Derek Carr has spent his entire career trying to convince the Raiders, and indeed the wider NFL universe that he is good enough.

Few quarterbacks to have been as consistent as Carr have inspired such little confidence, his name rarely mentioned among the top players at the NFL's most important position despite him compiling some impressive numbers since arriving in the league.

Drafted in the second round in 2014, Carr has thrown for 31,700 yards in his career, the fourth-most in the league in that span. His 247 passing plays of 25 yards or more is a tally bettered by only four quarterbacks over the same timeframe.

Yet there are plenty of quarterbacks who excel at compiling stats and, for as tedious as the debate around whether wins should be considered a quarterback stat (they shouldn't) is, part of the reason for Carr's lack of recognition comparative to his contemporaries is that he has not been able to elevate the Raiders, either in Oakland or now Las Vegas, to a playoff win.

In efforts to end that wait, there have been reported dalliances with other quarterbacks by the Raiders, most notably with Tom Brady before he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020.

Las Vegas has also previously been seen as a destination for Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson but, while the Raiders will get to see new Denver Broncos quarterback Wilson up close twice a season, they are firmly tied to Carr, and have this offseason done an excellent job of setting him up for success.

In Josh McDaniels, they have paired him with one of the league's premier offensive minds and, by spectacularly acquiring college team-mate Davante Adams in a blockbuster trade with the Green Bay Packers last week, the Raiders have given Carr the wide receiver many consider to be the class of the league.

With Adams added to an already exciting cast of offensive weapons, Carr has all the tools to definitively prove that, for the Raiders, he has always been the best man for the job.

Carr reaching peak performance

The timing of Carr's reunion with his former Fresno State team-mate Adams could hardly be better, as he is coming off arguably the finest season of his career.

Among quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts, Carr finished third in well-thrown percentage. Trailing only Joe Burrow and Ryan Tannehill, he delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 81.6 per cent of his passes.

None of the eight quarterbacks to average more air yards per attempt than Carr's 8.29 had a superior well-thrown percentage, his ability to blend ball placement and downfield upside further illustrated by his 67 completions of 20 yards or more in 2021. Brady (75) was the sole quarterback to end the season with more.

Carr achieved those feats despite tight end Darren Waller missing six games of the season and the Raiders losing wide receiver Henry Ruggs III after his November arrest.

He deserves great credit for continuing to thrive in a campaign that saw head coach Jon Gruden resign in disgrace, the Raiders playing the majority of the season under the interim leadership of Rich Bisaccia.

Now with McDaniels at the helm, Carr has a head coach to maximise his skill set and, with Adams joining Waller and Co. on offense, undoubtedly the most talented supporting cast of his career. 

A stacked receiver room

It is extremely difficult to overstate the importance of Adams' acquisition.

Over the past three seasons, only one player has racked up more receiving yards than Adams' 3,924. The man who represents his competition for the title of best receiver in the NFL, Cooper Kupp (4,082).

Adams' 34 receiving touchdowns in that span are second to Mike Evans (35), while no player has averaged more receiving yards per game than his 93.4 since 2019.

Producing a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 65.6 per cent of his targets, Adams was comfortably above the league average for receivers with at least 100 targets of 62. While his position as the NFL's top wideout may be up for debate, his status as one of its elite separators is not in question.

Only four receivers (min. 100 targets), one of which was Kupp (4), averaged more burn yards per route than Adams (3.5) in 2021.

Second (3.4) and first (3.9) in the same metric in 2019 and 2020, Adams' consistency in creating separation from coverage is unmatched, and he should benefit from playing in an offense stacked with bonafide weapons worthy of defensive attention.

Despite missing time, Waller still ended the 2021 season fifth among tight ends (min. 50 targets) in burn yards per target (11.91) and fourth in burn yards per route (3), his size, athleticism and ability to line up at every receiving position on the field making him a mismatch nightmare for defenses when at his best. Only two tight ends, Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews, have more receiving plays of 20 yards or more since 2019 than Waller (43).

Carr also has an excellent rapport with Hunter Renfrow. They combined for nine touchdowns in 2021, with three of those scores for the diminutive wideout coming on third down.

Yet the nickname 'Third and Renfrow' may have been inappropriately applied. Not because Renfrow isn't great on third down (18 of his 33 third-down targets last year went for first downs), but because team-mate Bryan Edwards might be even better.

Targeted just eight times on third down, six of those throws from Edwards to Carr were completed for a first down. Overall, Edwards had 76.5 per cent of his catches result in a first down last season, the second-best ratio in the NFL.

At 6ft 3in and 215 pounds, Edwards is a still under-utilised physically imposing ball-winner. Between Adams, Waller, Renfrow and Edwards, Carr now has a receiving corps to stack up with any other in the NFL.

Throw in a running back in Josh Jacobs who displayed his ability to overcome substandard blocking by averaging 3.38 yards per carry on runs where there was a disruption by a defender, the sixth-most in the NFL, in 2021, and Carr appears to have everything at his disposal to helm an explosive and dominant offense in 2022. That is presuming, of course, that Carr can re-establish his college connection with Adams.

