The NFL Playoffs will kick off on Saturday afternoon and once again, Detroit Lions fans will have to watch other teams compete for the Super Bowl.
The first matchup begins at 4:30 EST and features the Cincinnati Bengals vs. the Las Vegas Raiders.
Here are 3 potential free agents Lions fans should be paying close attention to in today’s game.
S JESSIE BATES III, CINCINNATI BENGALS
Bates was looking for an extension this past offseason, but the Bengals instead chose to prioritize the player they drafted one round after Bates in 2018 — edge defender Sam Hubbard. The Cincinnati defense has taken a step forward in 2021, with recent free-agent additions such as edge defender Trey Hendrickson and interior defender D.J. Reader wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks and cornerback addition Chidobe Awuzie outperforming the man he replaced in Washington Football Team cornerback William Jackson III. Will Bates get his due from the Bengals, or will he be the latest homegrown player to depart?
A year ago, Bates was coming off a career year and looked like the best safety in the game, but it represented a major outlier from the rest of his career and regression hit this season. He is still an impact coverage player at the position who fits in some way in pretty much every scheme in the league.
CB CASEY HAYWARD JR., LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
Casey Hayward Jr. was a cap casualty of the Los Angeles Chargers last offseason after earning the lowest grade of his career by a wide margin — 59.5 overall after zero prior grades below 70.0. Not much of a market developed for the 32-year-old, and he eventually signed a one-year, $2.5 million flier with the Raiders and former Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. All Hayward Jr. has done this year is regain his form with a 72.8 coverage grade through Week 12. He thrives playing zone coverage in a predominantly Cover 3 system, but there are a lot of defenses running such a scheme, so he should be playing his way into a better deal for next year.
Hayward has shown that he still has something left in the tank this season for Las Vegas, grading out as one of the best cornerbacks in football. The cliff is nearing as Hayward pushes into his 30s, but he should still be able to provide quality starting play for a zone-heavy defense in 2022.
DI B.J. HILL, CINCINNATI BENGALS
The Giants inexplicably traded Hill and a seventh-round pick for Cincinnati Bengals center Billy Price right before the 2021 season, and Hill has excelled with more opportunities on a less-crowded defensive line alongside nose tackle D.J. Reader. Hill is a solid all-around three-technique with the ability to generate relatively consistent pressure on the quarterback from the interior. With increased playing time, he has a career-high 76.6 overall grade through Week 12, and his five quarterback hits are one fewer than he had in his first three seasons combined.
The fact that Hill hasn’t started many games in his first four seasons doesn’t mean he can’t be a starting defensive tackle for a team with a need at the position. He’s a plus run defender who isn’t a non-factor in the passing game.