Sunday Wild-Card Liveblog: Bengals, Ravens Go for Round 3

Bengals Receivers
Bengals Receivers
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Wild Card - We're still not over that Jaguars comeback on Saturday night, as Jacksonville went from one of the more embarrassing showings we've seen in some time to the third-biggest comeback in NFL playoff history. Never doubt the Chargers' ability to Charger!

Can any of today's games live up to that one? We're a bit skeptical. Two of them, disappointingly, will have backups starting. The Dolphins are forced to turn to Skyler Thompson to take on the Bills, while the Ravens look to start Tyler Huntley against the Bengals. With Tua Tagovailoa and Lamar Jackson, these would be more-or-less even matchups of the top teams in the conference. With the reserves, it becomes a pair of underdogs looking to make some history.

And then there's the middle matchup today, a battle between two teams with negative DVOA. In most years, the New York Giants would be the luckiest team in the playoffs, with Brian Daboll standing on his head to propel an on-paper inferior team into the playoffs. But not in 2022, where the Minnesota Vikings managed to go 13-4 despite having a negative point differential. The Vikings managed to go 11-0 in one-score games, ending up as the ninth-worst playoff team in NFL history. And yet, they've been dealt a comparatively easy hand. One of them does have to win and move on -- we know, we checked the rulebooks. It's a golden opportunity for either team, and we'll see who can best take advantage of it today!

And we'll be covering today's matchups live in today's edition of the Football Outsiders liveblog. We'll be here throughout all three playoff games, from the Dolphins and the Bills in the early window, through the Giants-Vikings game and to the end of the Ravens-Bengals nightcap. And because we're live, you can participate in the discussion as well! Join in on the conversation -- either in the comment section in this article, on Twitter by tagging @FBOutsiders or @BryKno, or on our brand new Discord server, where some of your favorite writers will be hanging out and reacting live.

Let's keep this rolling!

Early Game Preview: Dolphins at Bills

No Tua Tagovailoa and new Raheem Mostert make Mike McDaniel something something.  Go crazy, perhaps? We wouldn't mind if he did.

As Cale Clinton says in our preview, losing Tagovailoa means this game loses a fair bit of it's luster. Rather than being the world-beaters we saw in September and October, the Dolphins staggered into the playoffs losing five games in a row before squeaking out a low-scoring victory over the Jets to qualify for the postseason. The Week 3 game against Buffalo was a tightly-fought contest with the Bills sweltering in the Miami sun.  The Week 15 game saw Mostert rumble for 136 yards as they nearly pulled off an upset. Now, instead of a real rubber match, the Dolphins will just have to see what McDaniel can scheme up. There are worse things than designing plays for Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, but there's a lot to overcome here if the Dolphins want to make it a game.

As for the Bills, this is going to be another emotional game. Damar Hamlin is back; he visited the team on Saturday. There's no word yet whether he'll be at the game on Sunday or not, but if he is, and he's introduced, he's going to blow the non-existent roof off of the stadium. As if they needed any extra motivation in this one. Buffalo is coming in fully healthy, with massive momentum, and are huge, huge favorites in this one. Miami is a 13.5-point underdog; that's the biggest spread ever for the wild card round. We'd love to say we had some deep reason to expect the result to be other than what everyone else is expecting, but no. This would be a massive upset over our preseason favorites.

We've yet to see a seventh seed beat a second seed since the playoffs expanded. If this ends up being that game, I will eat a hat.

Middle Game Preview: Giants at Vikings

I think Vince Verhei summed this up best in our stat preview this week:

Vince Verhei: DVOA tells us that the New York Giants are a bad team whose 9-7-1 record was built on good fortune. It also tells us that the Vikings are a terrible team whose 13-4 record was built on weekly cases of deus ex machina run amok.

Teams like the Giants make the playoffs on a semi-regular basis. At least one team with negative DVOA has made the postseason every year since 2008 -- sometimes as a fluky, one-off team like the 2020 Browns, and sometimes as a team on the rise maybe a year before they're really 'ready', like last year's Bengals. Only time will tell what the Giants will be, but Brian Daboll has done a great job making lemonade out of a roster we all thought would be the absolute pits this season. They're looking for their first playoff win since 2011, and might well get it. They're peaking offensively at the right time, they have balance to attack the Vikings in different ways, and they don't turn the ball over. They might be able to win this game if it ends up calm and orderly.

The Vikings do not play calm and orderly games.  Teams like Minnesota do not make the playoffs on a semi-regular basis; the last team with a DVOA below Minnesota's to make the playoffs was the 2016 Texans. The Vikings exist on chaos and nonsense; fumbled plays at the goal line, unprecedented comebacks, last-second touchdown after last-second touchdown.  Going 11-0 in one-score games in unheard of; if you flipped every one-score game in the league, the Vikings would be picking first overall, not going to the postseason. Give Minnesota credit for not beating themselves and being in position to make take advantage of other people's mistakes. And also give them credit for having Justin Jefferson, who can single-handedly destroy defenses.  But their success isn't sustainable, and we're all kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

The Vikings are three-point favorites, but the line might as well involve imaginary numbers or letters of the alphabet. Betting on any Vikings game this season is a fool's errand; you can not predict chaos itself.

Late Game Preview: Ravens at Bengals

We avoided a coin flip!  Hurray!

Had the Ravens beaten the Bengals last week, they would have been 2-0 against Cincinnati and a half-game behind them for the division title. Because of the cancelled Week 17 game, the NFL decided that that situation would have required a coin flip, which would have sent the third seed on the road in the first round of the playoffs. Wild stuff. Fortunately for order, the Bengals won, and so this game is happening at their place.