But there is a risk any potential offensive surge could be cancelled out by the improvements made by the Raiders' rivals in what now looks a hellish AFC West.

Carr’s 'prove-it' year

The trade for Adams was just the latest move in a series of blockbusters from AFC West teams. In respective offseason efforts to end the divisional superiority of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers each made significant additions to their rosters.

Denver hugely upgraded the quarterback position with a stunning trade for nine-time Pro Bowler Wilson, and the Chargers bolstered their defense with a deal to acquire edge rusher Khalil Mack while also signing cornerback J.C. Jackson and run-stuffing defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day. 

In essence, the Raiders now have to compete with three elite quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes, Wilson, and Justin Herbert, all of whom have seen their teams stack the deck around them.

Carr has previously gone blow for blow with both Mahomes and Herbert and won, most famously in Week 18 last season in the epic overtime game that almost ended in a tie that would have sent both the Raiders and Chargers to the playoffs.

However, with the Chargers pairing Mack with another fearsome pass rusher, Joey Bosa, and the Chiefs retaining Frank Clark on a defensive line that also features Chris Jones, Carr's hopes of getting the best of each of those signal-callers could be compromised by the play of his offensive line.

The Raiders' O-Line ranked 21st in pass block win rate last year, with Carr pressured 285 times, the third-most in the league behind Matt Ryan (319) and Josh Allen (312), and yet that area of the team has gone largely neglected in the offseason.

Great quarterbacks can overcome shortcomings at other positions and Carr did so last year in leading the Raiders to the playoffs. Though he may have improved help from a defense that looks better prepared to deal with the threat of opposing offenses after the hire of Patrick Graham as coordinator and the additions of veteran edge rusher Chandler Jones and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, the reality is Carr will likely have to raise his game again if the Raiders are to enjoy postseason success.

The Raiders may look to use what draft capital they have left to improve on the offensive side of the trenches yet, regardless of any further moves to come, the onus is firmly on Carr. His is a career that has been spent trying to prove he belongs in the conversation as a top-tier quarterback. He built a compelling case last season but, flanked by offensive talent ready-made to help him keep pace with Mahomes, Herbert and Wilson, 2022 is the year in which he must definitively win the argument.

The NFL offseason is as exciting as it has ever been in 2022 – and several of the biggest moves have centred on the AFC West.

This was already one of the deepest divisions in football, headlined by Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs but also featuring the 2021 fifth seed Las Vegas Raiders and gunslinging Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert in its supporting cast.

But the lineup for next season promises to be even more enticing.

The Raiders have worked to make sure they have not been left behind by the big-spending Chargers, while the Denver Broncos have also made a significant move to climb into contention.

In fact, over the past two weeks, the Chiefs have perhaps been among the big losers – watching on while the rest of their division have been getting busy...

March 8: Russell Wilson (Seahawks to Broncos)

The NFC West was previously the standard-bearer for hugely competitive divisions, but the power shifted as its fourth-placed Seattle Seahawks traded superstar quarterback Wilson to the AFC West's fourth-placed Broncos. With Aaron Rodgers staying with the Green Bay Packers, when a move to Denver had been mooted, a big play for Wilson was vital if the Broncos were to make up a significant gap. The Super Bowl XLVIII champion has ranked fourth for both pass yards per attempt (7.83) and touchdown percentage (6.2) across his NFL career – a significant upgrade on the Broncos' 2021 QBs Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock.

March 10: Khalil Mack (Bears to Chargers)

With Herbert running the offense, the Chargers have moved to improve the other side of the ball – first by trading for edge rusher Mack. A second-round pick in this year's draft was the primary compensation for a six-time Pro Bowler, immediately boosting a unit that ranked 23rd in total defense (360.1 yards per game) and 30th in run defense (138.9) last year. Mack struggled with injuries in his final year with the Chicago Bears but comes in opposite Joey Bosa, who ranks third in the NFL for QB pressures (389) and sixth for sacks (58) since his 2016 debut; Mack is fourth (388) and seventh (57.5) over that same period.

March 14: J.C. Jackson (free agent to Chargers)

As well as draft collateral, the Chargers had salary cap to work with and sent a large chunk of it to cornerback Jackson, allowed to leave by the New England Patriots. Jackson had certainly earned his pay day, leading the NFL in interceptions (25) since debuting in New England in 2018. This playmaking ability was also illustrated by the 26-year-old giving up big plays on only 18.9 per cent of his targets last season, the eighth-best rate among corners with at least 50 targets.

March 15: Randy Gregory (free agent to Broncos)

The Chargers' edge-rushing duo will take some beating, but the Broncos upgraded in that position, too, by giving up to $70million to Gregory, who had been set to re-sign with the Dallas Cowboys. Gregory, who missed almost three full seasons due to violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy, had finally established himself as a starter in 2021 with career highs in sacks (six) and QB hits (17) playing opposite DeMarcus Lawrence. The 29-year-old linebacker will now be paired with Bradley Chubb, despite a return to Denver for Von Miller being floated earlier in the month.

