The AFC North is once again loaded and every win will be important for a Cincinnati team that is expected to contend for a division title with a long road that begins in Oakland.
The Cincinnati Bengals have been a team seemingly on the cusp of greatness for more than a couple of seasons. A win in their 2015 regular season opener won’t do much to indicate they have reached where they want to be but it would definitely be a step in the right direction. The Bengals will open the year on the west coast when they visit the Oakland Raiders in Week 1 and with three of their first four games against teams from the AFC West they will have the opportunity to put themselves in a good position before playing the bulk of their schedule against their division rivals.
How Has The Betting Line Moved?
Open: Cincinnati -3
Current: Cincinnati -3.5
We all know how often the number '3' shows up on NFL Odds boards, but the Bengals have moved off of the key number in this spot and it seems to make sense. The Raiders might be an improved team but the Bengals are on a different level. The Raiders do have home-field advantage but when you consider the significant edge Cincinnati has here on offense and defense, it’s hard to bet against them.
3 Key Storylines
Derek Carr’s Year 2 Progression: One of the most important aspects of the Raiders progress this season will be the play of second-year quarterback Derek Carr, who played well enough as a rookie to convince NFL experts he can be a franchise quarterback. Carr threw for 3,270 yards with 21 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions and most impressive was the way he really turned it up towards the end of the year including a combined 468 yards and five touchdowns in a pair of wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs. Oakland invested in weapons to help Carr take another step forward when they drafted No. 1 receiver rookie Amari Cooper with their first-round pick and then signed veteran receiver Michael Crabtree away from the 49ers so there is plenty of reason to expect Carr to make progress on the football field this season beginning in Week 1 against a pretty good Bengals defense that will put their offensive line and Carr’s decision-making to the test.
Cincinnati’s Offensive Outlook: A lot has been made about Andy Dalton and where he stands among NFL quarterbacks and the biggest problem has been his inconsistency. Dalton has shown flashes of being a pretty good quarterback throughout his four NFL seasons but he took a step back overall last season and he needs to bounce back if the Bengals are going to finally get over the hump this season. Cincinnati has done an excellent job of surrounding Dalton with quality playmakers including wide receivers AJ Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and tight end Tyler Eifert but the identity of the offense remains its elite running back stable. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard are the perfect complement to one another as the perfect mix of power and finesse and the Bengals will once again rely on them to carry the load on offense this season beginning in Week 1 against Oakland.
The Raiders Defense: One of the most interesting aspects about Jack Del Rio taking over as the head coach in Oakland is how the defense performs this season. When Del Rio took over as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2003 they finished the season with the second-best run defense and sixth-best total defense so Raiders fans have to be hoping that he can significantly upgrade a unit that ranked 25th and 20th in those two categories last season. Second-year linebacker Khalil Mack is already a star but if Oakland is going to improve it has to begin up front where Justin Tuck, Mario Edwards Jr., Dan Williams and Justin Ellis will be leaned on to be a disruptive force on the defensive line.
Bet Early Or Bet Later…. And What’s The Play?
The Bengals are a team that has been considered on the verge of doing something special for at least a couple of years now and while expectations are high once again they could be in tough on the west coast for the season opener in Del Rio’s debut with the Raiders. Oakland finished last season strong and has upgraded on both sides of the football so it’s important not to overlook their potential under Del Rio. Cincinnati will be a tough test for this young Raiders’ team but they will lay it all on the line and if their defense steps up they should be able to at least keep this game close and cover the field goal at home. The betting line could very well move in their favor leading up to Week 1 but getting a field goal at home is good enough that it makes sense to bet on Oakland now at +3.5.
NFL Pick: Oakland +3.5 at BetOnline