The Bengals open the postseason with a Wild Card showdown against Baltimore on Sunday night at Paycor Stadium. The game airs at 8:15 p.m. on NBC. Here are five things to watch:
1. Chasing history
Ja'Marr Chase recorded an astounding 368 receiving yards in last year's postseason, the most by a rookie in NFL history. If Chase goes off for 96 receiving yards against the Ravens, he would surpass Hall of Famer Randy Moss (463) for the second-most ever by a player in his first two seasons. The two-time Pro Bowler caught for 96 or more yards five times during the regular season, and also hit that mark twice in the 2021 playoffs.
Should Chase go even bigger and record 141 receiving yards on Sunday, he would join Moss and his former LSU teammate, Justin Jefferson, as the only three players in league history with 3,000 total receiving yards (regular season and postseason) in their first two years.
2. McPherson magic
Evan McPherson had perhaps the best postseason by a kicker in league history a year ago. He was a perfect 20-for-20 on placekicks, nailing all of his 14 field goal attempts and all six of his PATs. No NFL kicker had ever gone 100 percent on as many as 11 field goals in a single postseason. What made McPherson's performance more impressive, though, was his clutch factor. Then just a 22-year-old, he drilled a 52-yard game-winner as time expired in the Divisional round at Tennessee, followed by a 31-yarder in overtime of the AFC Championship at Kansas City that punched Cincinnati's ticket to the Super Bowl.
Though his numbers have been slightly down compared to his rookie campaign, McPherson has still gone 5-for-5 on kicks of 50 or more yards this season and last Sunday against Baltimore he knocked through each of his three PATs. Playoff matchups have a knack for coming down to the accuracy of a kicker, and for the Bengals to make another memorable January run, they may once again rely on the right foot of "Money Mac."
3. "Greedy" defense forcing turnovers
Cincinnati's defense has recorded 10 takeaways over the last four games, with six of those resulting in Bengals touchdowns. In last week's game against Baltimore, the secondary set the tone early with interceptions on two of the Ravens' first three drives, before a fumble recovered in the end zone for a TD capped off a dominant opening half. Head coach Zac Taylor raved about the mindset within the defensive meeting rooms this week, and even while that unit is staking its claim as one of the best in the league, it still believes there is a higher level yet to be reached.
"They're all greedy," said Taylor in his Monday news conference. "They're all hunting the ball every single play. I know that they know they left several turnovers out there as well."
Last postseason, the Bengals led all teams in interceptions (eight) and total takeaways (nine). If they can continue those game-altering plays starting Sunday night, it could be a catalyst for another deep playoff run.
4. Wilson heating up
Linebacker Logan Wilson has 49 tackles since Week 14, the seventh-most in the NFL in that span despite him playing in just four games. He also has left his footprints in the backfield with 2.5 sacks in the last four contests, compared to two in his previous 36 career games. These are all positive signs for the Bengals, who need their defensive centerpiece at the top of his game heading into the playoffs. In last year's postseason, Wilson was on the field for all 274 possible snaps and made several splash plays, the most notable being an interception with 20 seconds remaining in the Divisional round at Tennessee that set up a game-winning field goal. He finished the postseason with 39 tackles, the most by any NFL player since Ray Lewis in 2012.
5. Bengals playoff records in reach for Burrow
Joe Burrow is rewriting the Bengals' record book on what seems like a weekly basis, and Sunday night's Wild Card may prove to be no different. Though he'll be making just his fifth postseason start, Burrow is 13 completions, 216 passing yards and four touchdown passes shy of tying Ken Anderson as the team's playoff career leader in those categories. The Pro Bowler also currently holds the Bengals' career records in postseason completion percentage (68.31) and passer rating (97.3).
Burrow hitting those marks would bode well towards Cincinnati's chances of winning, as the Bengals are 4-0 in his career when he throws four touchdown passes and 7-1 in the last eight games in which he's passed for at least 216 yards.