March 16: Chandler Jones (free agent to Raiders)

Having seen their division rivals make big moves, the Raiders responded with a $51m offer to Jones, while trading Yannick Ngakoue to the Indianapolis Colts for corner Rock Ya-Sin. Ngakoue had 10 sacks and forced two fumbles in his sole season in Las Vegas, but Jones (10.5 and six) topped both figures for the Arizona Cardinals in 2021. In fact, since Jones came into the league with the Patriots in 2012, he leads both categories, with 107.5 sacks and 33 fumbles forced. Although now 32, he shows few signs of slowing.

March 17: Davante Adams (Packers to Raiders)

The most stunning move of the lot followed on Thursday, when Adams' refusal to play for the Packers on the franchise tag led to his trade to the Raiders for a first and a second-round pick in 2022 (22 and 53 overall). The deal suddenly gives Raiders QB Derek Carr arguably the best offensive weapon in the NFL – and one he can go to time and time again, given Adams was targeted on a league-leading 35.4 per cent of his routes in 2021, which yielded career highs in catches (123) and receiving yards (1,553). Fellow wideout Hunter Renfrow may now see less of the ball than in his first 1,000-yard season (1,038), but he should also benefit from the attention Adams inevitably draws. The Raiders already ranked sixth in passing offense (268.6 yards per game).

The Green Bay Packers have agreed to trade superstar wide receiver Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders for a package centred around draft picks.

Adams, 29, is arguably the best player at one of the sport's most important positions, establishing himself as Aaron Rodgers' primary target since arriving in the 2014 NFL Draft. 

Leading the league in receiving touchdowns in 2020 (18), Adams has posted combined numbers of 2,927 yards and 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons while attracting intense game-planning from opposition defenses.

Lacking a true number-one receiver, the Raiders are a perfect fit for Adams, and they decided to part with multiple 2022 draft picks, including their first-rounder (22 overall) and second-rounder (53), to get the deal done.

Along with the trade, Adams has also agreed a five-year deal worth up to $141m, making him the highest-paid receiver in league history.

An ESPN report suggested the Packers were willing to match the contract offer that was eventually offered by the Raiders, but bridges had already been burnt during negotiations that have been ongoing for almost a year, with NFL Network adding Rodgers aware of the situation before signing his own extension.

The Packers invested heavily this offseason, re-signing defensive players Preston Smith (four years, $52million) and De'Vondre Campbell (five years, $50m), as well as extending franchise quarterback Rodgers on an eye-watering three-year, $150m deal.

Those moves created a salary cap squeeze and the Packers ended up applying the franchise tag to Adams, which was short of fair value based on his production.

The franchise tag allows a team to go over the salary cap to extend a player's contract for one year, with the value being decided by the average of the top-five salaries in the league at the player's position.

The Packers tagged Adams, but he insisted he would not play for the team without a long-term deal in place.

The trade means a reunion between Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and his new receiver after they played together at Fresno State University.

It continues an active offseason for the Raiders after nailing down its edge rush pairing with a long-term extension of Maxx Crosby and the signing of Chandler Jones, showing the post-Mike Mayock front office is focused on big names at premium positions.

The Packers, who lost in the Divisional Round last year after two consecutive NFC Championship Game losses, must now urgently look to replenish the supporting cast for back-to-back league MVP Rodgers.

The Las Vegas Raiders have agreed a deal to sign four-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Chandler Jones, with Yannick Ngakoue set to head to the Indianapolis Colts in a trade.

According to multiple reports, Jones will join the Raiders on a three-year deal worth roughly $51million.

It follows a stellar six-season spell in Arizona, which saw him record double-digit sacks in five campaigns.

Since 2015, his final year with the New England Patriots, only Aaron Donald (89) has more sacks to his name than Jones (84). No player has forced more fumbles than Jones (27) in that span.

Though he is now 32, Jones showed little sign of slowing down for the Cardinals last season, registering 10.5 sacks as Arizona returned to the playoffs for the first time since the 2015 campaign.

His move to the Raiders sees him reunite with Josh McDaniels, the two having crossed paths during their time in New England, where McDaniels was the offensive coordinator before taking the job in Las Vegas this offseason.

Jones will immediately step in for Ngakoue, who finished last season with 10 sacks, his first time reaching double digits since 2017 with the Jacksonville Jaguars (12), and will hope to do the same for a Colts team that was 20th in pass rush win rate, according to Stats Perform data, in 2021.

Heading the other way is cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, a former second-round pick of the Colts coming off a statistically impressive season.

Ya-Sin allowed a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 46.8 per cent of targets last season. The average for corners with at least 25 targets was 51.3.

He allowed 5.92 burn yards per target, the fewest among corners (min. 25 targets) and 0.90 burn yards per snap (third fewest), illustrating the limited separation Ya-Sin allowed receivers.

