From the Press Box; Bengals-Raiders a match-up of playoff dark horses?


The NFL Playoffs are set and will begin this Saturday and run through Monday evening. The following are the betting odds for each team to win the Super Bowl: Tennessee (+850), Kansas City (+475), Buffalo (+750), Cincinnati (+1800), Las Vegas (+4000), New England (+2000), Pittsburgh (+7000), Green Bay (+380), Tampa Bay (+800), Dallas (+1200), Los Angeles Rams (+900), Arizona (+2200), San Francisco (+2,500), Philadelphia (+6000). For those who aren’t gamblers, if you bet $1 on Green Bay to win the Super Bowl, you would win $3.80. But for the biggest odds, like Pittsburgh, you would win $70.

But every year in the playoffs there appears to be a “Cinderella” story that gets close. So, who could be the dark horse this year?

We don’t have to wait very long for my two potential biggest dark horses. Saturday’s match-up between the Cincinnati Bengals (No. 4 seed) and the Las Vegas Raiders (No. 5) has two teams that could really make a run.

If the favorites this weekend win, Buffalo (No. 3 vs. New England) and Kansas City (No. 2 vs. Pittsburgh) would end up facing each other in the next round of the playoffs. Tennessee is awaiting the lowest seed to be decided for their next opponent. If Buffalo and Kansas City holds up their ends of the bargain, the Raiders and Bengals will go to Tennessee next week.

Not to take anything away from Tennessee, but I’d rather play them over Josh Allen and the Bills or Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Tennessee has the lesser of three evils and a running back in Derrick Henry who hurried back from a foot injury.

So, these two teams already have the best path to the playoffs as long as Kansas City and Buffalo take care of business.

As for their business, Cincinnati is riding high on a three-game winning streak (not counting the Week 18 loss where they rested starters) and have huge wins this season over the Kansas City Chiefs and the Las Vegas Raiders. They also swept the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.

The Bengals are led by second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, who has guided this offense to 27.1 points/game (7th-best), 39.61 percent on third down (16th) and 7.9 yards/pass (2nd) and 259 yards/game (7th). His running back, Joe Mixon, is a top-tier back when he is healthy. He has weapons in wide receivers J’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and tight end C.J. Uzomah.

Where the Bengals come up short? Their defense is middle of the pack at 22.1 points/game (17th), third-down percentage of 41.63 (22nd) and passing yards/game at 248.4 (26th).

It’s supposed to be cold and maybe even wet on Saturday in Cinncati, which may be an issue for their opponent: Derek Carr and the Raiders.

The Raiders are more than a “Cinderella” story. They are the “feel good” story, except not to me as a Broncos fan.

But Interim Head Coach Rich Bisaccia has taken this team over and given them some much needed spirit after the drama caused by former coach Jon Gruden and former wideout Henry Ruggs.

The Raiders have won four in a row and five of their last seven dating back to Thanksgiving.

They are led by one of the most under-appreciated quarterbacks in the NFL in Carr who is in the Top 10 in almost every statistical category including yards/pass at 7.3 (6th), yards/game at 268.6 (6th), passing yards at 4,804 (5th) and is just outside of it in passing touchdowns at 23 (13th).

He is also accompanied by a dynamic running back in Josh Jacobs. Where the Raiders have the disadvantage in this tale of the tape is at wide receiver. They have All-Pro targets in Darren Waller (if healthy) and Hunter Renfrow. But Zay Jones and DeSean Jackson have come on late and can contribute.

Much like the Bengals, their defense is middle of the pack or worse. They give up 25.8 points/game (26th), 337.2 yards/game (14th) and are dead-last in fourth-down conversion percentage at 72.41 percent and red-zone scoring percentage at 81 percent.

Both teams are in the bottom third of the league in turnovers.

I really do think this game will be a shoot-out and come down to who performs better in potentially bad weather. Carr is a dome-player and a California guy. But being from California has never affected Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady.

Burrow, on the other hand, grew up in Ohio and plays in Ohio. If I had to take my pick, I would have to lean on the Bengals.

Who are some dark horse teams you’re looking at in the playoffs?


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