The Cincinnati Bengals open the season Sunday in Oakland against a Raiders team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2002.
But with an impressive cast of young stars and a new head coach in Jack Del Rio, the Raiders are hoping to reboot their fortunes in 2015 much the way the Bengals did in 2011 with the start of the Andy Dalton and A.J. Green era.
Quarterback Derek Carr started all 16 games as a rookie last year and showed promise in an otherwise dismal 3-13 campaign. The Raiders used the fourth pick in the draft to give Carr a top-shelf weapon in wide receiver Amari Cooper in addition to signing Michael Crabtree as a free agent.
Defensively, second-year defensive end Khalil Mack, the fifth overall pick in 2014, already has established himself as one of the top edge rushers in the game.
“He’s a tremendous player,” Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said of Mack. “He’s an all-day football player. He’s fast, he’s sudden, he’s strong, he’s got spin moves, he’s got karate moves. The guy is a rolling ball of butcher knives.”
In addition to the current crop of talent in Oakland, the Bengals will be battling the past as well. Cincinnati is 1-14 in road games against the Raiders, including 0-10 in games played in Oakland.
Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was on the Raiders coaching staff from 2010-11, including head coach in 2011, when his team tied for the best record in the AFC West at 8-8 (still tied for Raiders’ best record since 2002); Jackson played collegiately at University of the Pacific from 1985-86, coached there from 1987-89, and also coached at University of California in 1996 … Bengals DT Pat Sims played for the Raiders from 2013-14 … … Bengals H-back Ryan Hewitt played at Stanford … Bengals LB Rey Maualuga is from Eureka, Calif. … Raiders DB Chimdi Chekwa played at Ohio State … Bengals WR Marvin Jones played at University of California … Bengals S Derron Smith played at Fresno State and is from Banning, Calif. … Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes coached at University of California from 1992-94 … Raiders S Taylor Mays played for the Bengals from 2011-14 … Raiders TEs coach Bobby Johnson played OT at Miami University and coached the RedHawks from 1999-2004.
AFC North outlook
Baltimore (0-0): At Denver (0-0) Sunday. The last time the Ravens opened the season in Denver they got blown out 49-27. Five months later they won Super Bowl XLVII.
Cleveland (0-0): At New York Jets (0-0) Sunday. The Browns have lost 10 consecutive season openers, eight of which have been at home. The last time they won a season opener on the road was 1994 in Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh (0-0): At New England (0-0) Thursday. The Steelers not only open on the road against the defending Super Bowl champs, they have to walk into frenzied Foxborough as Tom Brady makes his triumphant debut after beating the commissioner in court.
— JAY MORRISON