Between the arrivals of Jones and Ya-Sin, a defense that allowed the eighth-fewest yards per pass play (5.91) in the NFL last season will hope to produce sterner showings against opposing aerial attacks under new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.

The Las Vegas Raiders are expected to hire Josh McDaniels as their next head coach.

According to multiple reports on Sunday, McDaniels will take over as the successor to Jon Gruden, who resigned after an investigation into the Washington Football Team revealed numerous offensive emails he sent while working as a television analyst before returning to the coaching ranks. 

McDaniels' previous head coaching stint came with the Denver Broncos but ended 12 games into his second season in 2010.

Since 2012 he has served as the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, a position he also held from 2005 to 2008, and had long been seen as the eventual successor to head coach Bill Belichick.

He was announced as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in 2018 but controversially reneged on his agreement with the Colts to stay with New England.

However, he will now head to Las Vegas along with Patriots director of player personnel Dave Ziegler, who is reportedly set to replace Mike Mayock as the Raiders' general manager.

Las Vegas went 10-7 in 2021 under the interim leadership of Rich Bisaccia but suffered defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round.

The Raiders ranked 18th in offensive points scored this season and will hope McDaniels can deliver a substantial improvement in that regard.

New England finished in the top 10 in offensive points in nine years of McDaniels' 10-season second spell as offensive coordinator.

The Las Vegas Raiders have fired general manager Mike Maycock in the wake of the playoff defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Las Vegas lost 19-26 in the AFC Wild Card game on Saturday, though NFL media have reported that the Raiders had already made their decision on Maycock.

He was appointed as GM in 2019 and leaves with a 25-24 record.

The Raiders are now searching for both a GM and a head coach, after they passed up the chance to keep on interim Rich Bisaccia.

Las Vegas won their last four games to secure an unlikely wildcard spot.

Jon Gruden resigned from his post in 2021 after it was revealed that he had written racist, misogynistic, and homophobic emails between 2011 and 2018.

Derek Carr hopes the Las Vegas Raiders will name Rich Bisaccia as permanent head coach following their elimination from the NFL playoffs.

Bisaccia, previously the special teams coordinator, has served as interim head coach since October when Jon Gruden resigned.

After steading the ship he led the Raiders into the postseason with four straight wins down the stretch but the team's hopes were ended in the Wild Card round on Saturday.

The home Cincinnati Bengals held on to triumph 26-19 and celebrate a first postseason win for 31 years, leaving the Raiders still waiting to end their own drought which has run since 2002.

Carr, who only has one year left on his contract, threw an interception on fourth-and-goal with 12 seconds remaining after earlier finding Zay Jones in the end zone as his team attempted to recover from 14 points behind.

The quarterback completed 29 of 54 passes and hopes it is Bisaccia who returns in 2022 as the Raiders begin to turn their attention to next season.

"I think we can all think that he's the right guy," said Carr, per ESPN. 

"He has proven that people listen to him. Our team listens to him and I love him so much, I'm thankful for him. 

"All those things will be decisions that I don't make, I don't get to make. I just play quarterback, but with everything that went on, if you really look at what happened, all the pieces missing, everything that changed.

"Yeah, he held it together."

As well as Gruden's exit, Carr discussed the release of leading receiver Henry Ruggs III and a host of injuries suffered by Raiders receivers and offensive linemen in a tumultuous year.

"You go on and on and on and on, and that's just offense," he said.

"The fact that that staff kept everything together and kept us competitive and kept us finding ways to win football games, I think that's what our organization is about, right? 

"So, we'll see what happens. We know what we want to have happen. But, again, we're Raiders. We're going to play football, but we just hope it, obviously, we hope it's for somebody special."

Asked about his own future, Carr cited his agent's strong relationship with the team and added: "Lord knows there's been a lot of things to communicate about, right?

"When the time comes, I never want a face-to-face. I'm going to play quarterback, but my message will be talked about.

"I'm not going to go to dinner and say, 'We have to do something.' I'm not that guy. I'll let my voice be heard, but in a different way."

Star pass-rusher Maxx Crosby also spoke up for Bisaccia after the game.

"If it was up to me, I think everyone in the world knows what my decision would be," he said. "One of the best people I know.

"I love Rich. You know, I'm biased, obviously, but he's a great coach, he came in and got us to 10 wins. We came on the road, on a short week, and gave Cincinnati everything they could handle."

Bisaccia would not be drawn on his job chances, nor did he discuss the controversial Bengals touchdown which saw Tyler Boyd catch a Joe Burrow pass seemingly after a whistle had been blown by game officials.

"I'm just thinking about those guys in that locker room that played the game with their heart and soul out there like that and had a chance to win at the end," Bisaccia said.

"We just ran out of time. We did some uncharacteristic things with some penalties and gave up some drives and didn't capitalise when we had it in the red zone at times. So it just didn't go our way."

On the TD controversy, he added of the officials: "I think that's a good crew. 

"There's a lot of things that went on in the game both ways. I got enough problems with my job, I can't do the officiating, too."