This is the other game that's affected by injury. It looks like Baltimore will 'only' be down to their backup quarterback, as the banged-up Tyler Huntley looks good to give it a go tonight. Not so Lamar Jackson, which is a shame -- under Jackson, the Ravens are up there with the best of the best in the conference. But without him, the offense has collapsed to near-remedial levels. They haven't scored more than 17 points in a game since November.

Our stat preview points out, however, that things are not entirely lost. Cincinnati is having offensive line issues, with the entire right side of the line out. Baltimore is getting healthy in the secondary, and they have the speed and talent to at least make things difficult for Joe Burrow and the Bengals' offense. If they can shorten the game and take advantage of limited possessions, I wouldn't rule an upset out here entirely. At the very least, it seems more likely than in the Dolphins game.

Still, Cincinnati is favored by 8.5 points. Hopefully, there'll be some intrigue here, though it's entirely possible the Bengals will just run up the score early and put this one out of reach.

11:05 AM: Biggest Wild Card Underdogs

The Dolphins have actually ticked up to +14 in some places, as the biggest line in wild card history continues to grow. This is only the 12th time there's been a double-digit line in the wild card round, as a matter of fact.  The previous 11:

  • 1996: Vikings (+10) lose to Cowboys 15-40
  • 1996: Eagles (+10.5) lose to 49ers, 0-14
  • 2004: Broncos (+10) lose to Colts, 24-49
  • 2007: Titans (+10) lose to Chargers, 6-17
  • 2010: Seahawks (+10) beat Saints, 41-36
  • 2011: Lions (+10.5) lose to Saints, 28-45
  • 2012: Vikings (+11) lose to Packers, 10-24
  • 2016: Dolphins (+11) lose to Steelers, 12-30
  • 2020: Football Team (+10) lose to Buccaneers, 23-31
  • 2020: Bears (+11) lose to Saints, 9-21
  • 2021: Steelers (+12.5) lose to Chiefs, 21-42

Yeah, that No. 2 v. No. 7 game seems to lead to some lopsided lines, huh?

The one upset? That was the Beast Quake game, highlighted by Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard run late in the fourth quarter. Anything's possible in the playoffs!

11:32 AM: Dolphins at Bills Injury Report

The Dolphins' injury report was very, very, very long.

We knew Raheem Mostert (thumb), Tua Tagovailoa (concussion) and Liam Eichenberg (hand) were out. But there were six more players listed as questionable.  The other inactives are Kendall Lamm (ankle) and Brandon Shell (knee/ankle), so yes, that's the top two right tackles along with the left guard out, as well as the quarterback and running back. Fun!

Some players did, however, get active. That includes Terron Armstead, who had four different injuries listed but is out there, and Bradley Chubb, back from ankle and hand injuries. Ced Wilson and Alec Ingold are out there as well, as is Teddy Bridgewater, though he'll end up backing up Skyler Thompson and is likely only available in an emergency situation.

The Bills had two questionable players: Isaiah McKenzie and Jordan Phillips. They are, in fact, both out. But Jordan Poyer, who's had a knee, is active. 

This is really a mismatch from a health perspective.

12:11 PM: Damar Hamlin in the House?

Earlier today, the AP was reporting that Hamlin was going to attend the Bills game today, after visiting the team on Saturday. But a few minutes ago, they changed their story to it being "unclear" whether Hamlin would show up or not, as their source is reporting that 'plans may have changed'.

It could be a legitimate health-related reason; not going into a crowded stadium isn't the worst idea in the world for someone recovering from cardiac arrest.  Then again, it could also be someone getting mad at the source for spoiling a surprise. I suppose we'll find out soon enough.

Hey! Drama surrounding the game! Intrigue! Excitement!

12:13 PM: Damar Hamlin, in His House

Considering he's still on oxygen, this makes a fair amount of sense.  Still.  There goes the drama, intrigue and excitement!

1:08 PM: Bills Stop Bills

(We're trying less timestamps, more descriptions today. We'll see if that works!)

As massive favorites, the general strategy for the Bills should be to reduce variance; you'll win if normal things happen in a normal way, so reducing the number of potential game-changing points makes a lot of sense.

Don't tell that to Buffalo, though. After moving the ball downfield fairly easily with the pass, a couple less-effective runs put the Bills in 4th-and-3 just outside the Miami 30. Now, the analytics play is to go for it; we had it being a +0.9% win probability advantage to go.  But the Golaith strategy would be to kick the field goal; just get points and slowly add pressure to Miami.  McDermott decides to go for it, and the Bills do not pick it up.  That is step one of about ten thousand for a Dolphins upset.

1:20 PM: "Cover 0" Means Don't Cover, Right?

The Dolphins respond with a quick three-and-out, though Jalen Waddle had a drop he can't really afford to make with Skyler Thompson as his quarterback.

The Dolphins defense wants to blitz Allen, and is at least showing pressure on nearly every passing snap. Blitzing Allen generally doesn't work, though I suppose the high-variance strat again makes sense. Force things to happen, and hope they break your way.  Though if you're going to do that, you need to make sure your corners don't let Stefon Diggs get behind them.

On the next play, Allen bullets a ball into Dawson Knox, who makes a one-handed grab, and the Bills have a 7-0 lead with 7:57 left in the first.

