Raiders fans waited for this moment for 20 years

Finally, the Raiders made the playoffs. No hurt quarterback asterisk on this playoff berth. No second-half season collapse derailing a winning season.

Vegas finished the season with an OT win over the Los Angeles Chargers. The Raiders’ biggest win in 20 years almost resulted in a tie. That would’ve let the Chargers in the playoffs instead of the Steelers so I am not sure many would have complained. Still, forget your timeout theories. It is just win baby, not just tie maybe.

The biggest difference maker in that win included the Raiders pass rush and run game. Chargers QB Justin Herbert nearly erased all that with his straight up skills. This week the Raiders draw an equally young and poised quarterback in Joe Burrow.

Looking For Revenge

Last time these teams faced, the Bengals clapped the Raiders in Vegas. The Silver and Black will travel to Cincinnati for this round. Honestly, I am not sure the Raiders could have gotten a worse opponent.

Joe Mixon is a big and physical runner who can break one on any play. He carved us up for over 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The Bengals pulled away late thanks to the toll Mixon makes defenses pay.

Burrow completed 20/29 passes in the regular season game. Cincinatti brings size and speed on the outside. This could cause matchup problems as the Raiders secondary been banged up all year.

The Bengals defense is a sleeper. Eli Apple got a pick last time these teams played. They also threw in a couple sacks while a defeceit voided the Raiders run game.

Nonetheless, the Bengals are beatable. They lost to the Chargers and got swept by the Browns. Cincinatti barely beat the Jaguars and lost to the Jets and Bears early too. Their key victories include wins over the Chiefs, Broncos, Steelers and Vikings. They narrowly lost to the 49ers and Packers for what it is worth.

Which Squads Shows Up?

All that doesn’t really matter entering the playoffs. It’s win or go home and the Raiders have had just as many peaks and valleys as the team in stripes. Vegas is going to need a spectacular outing from their entire defensive line. Burrow is among the best versus the blitz so the entire defense must stay discipline. The Raiders registered three sacks along the line in the November game. Let’s double up this time.

One of the reasons the Raiders won 5-of-7 down the stretch is Josh Jacobs’ resurgance. His 132 rushing yards last week versus the Chargers helped them control that game. He also rushed for over 100 versus Denver but the Raiders have found ways to win even when Jacobs is ineffective.

Derek Carr has been mostly up this season. He is top-6 in passing yards and top-12 in passing touchdowns. Carr is also top ten for interceptions. Burrow is right behind him for yards and picks.

Versus Los Angeles, Carr did not have a crazy stat line. However, he didn’t throw any interceptions and scored two touchdowns. That’s exactly the Carr the Raiders need on Saturday. Take calculated risks. Move the chains and score touchdowns. Don’t make mistakes. He threw an interception versus the Bengals but was otherwise efficient.

Hopefully, Darren Waller is available. Waller’s last 100 yard receiving game versus the Bengals. They are a different team when they have Waller stretching the middle of the field. With Foster Moreau, tight end is probably the Raiders’ biggest mismatch over any team left in the bracket. The Raiders got to enable those guys to perform.

Hunter Renfrow must come up big despite everybody keying in on him. Bryan Edwards and Zay Jones must keep up their performances on key downs. We all know the chemistry they have with Derek Carr. That has been on display the past few weeks but it was absent when the Bengals came to town a few weeks ago. Desean Jackson will need to make a big play. He still has one in him.

No drops, fumbles or illegal formations from this entire receiving group. Win those matchups versus Trae Waynes and Eli Apple please. Take shots and try to get calls on them downfield too.

None of that will matter if the offensive line doesn’t step up. Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson both tore up the Raiders tackles last time these teams faced off. The Raiders offensive line is playing better now.

Cincinatti is also beefy on the inside with defensive tackles DJ Reader and Larry Ogunjobi. They are stout against the run across the front four so the Raiders and Jacobs will need to earn every yard.