The Raiders' Darren Waller had seven catches for 76 yards, while Josh Jacobs had 83 on the ground at Paul Brown Stadium.

Zac Taylor thanked the Cincinnati Bengals for their trust and patience in him after his team ended a 31-year wait for a victory in the NFL playoffs.

The Bengals held on to defeat the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19 on Sunday as the Wild Card round began.

Cincinnati led by 14 points towards the end of the first half but had to wait until Germaine Pratt intercepted Derek Carr on fourth down with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter until they could be sure of a massive win.

The Bengals had their lost eight straight postseason games coming into the game, their last win coming back in the 1990 season against the Houston Oilers.

Ending that drought may not have looked likely after Taylor went 6-25-1 across his first two seasons, but the head coach received a vote of confidence from president Mike Brown after the 2020 season and oversaw an impressive turnaround.

The Bengals went from fourth to first in the AFC North in 2021 to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

Joe Burrow produced a fine season at quarterback and threw for 244 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first playoff game.

"Personally, if I coached at any other organization in football, I probably wouldn't be here right now in the third year," Taylor said after the famous win over the Raiders. 

"That's the truth.

"Some of them [the players] might not understand the significance of what happened.

"The city can finally enjoy this team and take the pressure off of the last 31 years. This was significant for a lot of people.

"We've got all the faith in the world in Joe, so there's never any panic on our end.

"Had they been down seven at the end of the game and scored there to tie it, and then we'd have had to kick a field goal to win it, I promise you my heart rate would have been as easy as could be.

"We trust our players - someone is going to step up and win that game for us. I wasn't surprised when it happened."

Taylor dedicated a game ball to owner Brown and another to the city of Cincinnati, with balls being sent out to some prominent local venues after the win.

"The next one [game ball] is a new tradition we start with our first playoff win," added Taylor.

"It goes to the city of Cincinnati and we pass this thing out at bars across Cincinnati and we let the fans celebrate with us. 

"Every playoff game from here on out, the city shares in this with us."

Burrow, who connected with C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Boyd in the endzone, insisted the Bengals were not done yet.

"It's exciting, but this was expected," the QB said. "This isn't the icing on top of the cake or anything, this was the cake. So, we're moving on.

"It's exciting for the city and the state, but we're not going to dwell on that. We're moving forward, whoever we got to play next, we'll be ready to go out and execute the game plan."

Star rookie Ja'Marr Chase had game-leading totals of nine catches and 116 yards for the Bengals, adding a further 23 on the ground.

The Cincinnati Bengals claimed their first playoffs win in 31 years led by Joe Burrow's two touchdown passes as they got past the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19 in Saturday's wild card game.

Burrow completed 24 of 34 passes for 244 yards with two touchdowns, although the second for Tyler Boyd was controversial after an official's whistle was heard, presumably for out of bounds, during the play yet it stood.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr made 29 of 54 passes for 310 yards and one touchdown but he threw an interception on the final play as he drove his side to the nine-yard line, with Germaine Pratt picking it off.

All three TDs came in the first half, with Burrow finding CJ Uzomah with a lazer for a first-quarter touchdown before opening up a 20-6 lead with his pass for Boyd.

Carr's 80-yard drive ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass for Zay Jones on the stroke of half-time to close the gap.

Rookie Evan McPherson went four of four to help the Bengals clinch victory, staving off the Raiders' late push to make it five straight wins.

Ja'Marr Chase was important for the Bengals too, with nine receptions for 116 yards and three rushing carries for 23 yards.

The Raiders, who have endured a difficult season, will have to wait to end their 41-year playoffs road win drought.

Sequels, necessary or otherwise, tend to be widely popular. Whether it's in the world of boxing or on the big screen, audiences are consistently drawn in by the prospect of a second act.

But they are not quite as keenly anticipated in the NFL playoffs.

When it gets to January, there is a desire to see matchups that have not been witnessed in the regular season. That is a small part of the allure of the postseason.

Yet the opening day of 'Super Wild Card Weekend' will serve up one sequel and the third and final act of an AFC East trilogy.

Even though the first playoff games of the 2021 campaign are repeats, there is reason to believe they will be compelling. Here Stats Perform previews Saturday's action.

Las Vegas Raiders @ Cincinnati Bengals

The Raiders' visit to Cincinnati sees a matchup of two quarterbacks playing in their first postseason game, albeit at markedly different stages of their careers.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr helped a team then based in Oakland to reach the playoffs in 2016, only for him to then miss out on their Wild Card defeat to the Houston Texans due to injury. Carr has made 127 career regular-season starts. Only two quarterbacks have ever had more prior to their first playoff start: Fran Tarkenton (174) and John Brodie (134).

Meanwhile, Joe Burrow led the Bengals to the playoffs in just his second season in the NFL and goes into his postseason debut in red-hot form. He has 971 passing yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions over his last two games. This is the 49th instance of a player having at least eight TD passes and no INTs over a two-game span. Burrow has the most passing yards of those 49 instances, over 100 yards more than the next closest (Ben Roethlisberger, 862 in 2014).