1:25 PM: Dean Marlowe Picks Skyler Thompson

Well, Thompson so far has not been That Guy.  Two plays after the Bills touchdown, Thompson loses Dean Marlowe in traffic, and throws the ball right to him.

I don't know, guys; I'm trying to hold out interest in this one, but this has not gone ideal for Miami to this point.

1:29 PM: Cook Cashes In

It takes just four plays after the interception for James Cook to find paydirt.

The Dolphins look an awful lot like 14-point underdogs, wouldn't you say?  I'm not calling ballgame in the first quarter, but you can see ballgame from here.

1:40 PM: Dolphins Hands Greased?

For the Dolphins to win, everything needs to perfectly for them. And yet, both Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill have dropped catchable passes already. Your quarterback is Skyler Thompson, guys; you can't afford to not be perfect! And then Waddle fails to catch a well-defensed but still catchable deep shot, and comes up holding his arm afterwards.

Lights are still on, but the party is wrapping up...

2:00 PM: Rule of Cool Loses Again

It looked like the Bills were on their way to yet another touchdown, but Dawson Knox trapped the ball against the turf. Apparently. It was a 50/50 call and took minutes for the refs to make the call. That seems like textbook "not clear and obvious" to me, but these refs are not exactly haven't the world's best game.

The Dolphins are also not having the world's best game, but they're fortunate to just be down 17-0. This could easily be 28-0 at the moment.  There's still 12:46 left, so it's not...quite...ballgame yet. But we'll see if Miami has any response; like, literally, any thing.

2:12 PM: Points!  Points for the Dolphins!

The shutout has been averted! It took a receiver slipping open on 3rd and 19, but you know what, you take those.

You also take...multiple blown coverages by the third-choice right tackle, forcing multiple Thompson panic throws and a couple knockdowns.  But Miami at least manages to salvage a field goal, and so it's back to a two-possession game.

2:18 PM: Holding Out for Some Hero Ball

When we were trying to figure out possible ways for the Dolphins to pull the upset, a couple strange interceptions from Josh Allen was always included.

I don't think this one is on Allen. John Brown, the intended target, kind of checked up, and Allen through it where he would have been if he kept running.  But an interception is an interception, and so Miami has a chance to make this a contest...

2:28 PM: Fourth Down and a Prayer

Skyler Thompson, "aggressively checking down" per the broadcast. OK, sure, throw behind the line of scrimmage on 4th-and-8, why not.

That's a rare miss from Matt Milano, and it kept the Dolphins' drive alive...for about another minute, before they kicked another field goal.  17-6, Buffalo, with 2:15 left in the second quarter is not a runaway...

2:44 PM: Running into Field Goal Range

The Bills go three-and-out, but only just. Allen fired a shot downfield, but rookie Khalil Shakir, who is not having the world's best day, dropped it. That forces a punt, and the Bills' special teams rears it's ugly head.

The Dolphins don't move much from there. They face a 4th-and-2 from inside the 20, and after some debate, McDaniel opts to go for the field goal. That's the wrong call by our numbers, though it was close; giving the ball back to Josh Allen with time seems less than ideal. But it is now a one-possession game, with the Dolphins down just 17-9.

Just three field goals away from the lead, guys!

2:48 PM: Cole Beasley Turns it Over

Did we say it was bad that Buffalo got the ball back? Because the Bills tossed the ball right back to Miami, the ball ricocheting off Cole Beasley and into the hands of Jevon Holland!

The all-field goal comeback continues..... but NO. They RUIN it by scoring a TOUCHDOWN.  Jeez, guys, what are you doing to my memes.

The two-point conversion is good, and we are tied at 17.  

That overturned touchdown is a huge turning point; it looked like Buffalo was about to waltz all over this one, and now we have a brand new ballgame.

2:59 PM: No Replay For You

The Bills march downfield and get into field goal range with 11 seconds left and a time-out in their pocket. Allen hits Diggs in the corner of the end zone, but it's ruled incomplete.

Probably correctly; it looks like he does not have possession with two feet in bounds, but it's close. Might be worth a review?

The Bills don't get a review, and are livid. To the point where they have to blow their last time out to complain about things. And, because they don't have a time-out, they have to settle for the field goal with 7 seconds left, rather than getting another crack at the end zone.  Stick a pin in that one, but Buffalo regains the lead, 20-17.

3:14 PM: Historic Upsets

For the record, the biggest upset in playoff history is still Super Bowl III, when the Jets won as 18-point dogs.

This would tie the Patriots' win in 2001 as the second-biggest upset in playoff history.  I still don't think it's likely; the Dolphins are averaging just 3.K2 yards per play. But I suppose massive upsets are never likely.

3:19 PM: Facing an Upset

The Dolphins go three and out and punt, while the Discord questions whether that was the right call. Well, of course punting was correct!  It moved the Dolphins into scoring position, presuming that we see the return of...Rookie Josh Allen!

That fumble bounced off of Allen's face and into the clear, where Miami could scoop and score.  And now it's 24-20 Miami...

3:29 PM: Nervous Energy in Buffalo

Buffalo picks up a couple first downs, but ends up facing a 4th & 7 near midfield and punting the ball away.  The Dolphins still haven't done much on offense, but the longer this game remains in question, the more nerve-wracking this becomes in Buffalo.

Our model, by the by, would have liked the 4th-and-7 go.  It also still likes the Bills to win, but we're below 60% now...

3:40 PM: Buffalo's Defense Steps Up

We've been waiting for Skylar Thompson to make a mistake, but he's been playing solidly all day long.  Until now -- pressure has begun to get to him, and that's forced him to make some questionable decisions. The most recent is this floater, which ends up in the hands of Kaiir Elam.