On the other side, Vegas needs their defensive line to come up big. The starters got to stay fresh even if the Bengals move to a no huddle. Reserves Clelin Ferrell, Solomon Thomas and Carl Nassib will have added responsibilities with Darius Philon sidelined. One of them needs to step up and get a sack. Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue are the primary rushers but they run out of gas. They apply pressure but don’t always get home. Added help from the supporting cast makes their job easier and converts those pressures into lost yards.

Johnathan Hankins and Quinton Jefferson will need to help out versus the run but they also can’t be liabilities in the pass rush on long drives. This will help out all other positions on defense.

Versus the run, Denzel Perryman, Corey Littleton and K.J. Wright must step up. These veterans have playoff experience neither homegrown Raiders or Bengals players can relate to. We can’t afford to have any of them exposed. Divine Deablo saw a lot of time down the stretch due to his athleticism. One of those guys needs to make a play.

Our secondary continues scraping by without key players like Trayvon Mullen and Johnathan Abram. Brandon Facyson and Desmond Trufant were damn near out the league. No mistakes from Dallin Leavitt or Roderic Teamer please. Both played better than expected last week but they are flawed. Nate Hobbs, Trevon Moehrig and Casey Hayward all been bright spot offseason additions for the secondary. One of them needs to make a play this week as I expect them to bend and take lumps versus the speed and size of the Bengals receiving corps. If this group can create a turnover, the Raiders have a chance. The defensive line can help by getting home without relying on help from the blitz.

Complimentary Football

In the end, the Raiders need their entire team to play their best game versus the Bengals. It’s hard to imagine them winning if they don’t come out with the same desperation and sense of urgency we saw them with in the last quarter of the season. Let’s see some Mariota again this week.

Part of me worries they will run out of gas and get merked by a team they don’t matchup well with. Yet, that is why you got veterans like Hayward, Facyson, Perryman, Jackson, Wright and Littleton. Leadership will show versus a Bengals team that is equally inexperienced in the postseason.

Otherwise, the Raiders got to stick to their identity. Run the ball, take smart shots, get after the quarterback and create some turnovers. Derek Carr has been waiting for this moment for 8 seasons. He must earn that Mamba sleeve with a clutch performance in the postseason. His stats are great and probably earned him a year or two more at the helm but it does not matter if he can not help this team get over the hump in big games. This franchise goes as far their quarterback. Winning a championship in the Silver and Black starts by proving you can win a road playoff game.

Same thing with Josh Jacobs. He is banged up and off his most inconsistent season. However, the Raiders need him to control the clock and keep the Bengals off the field. When Jacobs is effective, the play action sets up much better for Carr and company. They also need Jacobs to break a big run off and ware the defense down. This offense is missing that spark from Kenyan Drake. Maybe they can get another big run from Jalen Richard. Either way, Jacobs must show he is elite by pulling away from the defense on the biggest stage. That’s especially true if he gets going early. Jacobs got to show he can wear a team down and finish them late.

The Raiders defense was up and down all year but they got to continue to find ways to make plays and get stops. They offer a good mix of veteran and young players at each level. Somebody got to step up and make a play. It won’t surprise me if it is somebody you least expect.

Great defenses play together and don’t rely on any one player to make every play. That won’t cop Maxx or Yannick out. Big time players make big time plays in big time games, Madden would say. We need big plays from our two best defensive players to drive the defense. Ultimately, we will need a great team effort on defense to handle the Bengals explosiveness on the road. Limit the big plays, penalties and mistakes. Don’t get rattled or fall apart now.

If the Raiders can make enough plays on both sides of the ball, they can win this game. Either way, let’s just hope they come out swinging. That’s what Big Red and Coach Flores would want. Afterall, this is the first playoff game in damn near twenty years.

Before that crushing Super Bowl loss to Gruden, the Raiders were among the league’s most winning franchise. The Raiders got to represent because I know the Nation will. Vegas must remind the league what they’ve been missing without their most prolific team playing in January. Just win baby!