Burrow was the most accurate quarterback in the NFL by well-thrown percentage (min. 200 attempts) in the regular season. He delivered an accurate well-thrown ball on 86.5 per cent of attempts, though in Carr he must outduel the man third on that same list (82.1 per cent).

Should he do so, Burrow will give the Bengals their first playoff win since the 1990 campaign. They have lost eight straight playoff games, while their span without a playoff win is the longest active streak in the NFL, and the fifth-longest streak in NFL history. Only one team ever lost nine straight playoff games: the Detroit Lions, who have lost their last nine postseason games.

New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills

The Patriots and the Bills playing for the third time in a little over a month may feel repetitive, but this game actually marks a playoff first.

It is the first playoff game since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 in which the Pats and Bills have met.

Their lone playoff clash was an AFL tiebreaker in 1963, after the teams finished the season tied for first place in the Eastern Division (both 7-6-1). The Boston Patriots won that playoff game, 26-8, at Buffalo's War Memorial Stadium.

With lows of minus 16 degrees Celsius expected in Buffalo on Saturday, a low-scoring close game would not be a surprise. The Bills (289) and Patriots (303) are ranked one-two in the NFL this season in fewest points allowed. Buffalo allowed the fewest passing touchdowns (12), and New England tied Denver for the fewest rushing touchdowns allowed (nine).

Yet if the Bills come out on the right side of the ledger, recent history suggests they will do so by a double-digit margin.

The Bills won 11 games this season and all their wins were by at least 12 points. Buffalo's average victory margin (22.1 points) was the highest in the NFL (New England: 2nd at 21.4).

The Las Vegas Raiders sideline discussed settling for a tie before completing their dramatic playoff-clinching win over the Los Angeles Chargers.

Concluding an incredible Week 18 in the NFL, the Raiders sealed their first playoff berth since the 2016 season as Daniel Carlson's game-winning field goal settled a 35-32 classic as time expired in overtime.

The kick sent the Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers to the postseason and knocked out the Chargers, who had earlier recovered from 15 points down in the fourth quarter.

A stunning victory for the Jacksonville Jaguars over the Indianapolis Colts earlier on Sunday opened up the possibility of both the Raiders and Chargers settling for a tie in their winner-take-all season finale and sending both to the postseason at the expense of the Steelers.

The topic had been hotly discussed leading up to the game, with Chargers coach Brandon Staley emphatically ruling out such a scenario.

But that possibility suddenly looked likely as the game remained tied in the final minute of the extra period after both teams traded field goals.

There was a final twist, though, as Josh Jacobs' 10-yard run on third down, after a controversial decision by Staley to call a timeout and stop the clock with 38 seconds left, put Carlson in position to boot the Chargers out of the postseason with a 47-yard kick. 

The Raiders acknowledged they had pondered the prospect of settling for a tie as the game progressed and thought the Chargers were doing the same given they had not called timeout on a previous Jacobs run in overtime.

"We were going to take the field goal and try to win it," said Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia.

"But we were certainly talking about it [settling for a tie] on the sideline.

"We ran the ball there [near the end of OT], and they didn't call timeout, so I think they were probably thinking the same thing." 

Bisaccia hailed the Raiders' spirit after the team won their final four games against the Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Colts and Chargers by a total of just 12 points.

He said: "We just found a way to have a chance to win at the end and we have been in this situation before.

"Derek Carr has been in two-minute situations before; he's been in four-minute situations before. Our defense has had to come up with stops at the end of the game.

"So you just can't say enough about how this team prepares. I just know they believe in each other when they go out there. They don't blink."

Asked whether the Raiders would have punted or taken a knee on fourth down if Jacobs had not got them into field goal range, Bisaccia said, "I don't know – it didn't happen!" before smiling and leaving his exchange with reporters.

Staley, meanwhile, was left to explain his thinking with the timeout after the Chargers fell agonisingly short.

"We needed to get in the right grouping, we felt like they were going to run the ball, so we wanted to get our best 11 personnel run defense in," said Staley.

"Make that substitution so that we could get a play where we would deepen the field goal."

"I had never been rooting for a tie more in my life,'' added Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who racked up 64 pass attempts, completing 34 for 383 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

"That's the unfortunate part of being so close.''

The Raiders will face the Cincinnati Bengals on Wild Card weekend when the Steelers will take on the Kansas City Chiefs.

Carr, who threw for two touchdowns, will finally play in a playoff game for the first time after starting 127 games in the regular season.

"I'm excited, thinking about the next team we play, and then everything hurts," he said.

"It feels cool, it's awesome, but we've got to play a team that already beat us [the Bengals], so it's going to be tough.

"I just have this weird feeling in my heart like, 'The job's not done.' Like my favourite player, Kobe [Bryant], said, 'Job's not done'."

The Las Vegas Raiders sealed their first playoff berth since the 2016 season as Daniel Carlson's game-winning field goal settled a 35-32 classic and sent them and the Pittsburgh Steelers to the postseason and knocked out the Los Angeles Chargers.

