On Sunday afternoon, the Bengals face off against the Oakland Raiders in their final home game of the season. Despite both teams having a rough year, their paths to this point are very similar. In 2015, the Bengals were 10-2 before an injury to Andy Dalton derailed the season and they ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs. In 2016, the Raiders were 11-3 when Derek Carr suffered a season-ending injury and Oakland lost in the first round of the playoffs as well. Additionally, both teams haven’t finished with a winning record since.
A Look Back
The Bengals (5-8) lost their 5th straight game against the Los Angeles Chargers by the score of 26-21. The team played solid considering the amount of starters that didn’t play, and they had a chance to tie the game with under 2 minutes left in the 4th quarter. Unsurprisingly, the team looked confused on the 2-point conversion and Jeff Driskel ended up getting sacked. Marvin Lewis had 2 timeouts left to use, but decided not to do the competent thing and call one to get everyone on the same page. The Bengals gave up a field goal on the next drive, which basically ended the game.
The Raiders (3-10) pulled off an upset win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning 24-21. Derek Carr had one of his best games of the season, throwing for 322 yards and 2 touchdowns as well as completing 73% of his passes. The Steelers had a chance to win but ended up missing a field goal as time expired.
What a way to lose 😂 pic.twitter.com/7lqo27LXTx
— Cincinnati 💔 (@CincyProblems) December 10, 2018
For Cincinnati, the injury report remains long. Cordy Glenn and Dre Kirkpatrick continue to be limited participants in practice, and Vontaze Burfict and Michael Johnson have not practiced at all since they’re in concussion protocol.
The Raiders have been hit hard by injuries this year, especially to their offensive line. Starters Gabe Jackson and Kelechi Osemele have yet to practice this week, and 2-time pro bowl center Rodney Hudson has been limited with a knee injury.
Geno Atkins vs. Rodney Hudson – Speaking of Hudson, he’s lining up against one of the top defensive tackles in the league on Sunday. Geno Atkins has been solid even in a down year, accumulating 7 sacks in 13 games. He’s also lived up to his reputation as a good guy on and off of the field, giving back to the community.
— Cincinnati 💔 (@CincyProblems) December 12, 2018
Jessie Bates vs. Jordy Nelson – Jessie Bates has continued to be one of the few bright spots this season, developing into one of the best young safeties in the NFL. On Sunday, he’ll be looking to eliminate any deep shots that Derek Carr might throw to Jordy Nelson. Nelson has disappointed in his first season in Oakland, only recording 498 yards and 3 receiving touchdowns in 12 games. However, he’s always a threat downfield and Bates is going to have to stay aware.
Sam Hubbard vs. Derek Carr – Despite not starting a single game this season, 2018 3rd-round pick Sam Hubbard has had an exceptional rookie season. He’s totaled 4 sacks, 6 tackles for loss and a memorable fumble-return touchdown to beat the Miami Dolphins in week 5. With Michael Johnson not expected to play, Hubbard might see his first start of the year. If he can get to Derek Carr early, the Raiders offense might be in for a long day.
Keys to Victory
Run the Offense Through Joe Mixon – Although the decision should have been made over a month ago, the Bengals finally decided to give Joe Mixon 20+ carries against Los Angeles and it paid off. Mixon totaled 111 yards with a touchdown, and Cincinnati was able to control the speed of the game and keep the deadly Chargers offense on the sidelines. The young running back has had a great sophomore year so far, and is on pace to rush for over 1000 yards despite missing 3 games.
Start Christian Westerman – Offensive lineman Christian Westerman played well in preseason, but ultimately lost the starting job to Alex Redmond. Redmond has played terrible this year, but he continued to start for reasons unknown. With injuries to multiple offensive lineman piling up, Westerman finally received significant snaps against the Chargers last week. He played extremely well, and it continues to show the stubbornness of Marvin Lewis that it took so long for him to get onto the field.
#Bengals' Christian Westerman earned an 84.0 overall grade across his 42 offensive snaps on Sunday, the highest overall grade of any qualifying Bengal in Week 14.
Westerman and C Billy Price were the only two CIN OL that allowed zero pressures against LAC. #WestermanHive
— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) December 10, 2018
The Raiders are going to have a tough time away from home, and they’ll probably get off to a slow start. The Bengals should use Joe Mixon early and often, and maybe even use Jeff Driskel in the run game as well. Tyler Boyd should have a big game against a mediocre Raiders secondary, and John Ross might be able to secure his 7th touchdown catch of the year.
With a banged-up Oakland offensive line, Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap should have no problem getting into the backfield. The Raiders might be able to lean on running back Doug Martin to carry the load offensively, which could be a problem for Cincinnati.
Bengals – 23
Raiders – 20
With away games against the Steelers and Browns to finish the season, this might be Cincinnati’s last winnable game of 2018. After impressive 4-1 and 5-3 starts, injuries and bad coaching let this season go to waste. Oh well, at least we didn’t have to wait until the playoffs to get let down this year.
Bengals as soon as we get in the playoffs pic.twitter.com/Neks59CAfm
— Elite Andy Dalton (@EvilAndyDalton) December 11, 2018