Dolphins can't afford to make mistakes like that...

3:46 PM: Josh Allen Takes Over

With the ball back in his hands in Dolphins territory, Allen decides that he would like to have the lead back, please.

That includes a 12-yard designed run on 3rd-and-8, lowering his shoulder and running into defenders, followed by a zip to Cole Beasley.

The Bills are back up, 27-24, with 5:18 left.

3:53 PM: Miami's Offense Continues to Sputter

Through their first four drives of the second half, the Dolphins have nine yards of total offense.  They're averaging 2.5 yards per play.

It's astonishing that they're only down three points.

3:58 PM: Josh Allen Continues to Josh Allen

Allen has had his fair share of questionable plays today.  But he also can do this at any point in time.

He even throws this flatfooted! Sometimes, you just need to stop and appreciate players like this.

Bills out to a 34-24 lead, but there is still a lot of ballgame left.  We're not even in the fourth quarter yet!

4:14 PM: One (1) Good Dolphins Drive

Through the first three quarters, the Dolphins' longest drive was 38 yards. They were hanging in this one due to Buffalo mistakes far more than anything they were doing.  But finally, as the third quarter ticked over to the fourth, they put an actual, honest-to-god drive together.  11 plays!  75 yards!  A big pickup on a dumpoff to Ahmed!  Jaylen Waddle touching the football!  Mike McDaniel pulled all the bells and whistles on that one, and Jeff Wilson caps things off with a dive.

The Bills' lead is cut to 3, with 10:53 left to play...

4:34 PM: Torches and Pitchforks for Ken Dorsey

The Discord is going nuts about Ken Dorsey's playcalling. Shot play after shot play after shot play. You're nursing a small lead! Run the ball, have some short routes! Play normal football!

The Dolphins still need to do something to win this, but they have the ball down a field goal with 4:24 left!

4:44 PM: The Dolphins Have No Concept of Time

All game long, the Dolphins have had problems getting the playcall in. Some of that comes with inexperience and lack of reps from Thompson, and some of it comes from a rookie coach who hasn't yet streamlined what he's doing.  But that keeps shooting the Dolphins in the foot, blowing all their timeouts.

And then, with no timeouts, that turns a 4th-and-inches play into 4th-and-5, as they can't get the "do a sneak" play call in in time.  That ups the degree of difficulty tremendously, and the Dolphins can't pull it off.  That should be ballgame.  Should be, at least.

4:55 PM: Switching to the 'Fraud Bowl'

The Bills do, in fact, run out the clock, and so we're on to game two!  We shouldn't really call this the 'fraud' bowl, but 'DVOA Hates Both Of Your Teams' takes up too much space.  Vikings, Giants; let's see what you got.

4:59 PM: Vikings Strike First

While we were on the end of the Bills-Dolphins game, the Vikings were marching.  They were about as perfect as you can get on an opening drive; Kirk Cousins went 7-for-7 for 54 yards as Minnesota just threw to Justin Jefferson over and over and over.  Cousins sneaks it in to cap off the drive.

7-0 Vikings, very early.

5:10 PM: Giants Strike Back

The Vikings defense is...let's say pliable.  Flexible. Permissive. However you want to describe it.  The Giants take just five plays to score.  Long runs by both Daniel Jones and Saquon Brakley, big catches by Richie James and Darius Slayton, and we're tied. That was too easy.

7-7, and if both defenses would like to report to the field, that would be appreciated.

5:17 PM: Burn This Play

I'm not sure 3rd-and-2 is the best situation for the throwback screen to Kirk Cousins. I'm not sure any situation is the best situation for the throwback screen to Kirk Cousins.

Hey, Mike, that should take care of Burn This Play for you.

5:22 PM: Like a Hot Knife Through Butter

The Vikings can't cover. They can't tackle. They can't rush the passer.  Other than that, things are going well!

When you're gaining 18.4 yards per play, things are going OK. The Giants now have a 14-7 lead, and are looking very, very sharp.

5:32 PM: Definitely Sustainable

The broadcast made a big deal out of the Vikings being 11-0 in one-score games, and with such a big point differential in the fourth quarter, as if these were sustainable statistics. Well, as it's currently not the fourth quarter, I suppose it's alright that the Vikings had to punt again, right?

5:50 PM: Daniel Jones has Wheels

Did the Vikings just miss Jones' mobility in their game plan? Because they seem to have prepared nothing for it.  Jones has nine rush attempts for 72 yards, most them planned. The Vikings aren't devoting a spy to stop him; they're not sneaking anyone up to clog lanes; they're just letting him run all over them.

They stall a bit in the red zone, however, as they get too cute -- a Statue of Liberty play doesn't work, and some illegal motion wipes off a score.  So it's only 17-7 Giants, though we're nearly at the end of the second quarter.

6:01 PM: Live by Wink Martindale, Die By Wink Martindale

Wink Martindale is going to send pressure. That's what he does. That's who he is.  This, despite the fact that Kirk Cousins was very good against extra blitzers. And the Giants paid for it on this drive, with  TJ Hockenson pulling in a couple big catches against unprepared defenders to march Minnesota down the field. In the red zone, Cousins finds K.J. Osborn for six.

Fraud Bowl back on.  17-14, Giants, with 45 seconds left in the half.

6:27 PM:  No Defense.

Aaron Schatz: I don't know how much of the Giants' play design is Daboll and how much is Kafka, but it is good.