A stunning victory for the Jacksonville Jaguars over the Indianapolis Colts earlier on Sunday opened up the possibility of both the Raiders and Chargers settling for a tie in their winner-take-all season finale and sending both to the postseason at the expense of the Steelers.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley emphatically ruled out such a scenario earlier in the week and it appeared as if a stalemate would not be a possibility when the Raiders led by 15 in the fourth quarter.

But Chargers Pro Bowl quarterback Justin Herbert led them back to set up overtime and the game remained tied in the final minute of the extra period after both teams traded field goals.

There was a final twist, though, as Josh Jacobs' 10-yard run on third down, after an inexplicable decision by Staley to call a timeout and stop the clock, put Carlson in position to boot the Chargers out of the postseason, which he did with a 47-yard kick. 

The Raiders will face the Cincinnati Bengals on Wild Card weekend when the Steelers will take on the Kansas City Chiefs.

Las Vegas surged into a 10-0 first-quarter lead but a pair of touchdowns from Austin Ekeler flipped things in the Chargers' favour.

A scoring drive that saw the Chargers allow the Raiders to convert on third down and 23 and Las Vegas benefit from a contentious pass interference penalty enabled the hosts to respond through Josh Jacobs' touchdown plunge before half-time.

Staley paid the price for a dubious decision to go for it on fourth down from Los Angeles' own 18-yard line as the Raiders tacked on a third-quarter field goal.

The Chargers' hopes were circling the drain after Hunter Renfrow caught his second touchdown pass and Herbert was intercepted by former Charger Casey Hayward, the Raiders then adding another field goal to make it 29-14.

But Herbert connected on a 23-yard dart to Josh Palmer and succeeded with the subsequent two-point conversion, before leading the Chargers on a Herculean 19-play drive that ended with him hitting Mike Williams for a 12-yard score as time expired to force overtime.

Carlson restored the Raiders' advantage with his leg, only for the Chargers to respond in kind after a drive on which they became the first team in 30 years to convert sixth fourth downs in the same game.

Yet Herbert's remarkable efforts were undone as poor run defense and worse clock management teed up Carlson to end the Chargers' season.

The 18th and final round of the NFL regular season is upon us and there remains plenty of intrigue in a frantic scramble to make it to the playoffs.

Five teams from the AFC are competing for two postseason berths, while one spot is up for grabs in the NFC. 

Away from the Super Bowl picture, there are a number of other intriguing subplots ahead of an action-packed weekend.

Stats Perform previews some of the standout games and the best of the rest.


Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) @ Las Vegas Raiders (9-7)

The winner of this contest is guaranteed a playoff spot, while there is also a scenario whereby a tie could see both advance. Interestingly, six of the previous seven games in Oakland/Las Vegas have been decided by three points or fewer.

The Raiders beat the Colts on a last-second field goal last week to prevail 23-20 – their fifth win of the season by four points or fewer, tied with the Packers and the Titans for the most in the NFL.

Justin Herbert set the single-season passing touchdowns record for the Chargers last week with his 35th of the campaign. He now requires 172 yards this week to also take the passing-yards record.

The Chargers' 34-13 win against the Broncos was their fourth victory in a win while scoring 30 points or more. They have averaged 33.9 points per game in wins this season, second most in the NFL behind the Bills (35.1).

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (8-8)

The Steelers have won three in a row against the Ravens, with all three of those victories being decided by less than a touchdown, the most recent coming by a 20-19 scoreline last month.

Last week's 12-point win over the Browns was the Steelers' largest of the season, though not since 1969 have they gone a full campaign without winning by at least 13 points.

The Ravens are coming off the back of a 20-19 loss to the Rams, their league-leading eighth game decided by three or fewer points this season – no team in NFL history has had more than nine games decided by three or fewer points.

Najee Harris rushed for 188 of the Steelers' 190 rushing yards against the Browns and accounts for 77.9 per cent of his side's rush yards this season, the highest share of any player in the NFL.

 

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) @ Denver Broncos (7-9)

The Chiefs will be looking to respond to their defeat against the Cincinnati Bengals in week 17 when they take on the Broncos, whom they have defeated in 12 successive meetings – the league's joint-longest active winning streak along with the New England Patriots against the New York Jets.

Despite last week's defeat, the Chiefs have scored at least 30 points in four successive games, which is the longest-running streak in the NFL and one short of their all-time record of five set in 2004 and 2018.

Kansas lead the way in the NFL with 391 first downs this season and, with nine more this weekend, will become the fifth team in the last 70 years with 400 or more first downs in a season.

The Broncos were defeated by the Chargers last time out to ensure a losing season for the fifth straight year, an unwanted run they last went on from 1963 to 1972 with 10 straight losing seasons.

Elsewhere...

The Jaguars require a victory against the Colts to avoid becoming the fourth team in the last 30 years to have consecutive seasons with two or fewer wins. The Colts have lost three games this season by exactly three points – the Seahawks are the only team this season that has failed to win a single game by three or fewer points with more losses in such games (0-5).

