The Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals are set to meet in Week 1 at O.co Coliseum with both teams having something to prove in the 2015 NFL season. Sunday marks the start of Oakland’s journey back to respectability, while Cincinnati is looking for more than another first-round playoff exit.
Going 3-13 in 2014, the Raiders have won just 11 games in the last three seasons. The Bengals made the postseason for a fourth consecutive season with Andy Dalton at quarterback, but they also lost their first playoff game for a fourth straight year.
Oakland’s Young Offense
The Raiders had one of the NFL’s worst offenses last season, ranking dead last in yards and second-to-last in points scored. But the team has a lot of young talent, and they should be improved in 2015.
Derek Carr didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, and only two quarterbacks have ever averaged fewer yards per pass with at least 500 attempts. But he was impressive for a rookie, becoming the seventh first-year quarterback to throw for at least 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns, and he was only intercepted 12 times. A year later, he could be a lot better, considering his added weapons.
Amari Cooper will make his regular season debut on Sunday, and the No.4 overall pick has a chance to be the best player in this year’s draft. He was college football’s best wide receiver last season, and Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green told the media this week that Cooper will be a great pro. Players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans showed last year just how much of an impact rookie wide outs can have in the NFL these days.
Oakland had the NFL’s worst running game in 2014, but they hope their ground attack can find success against Cincinnati. Latavius Murray will get the start after averaging 5.2 yards per carry as the team’s backup a year ago.
Cincinnati’s Pass Rush
After having a top five defense in 2013, the Bengals took a step back in 2014, ranking 22nd in yards allowed. But the unit could be improved in 2015, starting with their opener against the Raiders.
Cincinnati’s pass rush was their biggest weakness, and no team had fewer than the Bengals’ 20 sacks. Coming off a torn ACL, Geno Atkins recorded just three sacks, tying his lowest total since his rookie year. But the defensive tackle could be poised to return to the All-Pro form that saw him sack the quarterback 18.5 times in his previous 25 games.
"He looks better than I've ever seen," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said, via cincinnati.com. "If he continues to play at a high level, he makes everybody around him better. He's really … he's a different guy. Hopefully he plays at high level because he's our best player."
The Bengals might be able to take advantage of the right side of the Raiders’ offensive line. Starting right tackle Menelik Watson is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles, and he’s being replaced by Austin Howard, who played right guard last year.
Winless in Oakland
The Bengals are looking to make history when they play the Raiders in Week 1. In their 10 all-time matchups in Oakland, Cincinnati has never won a game. The Bengals were able to beat the Raiders in Los Angeles, but they are winless in the Bay Area.
Cincinnati and Oakland have played four times in the last 12 seasons, during which the Raiders have not made the playoffs once. The Bengals beat the Raiders by 24 points when they last met in 2012, but lost in Oakland six years ago when the Raiders won just five games that season.
Point Spread: Cincinnati -3 (vegasinsider.com)
Over/Under: 43 points
Prediction: Oakland over Cincinnati, 20-17