You can crunch all the numbers you want. You can do all the matchups and compare records and power rankings you want. On paper the Bengals look like the far superior team. They even beat the Raiders this season. But when the Raiders come to town, they may be a lot more evenly matched than you might think.
No team is hotter than the Raiders right now. A month ago, they looked done. They had lost five of six and had fallend to 6-7 on the season. To have any shot they would need to win out the rest of the way. And that’s just what they did.
Four in a row the Raiders have won, including beating two teams at the end who had their own playoff hopes on the line.
You can look at how the Raiders won and say none of them were convincing victories. That was the story of the 2021 Raiders, actually. Six times this season the Raiders won on the last play, including four overtime games.
Many prefer to see that as a knock on them. But winning is winning. And winning close ones is a positive stat, too.
Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow seemed to grasp the importance of the close wins along with the current four-game win streak.
“It reminds me of our 2016 National Championship team at Clemson,” Renfrow said after the Raiders win Sunday night. “We won like seven games by like a touchdown or less. You just get used to winning. You get used to winning the close games. And so I think that came into play tonight. And it’s good for the young guys on the team to be able to experience it. And as we go on the rest of this year and next year and the year after we got a program of winning. I think the adversity that we’ve been through has definitely made us tighter.”
The Chargers had a better record and a more powerful offense. They probably felt pretty good coming into Sunday night’s game. And then they found themselves down 10-0 and they’d only had the ball for three plays.
Three times the Chargers came from behind in this game to either take the lead or tie. And each time, the Raiders took it right back.
You don’t do that without confidence. That confidence comes from doing it several times before.
That confidence makes them dangerous. And there is no doubt it strikes fear in the Bengals that they will be the next team the Raiders jump up and bite to knock out of the playoffs.
This Raiders team hasn’t lost in a month. They are coming to expect it. They are coming to expect that even if they aren’t perfect, if they stay the course, things can have a way of working out for them.
It’s been a while since you could say that about a Raiders team.
The 2016 may have had that feeling for much of the season due to all the times Derek Carr led them to a late comeback win, but they didn’t have it going into the playoffs because Carr was lost two games before.
The beauty of this team is the confidence isn’t in just the QB. After all, their winning streak has been mostly on the strength of the defense and the running game. This makes them tough to game plan against because it isn’t as simple as stopping one player or forcing one player to beat you.
Even if the team hasn’t been relying on Derek Carr to win games, if the Bengals think forcing him to beat them is the formula, he just might do it. Especially since he has his Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller back now.
If you look at the defense, it’s the pass rush that’s been dominant. And if the Bengals think it’s just about keeping Maxx Crosby from lighting them up, that would just open the door for the likes of Yannick Ngakoue or one of the interior rushers to have a big day.
The Bengals have a lot going for them in this game. And they too would have been riding a four-game winning streak had they not rested their starters for the finale. But they know they are facing an extremely dangerous team in the Raiders riding some serious momentum into Cincinnati.