Tyler Boyd salutes Saturday’s crowd.

Below is how the Cincinnati Bengals tell the story of their matchup with the Titans

Geoff Hobson Bengals.com Senior Writer

Joe Burrow tries to do what the Bengals’ two NFL MVP quarterbacks never did and win a road playoff game Saturday (4:30 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Local 12) in Tennessee against the AFC’s top-seeded Titans in what is unfolding as an even-steven statistical matchup.

The Chiefs’ ouster of the Steelers Sunday night in Kansas City set the AFC’s Final Four and earned a home game against Buffalo. Standing between the Bengals and their first AFC title game since 1988 is Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a former pupil of Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, and Derrick Henry, a two-time NFL rushing champion coming off injury and expected to play for the first time since Halloween even though he has yet to be activated from injured reserve after returning to practice a few weeks ago.

It looks to be a duel between two of the top running backs in the game. The Bengals’ Joe Mixon finished as the league’s third-leading rusher with a career-best 1,205 after missing last season’s game against Tennessee with a foot injury that limited him to six games.

The Bengals’ AFC Divisional shot comes 33 years to the day they played Super Bowl XXIII in Miami in a game they lost a 16-13 lead in the final 34 seconds and against a franchise they beat in the 1990 Wild Card Game when the Titans were the Houston Oilers. Boomer Esiason, the ’88 MVP, engineered that one, but lost his only post-season road game the next week in Los Angeles to the Raiders.

Ken Anderson lost his first three playoff games, in Baltimore, Miami and Oakland, before leading the 1981 Bengals to Super Bowl XVI.

Burrow’s second NFL win came against the Titans back on Nov. 1, 2020 at Paul Brown Stadium when he outpitched Tannehill with a passer rating of 106.7 (249 yards, two touchdowns, no picks) to 92.8 (233 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) in a 31-20 victory in a game remembered for the Bengals starting four different offensive linemen because of injury and illness.

But it’s a much different Tennessee defense. That one ended the season ranked 28th in yards allowed while this one is 12th and that includes a No. 2 ranking against the run.

The Bengals offense, tied for seventh in scoring, plays a scoring defense ranked sixth. Cincinnati’s defense, ranked 17th in scoring, plays a Titans offense ranked at No. 15. The Bengals have a stingy run defense, too, ranked fifth, and tees it up against a Tennessee running game that is also ranked fifth despite the loss of Henry.

Turnovers? The Bengals have forced 21 and the Titans 22, but Cincinnati is tied for 16th in the NFL with an even plus-minus differential and Tennessee is tied for 20th at minus-three.

 The Bengals’ banged up defensive line becomes a huge focal point in this one against the 6-3, 247-pound Henry, whose 112-yarder last year in Cincinnati came on 18 carries on his way to 2,027 yards.

The tackle spot has been particularly hit. One in the rotation, Josh Tupou (knee) is questionable. His replacement, Mike Daniels (groin) has been ruled out by Taylor after playing just one snap Saturday night. It doesn’t sound good for starting three technique, Larry Ogunjobi (foot) after he was carted off the field in the third quarter with an injury still being evaluated.

Fourth-round pick Tyler Shelvin, who has played in three games and was inactive Saturday, is an option and Taylor indicated they could also look outside the club.

Sticking with the Saturday schedule, the Bengals are off Monday, have extended practices Tuesday and Wednesday and then a brief Thursday morning workout before heading to Nashville Friday.

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