It seems like there are multiple open receivers on every Giants play. What, precisely, the Vikings are planning to do defensively isn't clear; they're playing very soft, they're letting people run free, and they're paying the price. The Giants march right down on the opening drive of the second half without breaking a sweat. Play action to a wide-open Bellinger gets them into the end zone.

24-14, Giants, early in the third quarter.

6:38 PM: Going Back and Forth

It's important to note in all this that the Giants are also not very good, and the Vikings offense is taking advantage of that.  Multiple times today, they've gotten Adam Thielen matched up on a linebacker, which should just never happen.  

We've now had back-to-back 75-yard drives to start the second half, as the predominant defensive strategy in this one seems to be 'maybe the offenses will get tired'. Irv Smith scores the most recent touchdown, and it's 24-21, Giants.  Still in the third quarter, so there's plenty of time!

6:47 PM: An Actual, Factual Defensive Play!

I think the Vikings are now up to one (1) successful defensive play in this game, but it was a big one -- a sack on 3rd & 7. And, for the first time today, the Giants have to punt.

And because it's the Vikings, it's almost a disaster, as Jalen Reagor muffs the return.  The Vikings are lucky enough to fall on top of it, so they have the chance to take the lead now on this series...

7:05 PM: A Critical False Start

The Vikings march down the field themselves, and look to be in good position to take the lead after a couple clutch T.J. Hockenson catches, one to convert 4th and 2 and the other that led to 4th & 1 in the red zone.  It's a clear go, a +8.2% win probability play, and the Vikings line up for it. In the Discord, we joke that obviously, the Vikings will false start...

...and they do. Of course they do. They're the Vikings.

Our model still wants them to go from five yards further back, but it's a tougher decision, and O'Connell decides to kick, instead.  And so we're knotted at 24 with 12:34 left...

7:19 PM: Giant Conversions

It's the sixth 75-yard touchdown drive of the game! Defenses need not apply to this one.

The Giants do end up facing a fourth-and-1, but there's no hesitation -- they line up, go for it, and pick it up on the sneak. The Dolphins could learn something!

A few plays later, Saquon Barkley decides no one is going to be able to tackle him.

31-24 Giants, but there's still 7:47 left...

7:39 PM: Last Chance Saloon

The Giants mange to take more than half the clock down, including a conversion on 4th-and-inches. But Darius Slayton drops a pass with nothing but green grass in front of him, and the Giants punt it back to Minnesota.

Vikings ball, down 24-31, with 2:56 left. Here we go...

7:46 PM: Ballgame!

It's 4th and 8 and ballgame, and the Vikings...throw underneath?  T.J. Hockenson makes the catch, and Xavier McKinney is there to meet him...

Ballgame!  We'll see the Giants go to Philadelphia next Saturday!

8:25 PM: Headed to Cincinnati

We're off in the AFC North Round III. Already, Joe Burrow and the Bengals are moving a little better than they last week, as they open the playbook a little more. But we're also seeing the effects of that weakened offensive line, as Burrow absorbed a lot of shots; the Ravens look to be sending guys from as many different angles as possible to overwhelm Cinci's offensive line schematically. 

It does force Cinci to stall out just outside the red zone, and Evan McPherson kicks a field goal to make it 3-0. That has to be considered a win for Baltimore; now, we'll see if their offense can put anything together.

8:34 PM: In Which The Baltimore Offense Can Not, In Fact, Put Anything Together

Tyler Huntley did, indeed, get the start for Baltimore; he's banged up but still a better option than Anthony Brown.  Theoretically, at least. Because his second pass attempt ends up like this...

Hesitation leads to interception, and the Bengals have the ball back.

8:46 PM: Getting Chippy.

Ah, there's nothing you can count on more than an AFC North battle getting chippy. The Ravens got flagged for taunting, as tempers are beginning to flare.

I'm not sure what part of Baltimore's strategy is "get flagged for taunting, give up short fields, and go soft on third downs", but I might suggest changing it; it's not working.  Burrow finds Chase for a touchdown to extend this toa a two-score game early.

Make that a 9-0 game, as McPherson misses the extra point.

9:04 PM: A Prototype Drive

The Ravens' best hope here is a series of long drives ending in points -- reduce the number of possessions, reduce the amount of times Joe Burrow gets the ball, maximize your points when you have the opportunities.  A 17-play, 10:03 drive is exactly what the doctor ordered.

It's 9-7, and we're already down to 4:53 left in the second quarter...

9:13 PM: "This Game is Getting Dumb"

That comes from Coralskipper in the FO Discord, as the Ravens are hanging in there.  After the eat clock / score touchdown combo, the third part of the Raven's comeback strategy was get turnovers.  They can check that box in on what is a disastrous play for Cincinnati.

Not only did Hayden Hurst fumble, allowing the Ravens to recover, but they also saw left tackle Jonah Williams be helped off the field.  That's what Cincinnati needs: more offensive line injuries.

Ravens have the chance to take the lead here, with the ball already in Cincinnati territory...

9:32 PM: Just Like You Drew it Up

This is the longest pass play for the Ravens today.

Greg Roman, offensive genius!

The Ravens stall out in the red zone, but the field goal gets them up 10-9 as we enter the half. And Cincinnati, down three offensive line starters, is going to have to try to stem the Ravens' pass rush.  Looks like an interesting final 30 minutes coming up.

