It wasn’t too long ago that the Cincinnati Bengals season appeared to be over. Cincinnati had just lost four straight and stood several games back in a mediocre AFC.
Thanks to back-to-back blowout wins over the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs, the Bengals are back. With just six games left in the season, Cincy is just one game out of a playoff berth and is one of the hottest teams in the league.
The next four games for Cincinnati are suddenly very winnable games. It starts this week with Oakland and old friend Carson Palmer.
The Raiders are an incredibly dangerous team, and Palmer would love nothing more than to waltz out of Paul Brown Stadium with a win.
What will it take to get a win over Oakland? Let’s take a look at the 10 keys to the game.
Andy Dalton has rediscovered his form, and the defense suddenly looks like the unit many expected before the season. That combination has powered the Bengals back to the .500 mark.
It seems cliché, but the Bengals need to keep that momentum going in the right direction. Carry the same attitude that led to wins in the last two weeks into this week. Make the plays that need to be made. In short, keep doing what you’ve been doing.
The former Bengals star is third in the NFL in passing yards, but he has also tossed 11 interceptions. Is it Palmer, or is it a receiving corps that is just simply not that good?
You know what Bengals fans would say. Even when he was at the top of his game in Cincinnati, Palmer was very capable of making mistakes when pressured. The Bengals love to get to the quarterback. Pressure Palmer, and he’ll make mistakes.
If the defensive line is able to pressure Palmer into mistakes, the secondary must be ready to take advantage. The unit has played much better over the past couple of weeks and will need to continue to make plays.
The Raiders have plenty of weapons on the outside and a ton of speed. Palmer is more than capable of racking up big yards. Shut those weapons down, and Oakland has few other options.
Andy Dalton has returned to form. Over the past two weeks, he has looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
Much of that is due to A.J. Green’s presence, but Dalton has also done a good job in making better decisions and finding other receivers.
If Dalton continues to spread the ball around and find holes in the Raiders defense, he should have plenty of success. And that will lead to a win.
The game promises to be a matchup between two teams that love to throw the ball. But Cincinnati also had success the last two weeks in controlling the tempo of the game on both sides of the ball.
A big part of controlling the tempo is a strong run game. Last week the Bengals used Cedric Peerman well as a counterpunch to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and Cincinnati was in control the entire game.
The Bengals have done a much better job taking care of the ball in recent weeks while forcing turnovers on the other end. Winning the turnover battle usually leads to wins.
Cincinnati is minus-one in turnover differential; Oakland is minus-five. If those stats hold true, Bengals fans will be happy.
Even though Kansas City scored first last week, the Bengals took control early and never let the Chiefs back into the game.
If you allow an underdog to hang around, it will cost you in the end. The Bengals need to put the game away early and not let it come down to the closing minutes.
Whether on kick returns, field position or field goals, special teams plays a part in the outcome of every game.
The Bengals have won the battle of special teams in the past three weeks, and they must do so again on Sunday.
The Bengals are just one game out of the playoffs with six games to play. They can't relax now.
Cincinnati has gotten back into the playoff picture by playing with a sense of urgency, not necessarily desperation.
The urgency has manifested itself in the fake punts and fourth-down plays the Bengals have attempted in the past two weeks. It has also showed in individual play with several players taking their games to the next level.
Whether playing from behind or holding a lead, it is imperative that a team finish the game strong in every phase of the game.
It has served the Bengals well lately and will continue to do so.