ’04.
“We’ve played against this style of defense a bunch over the last two years,” Joe Burrow said prior to the Bengals-Raiders regular-season matchup on Nov. 21 (Bengals won, 32-13). “So we kind of know what to expect. He’s a great defensive coordinator that’s really been successful everywhere he’s gone. And he does it by really being simple on defense so that people understand their assignments.”
Las Vegas finished the regular season 10-7, and is coming off a dramatic OT win over the L.A. Chargers on Sunday Night Football. The Raiders nailed a 47-yard FG as time expired in OT to secure a playoff berth and eliminate the division-rival Chargers from playoff contention. A Raiders loss or tie in that game would have meant a Bengals home game this weekend against the New England Patriots.
“This is what we’ve been striving for all along, to be quite honest with you,” Taylor said of his team’s mentality going into the postseason. “We’ve been on our guys to be consistent with how they practice every day and raise the standard so that when you get to this moment, we don’t have to change what we’re doing. That’s why I’ve got a lot of confidence in the group of men in that locker room, because I don’t need them to raise their standard of play and how they practice. They’ve been doing that all year, and that’s why we’re in the position that we’re in.
“Our guys are going to be ready.”
The series: The Raiders lead 21-12, including 2-0 in postseason, though the Bengals have won four of the past five meetings, and five of the last seven.
The game will mark the Raiders’ first visit to Cincinnati as a Las Vegas team, where the Raiders moved to in 2020. The Bengals lead 9-6 as the home team overall (dating back to the two teams’ first meeting in 1968) and have won three straight in Cincinnati.
The series includes two previous playoff games. The Raiders won 31-28 in a divisional game at Oakland in 1975, and they won 20-10 in a divisional game at Los Angeles in ’90.
Bengals single-season records set in 2021: Here’s a look at the single-season Bengals records that were set during the 2021 regular season.
- Chase had 1455 receiving yards, which counts as a new Bengals record. The previous record was 1440, by Chad Johnson in 2007.
- Burrow had a 108.3 passer rating, which counts as a new Bengals record. The previous record was 106.3, by Andy Dalton in 2015.
- Burrow passed for 4611 yards, which counts as a new Bengals record. The previous record was 4293, by Dalton in 2013.
- Burrow had 34 passing TDs, which counts as a new Bengals record. The previous record was 33, by Dalton in 2013.
- Burrow had six 300-yard passing games, which counts as a new Bengals record. The previous record was five, held by Burrow (2020), Dalton (13) and Carson Palmer (’07).
- McPherson kicked a 58-yard FG (Dec. 19 at Denver), a new Bengals record. The previous record was 57 yards, by Randy Bullock in 2019.
Bengals-Raiders connections: Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan was on the Raiders’ coaching staff in 2018. Callahan is also the son of former Raiders head coach Bill Callahan. … Raiders DT Johnathan Hankins played at Ohio State University … Raiders CB Nate Hobbs is from Louisville, Ky. (Male High School) … Raiders CB Tony Brown (practice squad) was with the Bengals in 2020 and during ’21 preseason … Bengals offensive line coach/run game coordinator Frank Pollack was on the Raiders’ coaching staff in 2012 … Raiders offensive quality control coach Cameron Clemmons coached at Eastern Kentucky University in 2015 … Raiders tight ends coach Austin King is from Cincinnati (Purcell Marian High School), and also coached at the University of Toledo (2012-13) and University of Dayton (’15-19).
Bengals’ O boasts young nucleus: During the 2021 regular season, the Bengals became the first team in NFL history with a 4000-yard passer, 1000-yard rusher and two 1000-yard receivers who were all under 26 years old. QB Joe Burrow (25 years old) had 4611 passing yards, HB Joe Mixon (25) had 1205 rushing yards, and Ja’Marr Chase (21) and Tee Higgins (22) had 1455 and 1091 receiving yards, respectively.
The 2006 Bengals are the only other squad in team history with a 4000-yard passer (Carson Palmer), 1000-yard rusher (Rudi Johnson), and two 1000-yard receivers (Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh).
Recapping Burrow’s NFL journey: Bengals QB Joe Burrow returned healthy to begin 2021, after his rookie campaign the previous year ended due to a left knee injury suffered early in the third quarter of Cincinnati’s game at Washington (Nov. 22, 2020). Burrow had surgery on Dec. 2, 2020, then embarked on a long rehab process and was medically cleared in time to take the first snap of training camp on July 28, 2020. He participated fully in every practice of training camp (save for one scheduled rest day) but took just three snaps in preseason — all came in the finale vs. Miami.
Shortly after his injury last season, Burrow had vowed publicly that he would start Cincinnati’s 2021 season opener. On Sept. 12 vs. Minnesota, a little more than nine months after his injury, he not only made good on that promise, he posted then-career highs in passer rating (128.8), completion percentage (74.1) and yards per attempt (9.67) in a dramatic Bengals OT win.
Burrow in 2021 completed 366 of 520 passes (70.4 percent) for 4611 yards, 34 TDs and 14 INTs (108.3 rating).
Burrow masters the deep ball: An NFL-best 15 of QB Joe Burrow’s team-record 34 TD passes during the 2021 regular season came from 30 yards or longer. The next-closest players in that category this season were Buccaneers QB Tom Brady (eight), Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (seven) and Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (seven). The NFL record is 19, by Giants QB Fran Tarkenton in 1967.
Burrow’s 15 TDs of 30-plus also count as the most in Bengals history. The previous team record was nine, and was shared by Ken Anderson (1973), Boomer Esiason (’89) and Carson Palmer (’06). Burrow played in 16 games during the regular season (inactive [rest] for season finale).
COURTESY CINCINNATI BENGALS COMMUNICATIONS