Vince Verhei: Ravens' first half was full of pure upset-sauce. Not counting the kneeldown, each team only had three possessions. Even on their INT drive, they ran five plays and gained 25 yards. Shorten that game, baby.

9:52 PM: Missed Opportunity

There were a total of 7 offensive possessions in the first half of this one, tied for the fewest in a playoff game since 2000. That's the Baltimore strategy -- but it fails to begin the second half. Had the Ravens put together another 10-minute touchdown drive, they would have put Cincinnati very much behind the 8-ball.  Instead, it's a quick four-and-out for the Ravens, punting back to the Bengals still up 10-9. Missed opportunity there.

10:07 PM: Improvise

Well, if your offensive isn't going to block, you'll just have to make something up yourself.

Burrow had a couple plays like that, avoiding pressure and extended plays, as Cincinnati gets back on the board on their first drive of the second half.  Burrow hit Chase (twice) and Hurst to get the ball to the goal line, before plunging it in himself.  Add in the two-point conversion, and Cinci is now back up 17-10.

10:14 PM: Wait, You Can Do That?

I was not aware that it was legal for the Ravens to throw the ball to their wide receivers.  This changes everything.

Eli Apple got roasted there, so I guess he's in the shape he was in during the Bengals' Super Bowl run last year, as we're tied back up at 17.

What a day of football so far, yeah?

10:35 PM: Just Like You Drew It Up, Part 2

Well.  Where to begin.

Is it with Baltimore suddenly learning how to pass?

Is it with Tyler Huntley running like he's Lamar Jackson?

Or is it Huntley, lunging for the end zone...only to have the ball knocked out of his hands and returned 98 yards to the opposite end zone for a Bengals touchdown!?

That's a 14-point swing, and probably about a 50% win probability swing. That's one of the most important plays of the season to date, and the Bengals are up 24-17.  Wow. A shocking, shocking turn of events here, and Baltimore has to get their jaws off the floor.

10:52 PM: Life in Baltimore

The Ravens went three and out, but the defense clamped down and did it's job...twice, actually, because the first Bengals punt was called back by a roughing the punter call.  Eventually, though, they let Cincinnati punt legally.

If you told Baltimore before the game they'd be in a one score game midway through the fourth quarter, they would have taken it. Let's see if they can cash in...

10:57 PM: No Dice

How many play calls do you have for 4th-and-19? That's the situation the Ravens found them in after three big Cincinnati defensive plays in a row, including a big sack on third.  There's not much time left, but there's very little chance this Ravens' team is converting fourth-and-forever; it's a must-punt situation, and now the Bengals get to chew more clock.

11:09: Time Running Out

The Bengals go three and out, and the Ravens are very methodically going down the field.  We just passed the two minute warning, so this is going to be it, one way or the other...

11:18: Bengals Win!

Some interesting time management decisions from Baltimore, though it's somewhat moot as they end up with a fourth-and-season anyway.  Huntley fires up a prayer into the end zone as time expires, it bounces around...and falls incomplete. The Bengals survive!

So, our opening question: can anything live up to Jacksonville-Los Angeles?  No.  Nothing did.  But on a day where we were expecting zero good games, we got three. And you can't ask for much more than that.

We'll be back tomorrow for Buccaneers-Cowboys, and the end of Super Wildcard Weekend!


58 comments, Last at 16 Jan 2023, 7:59am

#1 by Eggolas // Jan 15, 2023 - 11:31am

Looking forward to seeing whether DVOA or PFF is the better evaluator in the NY-MN clash.

Points: 0

#2 by neverfox // Jan 15, 2023 - 1:04pm

How do you plan to determine that from a single game, the outcome of which would not (because it cannot) contradict either probabilistic model by itself?

Points: 1

#6 by Eggolas // Jan 15, 2023 - 2:56pm

I don’t. Just not a slavish proponent of data analytics. It has its uses, but does not replace expert all-22 analysis in my mind.

SF is an unbelievable team and have the ability to stomp anyone in the playoffs. Love watching Purdy.

Points: -1

#24 by Joey-Harringto… // Jan 15, 2023 - 5:43pm

I agree advanced stats are best combined with film study (the former alone can miss important context, the latter alone is prone to subjectivity and confirmation bias), but your second paragraph is a complete non-sequiter, since DVOA agrees that the 49ers are an awesome team (second best in the league).

Points: 0

#3 by lenny65 // Jan 15, 2023 - 1:29pm

As a longtime (sigh) Dolphins fan, this game really brings back memories. Losing to Buffalo in the playoffs used to be an annual January tradition, like dragging the Xmas tree out to the curb, or stepping in gray slush. The Dolphins' uncanny ability to relive the same season over and over again, regardless of whoever the HC and QB is this time, is a remarkable model of consistency.

Points: 6

#4 by apocalipstick // Jan 15, 2023 - 1:40pm

Can Skylar Thompson sue Hill and Waddle for lack of support?

Points: 2

#9 by rh1no // Jan 15, 2023 - 3:08pm

"The defense would like to enter Antonio Brown into evidence as Exhibit A, your honor."

Points: 4

#7 by IlluminatusUIUC // Jan 15, 2023 - 3:08pm

Buffalo has played a lot of games this year where we look ridiculous for a long stretch of the first half and then blow the doors off in the 2nd.


But my God, this is how upsets happen. Bad tackling, dropped passes, turnovers, and dubious situational awareness. 

Points: 0

#8 by IlluminatusUIUC // Jan 15, 2023 - 3:08pm

Buffalo has played a lot of games this year where we look ridiculous for a long stretch of the first half and then blow the doors off in the 2nd.