Good, Bad and Other Takeaways Before Steal City.

Good news, the Raiders won their opening matchup versus the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night. It was an official blessing to the Silver and Black’s new home in Vegas.

Bad news, Vegas almost didn’t win. Even worse, Denzelle Good went down with a season ending injury.

Good suffered the injury in the first game of a new deal and role. He really stabilized the unit with his versatility the last couple seasons. The offensive line was also already a shallow group.

That means John Simpson should start again even if Richie Incognito returns. I still don’t know why Brandon Parker hasn’t gotten an opportunity to kick inside. 

Either way, the guards will be tested versus Pittsburgh veterans that include Cameron Heyward. Reviews about new starters Andre James and Alex Leatherwood were mixed. They made plays but also some curcial penalties and mistakes.

Josh Jacobs and Yannick Ngakoue both sustained long-term injuries too. Jacobs will miss this game but Ngakoue is expected to play hobbled in Week Two.

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Week One Flashbacks

Baltimore nearly sealed the game after the Raiders thought they won off a play that was stopped at the one. Carr threw a pick off a receiver a few plays later. There was a lost kicker too. 

Nonetheless, the Raiders won off a Zay Jones wide open catch. I told you these games against Baltimore usually come down to one play or the finish. 

Familiar rivals like Justin Houston and Sammy Watkins made big plays for Baltimore. Raiders fans will remember them from their days terrorizing us with the Chiefs. Latavius Murray also found the end zone after signing with the team just days before Monday Night.

All week since, Maxx Crosby and Carl Nassib earned praise after the win. Crosby registered enough sacks and TFLs to earn AFC player of the week. He was a constant force against the run and pass. Nassib helped get the ball back with a strip sack towards the game’s conclusion. Finally some turnovers! 

I’ve been critical of Nassib for a while now. He flashes on a play or two but hadn’t developed the consistency. Same for Maxx who struggled last year with more teams scheming for him. Both showed out when we needed them most. Don’t take away from Nassib making big plays in what was first regular season game since coming out. Nassib got his number called and delivered on the field while making history off the field.

More bad news came from the running game with Josh Jacobs getting hurt. He is ruled out versus the Steelers. That is a huge loss as the Raiders need to control the pass rush and clock with the run game.

Either way, Kenyan Drake earned a big contract for this exact reason. It wasn’t just to be an explosive, change-of-pace and gadget player. We knew a time would come where Jacobs needed rest and getting Drake was great insurance. It’s not like the Silver and Black haven’t employed multiple great rushers at the same time.

I don’t think any of us expected to need Drake this early but it is better than not having him. Hopefully, Jacobs doesn’t turn on too much McFadden PTSD with these lingering injuries. 

It wasn’t a particularly good game for either rusher. The best run play of the night came with Marcus Mariota earning 30 yards from his sub-package. The good news was Jacobs found the end zone a couple of times. 

On the other side of the ball, Yannick Ngakoue also sustained an injury. Many thought it would limit him this week and further. However, he practiced this week and he is expected to play versus the Steelers. 

If Ngakoue can’t go, the Raiders will need Clelin Ferrell. Ferrell was a healthy scratch versus the Ravens. 

The Raiders will need him and Solomon Thomas to prove those top-10 draft grades. Gerald McCoy also went down with injury last week. The vet was just gaining momentum and a role in the rotation. Ferrell and Thomas will be needed both inside and out moving forward.

Old School Rivalry

Every one reading this knows the ball hit the ground. However, many of these players in this week’s Steelers and Raiders showdown won’t remember the Immaculate Deception. In fact, there aren’t many familiar faces since the two franchise faced off in 2018. The most prominent returns are the two quarterbacks.

