As of today, the Oakland Raiders are not only in the playoff hunt, but the projected sixth seed. That’s right, if the season ended right now, the Oakland Raiders would be in the post-season. This week, with ten days off, they’re hosting the Cincinnati Bengals, who currently have the NFL’s worst record. On paper, it should be an easy win. But that’s exactly why the Oakland Raiders have to make sure they stay focused and take them seriously.
The Oakland Raiders Need to Take the Cincinnati Bengals Seriously
Make no mistake, the Cincinnati Bengals are a very bad football team. They’re 29th in points scored (averaging 15 points per game), 26th in yards (316 per game), 28th in points allowed (giving up an average of 29 points per game), and dead last in yards allowed (429 yards per game). That means your average Bengals opponent is outgaining them by 113 yards and outscoring them by two touchdowns.
Their best offensive player, A.J. Green, has been out for most of the year with an injury, and their talented tailback, Joe Mixon, has been held mostly in check. They benched Andy Dalton after he failed to win a game in eight tries, but his rookie replacement, Ryan Finley, hasn’t fared better. Meanwhile their defense hasn’t been exceptional either. Nobody has more than three sacks, and the team as a whole only has ten.
The really fun stat? This team is dreadful against the run. The Cincinnati Bengals are dead last or second to dead last in every defensive rushing category. They’ve given up 1,557 rushing yards (32nd in the league) and 12 rushing touchdowns (31st in the league) this season. That means on average, opposing rushing attacks are getting 173 yards and at least one score a game. They’re giving up 5.2 yards per rushing attempt (31st in the NFL), and have given up more than 250 rushing yards in a single game on four different occasions, and none of them were the game when Lamar Jackson made them a meme forever.
R.I.P. Admiral Ackbar
In the storied history of the National Football League, only five teams have gone winless. The 1960 Dallas Cowboys (0-11-1), the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14), the 1982 Baltimore Colts (0-8-1), the 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16), and the 2017 Cleveland Browns (0-16) are the only squads to finish a season without winning a single game. There are some really atrocious teams in between these groups that have still managed to win at least one game.
Those teams all surprised at least one team that, on paper, was better than them. All it takes, on any given Sunday, is for the ball to bounce the right way. Just last week, the abysmal Atlanta Falcons routed the red hot New Orleans Saints, 26-9, coming off of a bye, in New Orleans. The Saints were at home, 7-1, and coming off of a bye, and they still got smacked around by a team that had won a single game all season. And make no mistake Raider Nation, the Saints are far, far more talented team than the Raiders.
It has been almost exactly ten years since the Raiders have beaten the Cincinnati Bengals, most recently last year’s 30-16 loss in Cincinnati. If ever there were a trap game, it’s this one, and the Raiders can’t afford to lose it.
Fight the Hype
Jon Gruden doesn’t strike me as the “get wrapped up in the hype” type, but it would be hard to blame him if he was. Right now, the Raiders are the talk of the town. A year after being among the NFL’s worst teams, they’re playoff contenders, Derek Carr is playing the best football of his life, Josh Jacobs is the obvious Offensive Rookie of the Year, and the defense is starting to come alive, despite a ton of rookie starters and injuries. The Raiders are trending upwards right now, and a big part of their post-season probability is the horrible record of the two teams they play before their showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Raiders can not afford to overlook either team, but they really can’t sleep on the Bengals. The Jets have pieces, like Le’Veon Bell, Jamal Adams, and Robbie Anderson to worry about, not to mention, they have to travel to East Rutherford to take on Gang Green. They’ll be focused for that game. But after rest, against a beatable team, at home, you couldn’t blame the Raiders for sleeping on them.
If they want to be taken seriously, the Raiders need to win this game, and they need to win big. The team has allowed 32 more points than they’ve scored this year, I think it would be good for them to make a dent into that deficit, if not covering it completely.
And hey, since you’re playing a team that gives up 173 yards on the ground a game? Maybe feature your starting tailback, who averages just-over 90 yards per game on the ground, in the gameplan. I dunno, just saying.