But my God, this is how upsets happen. Bad tackling, dropped passes, turnovers, and dubious situational awareness. 

Points: 1

#10 by coltsandrew // Jan 15, 2023 - 3:20pm

I admit I'm pulling for the Bills this post season, but when I watch them play, it just seems like they're a little too lacking in team discipline to really leverage their incredible advantage of talent. It must be frustrating to be their fan.

Points: 5

#13 by andeux // Jan 15, 2023 - 4:12pm

Reminiscent of the first Miami game. Miami's offense did next to nothing, Bills offense racked up tons of yards but also made a bunch of costly errors.

Points: 0

#27 by andeux // Jan 15, 2023 - 6:02pm

In their three games this year, Buffalo outgained Miami 1366-848, but only outscored them 85-81.

Points: 5

#11 by rh1no // Jan 15, 2023 - 3:22pm

I'm not saying that what the dolphins are doing will be sustainable for the rest of the game, I'm just saying that Bryan might want to find a nice hat and start nibbling the brim just in case ...

Points: 2

#36 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Jan 15, 2023 - 8:18pm

Hatted, I believe.  You shall remain possessed of all your headwear.

Points: 0

#12 by morganja // Jan 15, 2023 - 4:10pm

Refs have been oddly tough on the home team Bills this game. Are they deliberately trying to keep it close? Perhaps for the point spread?

Points: -4

#14 by petecarrolschewingum // Jan 15, 2023 - 4:21pm

This has to be one of the most random playcall ever by Buffalo, it looks like a 12 year old kid playing madden

Points: 1

#15 by vrao81 // Jan 15, 2023 - 4:37pm

Miami uses their last timeout with 4 min left and 3rd and 10. 

Points: 0

#16 by morganja // Jan 15, 2023 - 4:42pm

How long did it take the refs to put 3 seconds on the clock?

Points: 0

#18 by andeux // Jan 15, 2023 - 4:53pm

The yellow line isn't official, Tony.

Points: 0

#19 by Anger...rising // Jan 15, 2023 - 4:58pm

Ball was short of the mat sitting on the sideline, too.


The problem here is giving the first down without bothering to measure more so than throwing up their hands with the "Hey, we don't have enough evidence" on the replay.

Points: 0

#21 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 15, 2023 - 5:12pm

Measure what, though? None of the angles show where the ball is when you'd need to compare.

Points: 0

#42 by Anger...rising // Jan 15, 2023 - 9:18pm

Those who comprehend plain English would realize I was referring to the initial decision to wave the chain gang along without measuring, as I explicitly contrasted the thing I was taking issue with and the replay decision.

Points: 0

#57 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 16, 2023 - 7:53am

But for the purpose of what? The ball placement for the measurement would be a judgement call. Is there a dispute that the eventual spot wasn’t past the marker?

Points: 0

#22 by johonny12 // Jan 15, 2023 - 5:29pm

That was about as good game as Miami could play given everything. A great loss isn't that satisfying given they have little draft resources and huge question marks at QB to look forward too. I'm just hoping it's not six years before the next Dolphins playoff game. 

Points: 1

#33 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 15, 2023 - 7:56pm

The pass rush played well; seven sacks was the real deal. But they were terrible otherwise and were in the game only because Buffalo handed them all but 7 points. FO is going to give the Bills a 90% win probability, based on the stats, and DVOA is going to say that the Bills killed them. McDaniels couldn’t get play calls in on time, couldn’t get a run game going, couldn’t protect Thompson, and couldn’t get Hill involved in the game. The Dolphins need a new quarterback, and I’m just thankful they didn’t draft Justin Herbert instead of Tua. 

Points: -2

#23 by Paul R // Jan 15, 2023 - 5:35pm

I'm hesitant to dump too much hate on the Dolphins' coaching staff because they managed to guide a very shaky offensive situation into position to win the game. However, it seems no one planned for the difficulties of sending in complex plays in an adverse situation. It was agony to watch Thompson with his hands over his ears, desperately trying to hear his coach over the crowd noise while McDaniel read War and Peace to him over the headset and the play clock ticked towards :15, then poor Thompson having to repeat those long instructions in the huddle and the team finally lining up with only six seconds left.  

If it only happened once or twice, that would be understandable, but it happened time and time again--even after a time out or clock stoppage because of a delay penalty! I'm sorry but that was really poor game management. They desperately needed just an ordinary "Everybody run your best pass route, the rest of you guys block" play.  

Points: 6

#26 by Rufus R. Jones // Jan 15, 2023 - 6:00pm

Prior to the 4th down delay of game, the TV camera showed McDaniel starting to call the play with 19 sec on the play clock. Then the necessary offensive personnel group went on to the field! I think the "hands over the ears" was an attempt to listen to the play call, only to encounter dead air. Time after time, the entire game.

How many of these 28 year olds that were playing D3 WR 5 years ago are NFL teams going to hire to be their HC just because they look good in a sweater vest- only to figure out that they are in over their heads?

Points: 1

#45 by Noahrk // Jan 15, 2023 - 9:44pm

Your first paragraph is fine, but the implication that McDaniel shouldn't be a HC seems ludicrous to me. Sure there is a narrative that Tyreek Hill did it all by himself, but if it's ridiculous to say that about a QB, even more about a WR. The truth is it all started with McDaniel, who identified the talent he had and implemented a scheme that most would have thought deluded in the offseason, and proceeded to light the league on fire for half a season. Considering the amount of injuries they had, especially at QB and DB, I think McDaniel did a heck of a job all things considered. He certainly has room for improvement, but it was a very promising year 1 for him.