The Rams can clinch their third NFC West title in six seasons season since moving back to Los Angeles with victory over the 49ers. However, the Niners have won each of their last five meetings with the Rams.

The Falcons have three successive wins against the Saints in Atlanta and are seeking a fourth in a row for the first time since between 1991 and 1994. Following defeat to the Bills last week, the Falcons have alternated between wins and losses over their last seven games.

The Bills can clinch their second consecutive division title with victory against the Jets, following on from a previous run of 24 straight seasons without finishing top. All 10 of Buffalo's wins this season have come by 12 points or more.

Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley will not countenance a "complicit" tie should such a result benefit both his team and the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.

The AFC playoff picture is an intriguing one heading into Week 18 and a favourable result at Allegiant Stadium could take both teams into the postseason.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens, and the Jacksonville Jaguars – fresh from a 50-10 blowout defeat to the New England Patriots – upset the 9-7 Indianapolis Colts, the scenario in Nevada becomes straightforward.

Should those results fall into place, a tie between the Raiders and Chargers would send both to the playoffs at the expense of the other remaining challengers.

However, Staley is not prepared to engage in any such approach regardless of the bigger picture come kickoff.

"That's a pretty loaded scenario," he told The Rich Eisen Show. "That is an all-time coffee shop scenario. I feel like I'm with my buddies at the University of Dayton.

"I think we all respect the game and the NFL shield and the integrity of this game far too much to be complicit in something like that. This game matters too much to too many people, and we want to play our best and be proud of the result one way or another.

"We're going to do everything we can to go win this game, and play the way we're capable of playing. I hope all the fans and everybody who loves the NFL will be proud of the game on Sunday.

"What makes it so special is the competition and the level of integrity and respect that it stands for."

The Chargers and Raiders head into the contest evenly matched, both standing at 9-7 with Las Vegas on a three-game winning streak.

Matthew Stafford inspired the Los Angeles Rams to move one step closer to securing their second straight NFC West title with a 20-19 win over the slumping Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

The defeat for the Ravens, who were without quarterback Lamar Jackson for the third straight game, leaves them perilously close to slipping out of the Wild Card hunt after their fifth consecutive loss.

Justin Tucker's field goal had put the Ravens up 19-14 with 4:33 left but Stafford launched a game-winning 75-yard drive to overhaul the deficit.

Stafford completed a 15-yard pass to Tyler Higbee and a 24-yarder to Cooper Kupp, before finding Odell Beckham Jr twice in a row, with the latter being the decisive TD.

The Rams QB finished with 26 of 35 passes for two touchdowns but also two interceptions, including a Chuck Clark first-quarter pick six, as well as a sack.

Clark's TD was the Ravens' only for the game, as QB Tyler Huntley completed 20 of 32 passes for 197 yards.

Rams running back Sony Michel had 19 carries for 74 yards including a TD along with wide receiver Kupp with six receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown.

Over a month ago the Ravens had been 8-3 and looking good for the AFC top seed but now they are scrapping for a playoffs spot after a series of narrow defeats and desperate for Jackson's return.

Carlson field goal gives Raiders edge in Wild Card race

The Las Vegas Raiders claimed a crucial last-gasp win from Daniel Carlson's 33-yard field goal in the AFC Wild Card race with a 23-20 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Colts quarterback Carson Wentz cleared protocols for the game but completed 16 of 27 passes for 148 yards and one touchdown, while running back Jonathan Taylor had one TD from 20 carries for 108 yards, with the defeat marking the first this season when he has rushed more than 100 yards.

The Raiders pipped the Colts in the final quarter, trailing 17-13 at the final break with QB Derek Carr hitting Hunter Renfrow on a fourth-down play for a TD, before Michael Badgley squared the game with a 41-yard field goal, only for Carlson to win it with one from 33 yards as time expired. The Raiders improve to 9-7, pulling ahead of the 9-7 Colts in the AFC Wild Card race.

 

Bengals clinch maiden AFC North title

The Cincinnati Bengals clinched their first-ever AFC North title as Evan McPherson kicked a late 20-yard field goal to secure a 34-31 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase set an NFL rookie record and franchise record with 266 yards and three touchdowns on 11 catches, while QB Joe Burrow threw 30 of 39 passes for 446 yards and four touchdowns.

Burrow got the better of opposing QB Patrick Mahomes who completed 26 of 35 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs, who have already won the AFC West title, moved to 11-5.

 

Brady cool after Brown meltdown

Tom Brady was cool in a crisis after Antonio Brown stormed off the field as the NFC South-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers rallied to win 28-24 over the New York Jets.

Brady completed 34 of 50 attempts for 410 yards and three touchdowns, including leading them on a 93-yard drive in the final minutes to clinch the victory.

The game was marred after Brown's meltdown, storming off the field in the third quarter with the Bucs 24-10 down, with head coach Bruce Arians confirming "he is no longer a Buc" after the game.

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