Derek Carr played well enough last week. He had one part where he had seven in completions. He almost sparked a riot on Raiders twitter after that INT. Carr redeemed himself with the winning TD. Otherwise, it was rewarding to see him take and convert shots down the field. I still don’t think the Raiders will win a Super Bowl if he is forced to through the ball 50 times.

That’s why the loss of Jacobs is pretty huge. The Steelers want to run the ball too. They didn’t complete many big shots versus the Bills last week, despite their slew of explosive receivers. Their offensive line is reloading. Big Ben Roethlisberger played well enough last week. At this point in his career, is Big Ben a game manager?

We will see versus the Raiders. Baltimore isn’t exactly loaded at any skill positions, yet they found success through the air and running the ball. Look for Pittsburgh to try and get their offense in rhythm with the run game and some more deep shots.

If the Steelers can contain the Raiders’ rush, that could spell some confidence for the Pittsburgh passing game. However, they’ll only go as far as the offensive line and run game goes. This should be an old school game with both teams trying to establish the run and dominate the trenches.

Versus the Steelers, the Raiders defensive line faces a cast of new faces. Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Andrew Villanueva once held down this offensive line. All those names are gone from Pittsburgh’s roster. 

Insert Trai Turner, Joe Haeg and JC Hassanauer. All experienced players written off by their former team. The Steelers swung last year’s starting right tackle to the left side. Point is, the Raiders should make Roethlisberger uncomfortable. He was sacked by the Bills twice last week. 

Najee Harris caught the attention of many fantasy owners before the season. However, he underwhelmed in his first game. Harris averaged less than three yards a carry. Pittsburgh should look to get him touches early and often. The Raiders surrendered rushing yards last week.

Pittsburgh rush defense wasn’t much better. They surrendered 65 yards to Devin Singletary. Again, Drake is going to be huge this week. Whatever team can establish the run will win this game.

The Steelers did sack QB Josh Allen three times. Pittsburgh also kept Stefon Diggs and the Bills receivers from scoring or completing a deep pass. This means the Raiders could have trouble completing the deep passes they converted on Monday Night.

The Vegas offense completed several passes over 20 yards to a variety of receivers. Can they do that with TJ Watt rushing on every play? 

The Major Key Versus Pittsburgh

Both teams should make big plays as both defenses can bend. The real test will be which defense lasts the longest and doesn’t break. Double critical that both defenses find a way to create turnovers and get stops in the red zone.

Ultimately, the deciding factor will be the run defense. Both teams have a slew of receivers they want to feature. However, the pass rush from both teams should neutralize that. Both secondaries seemed improved although it is early.

Regardless, the team that can get the run going will get the opposing defense on their heals. That also controls the clock and forces these offenses to take big shots. Well both teams want to convert big plays, I’m not sure either will be comfortable if they find themselves in a situation where they must force big shots if either one is down big.

Instead, I suspect both teams will setup their shots strategically of the run game. Both teams will benefit from protecting a lead and allowing their pass rushers to just get up field and create havoc.

Vegas is on the road though. They’re also down their best back. That means they will rely on big play passing game a bit more.

In the end, we’ll take beating the Steelers no matter what. Let’s protect that 16-13 all-time record. Plus, this game could have potential AFC Wild Card implications given the strength of both divisions and the added game this season.

Whatever quarterback can make a play without costing their team usually wins this game. Big Ben and Derek Carr have both had their shares of comebacks and big plays. They’ve also come up short or turned the ball over in big spots. None of that got anything to do with Sunday so whatever quarterback can balance the game managing with occasional gun slinging will win.

Whichever quarterback can use their run game to control the clock and pass rush will find themselves more easily converting downfield plays too. Coincidentally, an opposing offense playing catch up usually makes it easy on the leading team’s defense.

Bottom line, the Raiders need a win here to make everybody feel a little bit better about barely beating the Ravens. The world was watching and Vegas barely squeezed one out. This time a decisive win over an old rival could get all the haters to see the new commitment to excellence.

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