Points: 1

#29 by GwillyGecko // Jan 15, 2023 - 7:34pm

Good lord that was the most frustrating playoff win ever by the Bills today!!  I was about to throw up when the Bills had to punt down 24-20 in the third quarter but luckily things turned around after that.  Maybe the Ravens will pull an upset tonight and the bills can play Jax next week haha!

Points: 0

#38 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Jan 15, 2023 - 8:24pm

What, you don't want to finally see Buffalo and Cincy play a full game this year?

Points: 0

#30 by vrao81 // Jan 15, 2023 - 7:40pm

3 min left, Vikes down by 7. No timeouts. 

Points: 0

#31 by vrao81 // Jan 15, 2023 - 7:49pm

Vikes failed on 4th down! Giants with the W!

Points: 0

#32 by johonny12 // Jan 15, 2023 - 7:50pm

DVOA wins sort of.

Points: 1

#34 by occams_pointed… // Jan 15, 2023 - 7:57pm

Well certainly PFF team ratings didn't win.

Points: 1

#35 by occams_pointed… // Jan 15, 2023 - 8:00pm

Cowboys Bucs winner now has to go to SF. I think the 49ers would rather have seen the Vikes. The playoff glide path this year is apparent for some of the big favorites, as in expect the Eagles and Chiefs to be favored by a zillion...

Points: 0

#37 by apocalipstick // Jan 15, 2023 - 8:23pm

I wouldn't favor the Chiefs against either the Bengals or Bills.

Points: 0

#41 by bravehoptoad // Jan 15, 2023 - 9:07pm

Definitely rather face the Vikes than the Cowboys. The 49ers have beaten the Bucs handily recently.

The Cowboys, though...haven't they fallen on hard times here toward the end of the season?

Points: 0

#48 by thok // Jan 15, 2023 - 10:37pm

Fun fact: for a while (I think since Atlanta was eliminated from the playoffs) the Niners have been a position where they have won their most recent game against every NFC team they could face in the playoffs. Some of those results are less predictive than others (the Giants win was three years ago, and the Eagles have improved since the Niners beat them last year), but there's no team in the NFC playoffs that can claim to have a good matchup with the Niners.

Points: 0

#53 by JIPanick // Jan 15, 2023 - 11:29pm

The Cowboy defense lost a starting corner to injury vs Indy and had more injuries like up behind it.

Our pass defense has slipped from strength to substantial liability. We can certainly win games against anyone, but we won't and shouldn't be favored against any other member of the "big six" right now.

Points: 1

#39 by rh1no // Jan 15, 2023 - 8:37pm

Baltimore twisting ankles again. Can't blame Mixon for being angry about that, but I'm worried he'll get flagged for retaliation.

Points: 0

#40 by rh1no // Jan 15, 2023 - 8:44pm

Dirty birds now throwing punches and getting penalized for ... taunting? Sure. As long as you call something on 'em.

Points: 0

#43 by Chuckc // Jan 15, 2023 - 9:24pm

Mike Tirico asking (completely seriously) if the fist is part of the hand....

Points: 0

#56 by coboney // Jan 16, 2023 - 7:21am

Worst than that: he was doing it repeatedly.

Points: 0

#44 by mansteel // Jan 15, 2023 - 9:31pm

It took four years, but this Daniel Jones truther feels vindicated:

36 passes

25 completions for 301 yds,

3-4 judicious throwaways

2-3 drops

1 pass tipped at the line

several on-the-money throws where a Vikes defender got a hand in

0 inaccurate throws

0 bad decisions

78 yds on the ground

The difference between Judge/Garrett's offense and Daboll/Kafka's is...vast.

Points: 0

#47 by apocalipstick // Jan 15, 2023 - 10:09pm

I think Jones's play this year is a great example of the importance of coaching and scheme. Daboll appears to have determined what Jones does well and played to those strengths. I know it doesn't seem revolutionary, but it didn't seem to occur to Joe Judge.

Points: 8

#46 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 15, 2023 - 10:08pm

Still mind numbing on that final Kork checkdown. Just horrendous and indefensible. Hock should've been 4th or 5th read. And even then you chuck it to 1 of the first 3: Jefferson, Thielen or Osborn. Any of them would've been better!

Legit all timer. 

Points: 0

#54 by Noahrk // Jan 16, 2023 - 12:31am

It was a sorry way to end the season. You have to at least try something that has a chance of getting the first.

Points: 0

#49 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 15, 2023 - 10:59pm

The Bengals are very lucky to be leading this game. They have been outplayed all night on a per-play basis, but a 98-yard fumble return on what should have been an easy QB sneak for a touchdown has flipped the game around. 

Points: 2

#50 by mehllageman56 // Jan 15, 2023 - 11:15pm

I agree, but this has been a really poorly run two minute drill by the Ravens.

Points: 1

#58 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 16, 2023 - 7:59am

They got outplayed in all three AFC games last year and walked away with wins, too.

Its like they turn into the Vikings.

Points: 1

#51 by morganja // Jan 15, 2023 - 11:16pm

That was an unbelievably incompetent final drive. I'm surprised they aren't going for the field goal.

Points: 1

#52 by mehllageman56 // Jan 15, 2023 - 11:17pm

Season on the line... edge rushing free... TIMEOUT BENGALS.  Really good use of the cliche by the announcers afterward.

Points: 0

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