ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Raiders and Bengals are on opposite trajectories.
The Raiders improved to 5-4 after defeating the Los Angeles Chargers 26-24 on “Thursday Night Football” in Week 10. And with Pittsburgh’s loss to Cleveland to begin Week 11, Oakland is in the second wild-card spot for the AFC playoffs.
Cincinnati is 0-9 with a realistic chance to finish 0-16. The Dolphins have been accused of “tanking” this season, but the Bengals have looked more like the NFL’s worst team.
They’ve scored at least 20 points in two games — Week 1 against the Seahawks (20) and Week 5 against the Cardinals (23). And during their Week 9 bye, first-year coach Zac Taylor switched quarterbacks from nine-year veteran Andy Dalton to 2019 fourth-round pick Ryan Finley. The result of Finley’s first start against the Ravens was predictable, as he finished 16 of 30 for 167 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a fumble in a 49-13 loss.
Here are three things to watch in Sunday’s game.
1. How many yards for Josh Jacobs?
The Bengals are last in run defense by a significant margin, having allowed 173 yards per game. The Chiefs are No. 31, allowing 148 yards per game.
Surprisingly, some Oakland players said they weren’t aware of the gaudy rushing numbers Cincinnati has allowed.
“We’re more focused on what we do,” left guard Richie Incognito said. “We’ve got them schemed up, but rankings and stuff — all that stuff goes out the window when you line up to play.”
But given how bad the Bengals have been against the run — they’ve given up at least 250 yards rushing three times — this should be a banner day for the Raiders’ ground game.
Still, Oakland wants to be balanced, and that starts with being able to run the ball well. The Raiders are No. 8 in rushing offense, averaging 130 yards.
“That’s our bread and butter — that’s our fastball,” Incognito said.
Jacobs reached a season high of 124 yards rushing against Green Bay in Week 7. He has a good chance to smash that number Sunday.
2. How much will the new Raiders play?
Oakland signed safety D.J. Swearinger and defensive end Dion Jordan to help a defense hit by long-term injuries. Coach Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said they expect the new Raiders to contribute immediately.
“All hands on deck this week with the guys we’ve got,” Guenther said.
Given the season-ending foot injury to starting safety Karl Joseph, Swearinger has a chance to play significant snaps Sunday. Jordan should be on the field, too, but he’s more likely to be used in limited pass-rushing situations.
3. More strong play from the rookies?
Rookie defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby combined for three sacks, three tackles for loss and six quarterback hits in the Raiders’ victory over the Chargers. Guenther said he thinks the “light went on” for Ferrell late in a Week 9 victory over Detroit, and Ferrell said he enjoyed quieting his doubters with a 2½-sack performance against Los Angeles.
Guenther is known for sending creative blitz pressures. And since the Raiders are facing a rookie quarterback making his second start, there should be plenty of opportunities for the Raiders to get sacks — especially Ferrell and Crosby.
Who: Bengals at Raiders
When: 1:25 p.m. Sunday
Where: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
Radio: KYMT-FM (93.1)
Line: Raiders -12; total 48½