Is there such a thing as a trap game in Week 1? Debatable, but if so, Cincinnati should be on high alert when they travel to Oakland. The Bengals are 3-point favorites on the NFL odds.
Warning Signs For Cincy?
The Bengals have had a winning record each of the past four seasons and made the playoffs in all of them. Flamed out in the postseason, yes, but made it. Cincinnati has a wins total of 8 this season at 5Dimes, with the over at -130 favorite.
Oakland hasn't won more than four games in the past three seasons and hasn't finished with a winning record since the 2002 campaign when the Raiders lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl. The franchise is on yet another new head coach, this time Jack Del Rio.
So why may I be a tad worried if I'm a Bengals backer? It might be easy for the players to overlook a long trip to the West Coast against a presumed lousy team and more toward a tougher home opener in Week 2 against San Diego.
Bengals' LewIs On Hot Seat
This is definitely a make-or-break season for Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who is +4000 to be the first coach fired this season. I'm shocked his odds aren't shorter. Yes, Cincinnati has had an unprecedented stretch of regular-season success under Lewis, but the team has played terribly in the past four wild-card games, losing each decisively. If that happens again, or the team doesn't even make the playoffs, then either Lewis or quarterback Andy Dalton probably won't be in Cincinnati in 2016.
Dalton certainly has some great weapons around him. A.J. Green is one of the NFL's five best receivers and he'll be in line for huge contract extension next offseason. Green will make $10.18 million in 2015 as part of his fifth-year option, but he'll now want numbers closer to what the Cowboys' Dez Bryant just got. Green actually is coming off his worst season, but he was limited by injuries and played only 13 games -- and some of those not the full way. He caught 69 passes for 1,041 yards and six scores.
But I believe the focal point of this offense will be second-year running back Jeremy Hill. He was a second-round pick last year out of LSU and was presumed to be second fiddle to Giovani Bernard. But Bernard had some injury issues of his own and Hill took advantage of that in a big way. He had more rushing yards than anyone over the second half of the season and finished with 1,124 yards on 222 carries (excellent 5.1 ypc) and nine touchdowns. Hill is a +950 third-favorite to lead the NFL in rushing.
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Raiders On Rise
As for Oakland, the Bengals game will obviously be the debut of Del Rio as well as good looking rookie receiver Amari Cooper, the No. 4 overall pick from this year's draft and a 2014 Heisman finalist at Alabama. Del Rio was Denver's defensive coordinator last season and beat out Raiders 2014 interim coach Tony Sparano (he took over after Dennis Allen was fired) for the job. Del Rio coached the Jaguars from 2003 to 2011, compiling a 68-71 record while twice guiding the team to the playoffs. Del Rio grew up in the Oakland area and his family are long-time Raiders season-ticket holders.
I do believe Oakland is on the right track. I think Cooper will be a very good pro, and he's the +650 second-favorite to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Raiders also signed former 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree. Derek Carr had the best season of any rookie quarterback last year, completing 58.1 percent of his passes for 3,270 yard, 21 scores and 12 picks. He looks like a keeper. I'm not sold on Latavius Murray as a featured back, but the team took a chance on Trent Richardson to back him up. Oakland has a future star on defense in linebacker Khalil Mack, the No. 5 overall pick in 2014. ESPN's Mike Sando recently did a re-ranking of the 2014 class and Mack was No. 1 overall. Carr, a second-round pick, was No. 11.
NFL Free Pick: The teams haven't met since 2012 so hard to take much from that 34-10 Cincinnati home win. Cincinnati has covered its past five games at AFC West teams. I'll give the 3 points right now but would probably take an alternate line of 2.5 to be safe.