DECEMBER 10, 2006
A former top NFL football executive (The Guru) and a current club personnel chief (The Chief) not in the Bengals division break down Sunday's game and both pick the Bengals over the Raiders in a game they say isn't as easy it looks.
The Guru:"I like the way Cincinnati is playing. They look like they can be the Pittsburgh Steelers of this season, getting hot at just the right time. You have to be careful of the Raiders. They're a good defensive team, but I just think they're so screwed up on offense that they won't be able to score enough. The big thing Cincinnati has to do is get on them quickly. You can't let a 2-10 team hang around all game. Get them discouraged early in the game. Particularly a road team that has to travel a good ways."
The Chief: "The Bengals have had 10 days to prepare for this one, they're at home and there's going to be a little bit of a carryover to Oakland from the Baltimore defense because of the Ryan twins (Rex with Ravens and Rob with Raiders) and the fact that they play with a little bit of the same attack philosophy. This is probably a tougher game for the coaches because not only do they have to prepare for the Raiders, they have to guard against complacency."
To that end, make this a coach's game.
If there are two examples why the NFL badly needed to upgrade its attention to the hiring of minorities in coaching and the front office, these are the guys.
The only thing more criminally negligent about Lewis' inability to land a job in the desert of 2001-2002 is Shell unable to get another job until this year despite taking the Raiders to the playoffs three times with a record of 56-41 from 1989-94.
It has all blown up on Shell this year, primarily because of his disastrous hiring of Tom Walsh as offensive coordinator. The move to tight ends coach John Shoop a week ago should at least give the Raiders some semblance of organization, but how does he keep his team interested for this cross-country Valley Forge job?
Lewis has to do the exact opposite and fight complacency with Monday Night's Entertainment Tonight time slot against the Colts looming.
The December "trap game" at home has been one of the few glaring faults in the Lewis era, dating back to the regular-season finale loss to the 4-11 Browns in 2003 and last year's dismissal by the 4-10 Bills that robbed the Bengals of the possibility of a playoff bye.
Lewis has done a superb job by making sure this season didn't fall into the quagmire of anarchy after the San Diego meltdown, a feat that was aided by the veterans he has brought in here like Dexter Jackson, Bryan Robinson and John Thornton. Now he has to see through this maturation evolution in one of those tricky games that contenders should win and close the deal.
No chipping or helping here.
"When they're healthy the Bengals tackles are as good as anybody in the game," The Guru says. "And the way those guys have stepped in for the injured guys, you just wouldn't have seen many teams put up the offense they did with all those backups. It's a credit to their coaching and depth."
And how good are the Raiders against the run? In Oakland's last three games Ron Dayne nicked the Raiders defense for 5.3 yards per carry on his 19 carries while LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson went for 119 and 154 yards, respectively.
Its strength vs. strength all the way around. The Raiders are ranked first against the pass, the Bengals are fourth throwing it. Chad Johnson has scored four touchdowns of at least 41 yards and the Raiders defense hasn't allowed a touchdown pass longer than 40 yards all season. The Raiders have the fourth best defense on third down in the NFL by winning two-thirds of the time and Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is tied for second in the NFL with 23 third-down catches.
Graham missed a 46-yarder in the wind and rain last Thursday night. But he's still the NFL's most accurate active kicker at 84 percent. At 13-for-19 this year and 77.4 percent career, Janikowski is not. As steady as Graham is, Janikowski is wild. Felix vs. Oscar. He drilled a 55-yarder last month and then last week yanked a 29-yarder off the left upright.
Now the question is if two weeks are enough time to fix a scheme.
Sunday may be the day for Joseph's first NFL pick. The Raiders are barely completing half their passes and have thrown for just six touchdowns. Carson Palmer has done that in the last three games.
Another good special match. Oakland's Shane Lechler is one of the best punters in the league and he's first in gross punting average and ninth in net average while the Bengals are second covering punts.