There is no bigger storyline than the Raiders finally opening their 2015 regular season with a brand new coaching staff and a new attitude. There's a whole new energy with the Raiders, led by head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. Now we get to see it kick into high gear in football that matters.
The only player who has been ruled out for this game is Benson Mayowa. See the entire injury report here.
For all the nuts and bolts of the game including game time, TV schedule, injury report, and depth chart, click here.
Bengals 0fer in Otown
Oakland hasn't been a house of horrors for many teams over the past 30 years. But for the Bengals, that has always been the case. They have never won in Oakland, going 0-9 there in their history, including losing their last two games there during the Raiders 13 years of futility. They lasts played in Oakland in 2009 and lost 20-17 for one of the Raiders' five wins that season.
Aldon Smith factor
The Raiders added a wildcard to the mix Friday with the addition of troubled former All Pro pass rusher, Aldon Smith. As of right now he is eligible to play in the game, though he had just one practice and two days to prepare for it. Jack Del Rio had not made his decision if Smith would play Sunday or if he did see the field, how much.
If I had to guess, I would say Smith plays, but only a handful of snaps. His task will be a simple one - the quarterback must go down and he must go down hard. The thing is though, Smith is already a factor. As of Friday the Bengals had one more thing to think about and one major potential problem they will need to address in case Smith does play.
Mack Hype train stops here
The buzz surrounding Khalil Mack this offseason has reached a fever pitch. Mainly because football analysts began realizing as they poured over tape just how good he really was as a rookie and every outlet one by one made note of it. And in a long offseason, the anticipation builds with each passing day. Mack also gave everyone a nice preview of what to expect from him with his preseason performances as well. All the anticipation ends Sunday when he finally takes the field to face his first unlucky opponent.
There are a lot of new faces in Oakland besides the newest one in Aldon Smith. Just among the starters, there are two new receivers in Michael Crabtree and rookie fourth overall pick Amari Cooper. On the line there is center Rodney Hudson and right guard J'Marcus Webb.
On defense, the new starts are defensive tackle Dan Williams, linebackers Curtis Lofton and Malcolm Smith, and safety Nate Allen.
Other key additions include RB Roy Helu Jr, TE Lee Smith, TE Clive Walford (R), DE Mario Edwards Jr (R), and DE Denico Autry (2014 PS).
Most of the new additions at this point appear to be upgrades over the player who spent most of last season at the same position. Then again, before a real game that matters is played, that always appears to be the case. Sunday we'll get our first real glimpse at whether they upgrade this time.
For the first time since the Raiders fired him three seasons ago, Hue Jackson returns to the sideline in Oakland. This time it's the sunny sideline as the Bengals offensive coordinator. Jackson stood on the home side of the field for two seasons in Oakland - one as offensive coordinator, one as head coach - going 8-8 both seasons.
Jackson said he had a lot of "raw emotion" following his being fired after just one season as head coach and it took him about a year to get past it. He has been with the Bengals for three seasons now, working his way up from assistant DB and ST coach, to running backs coach, and ultimately back to offensive coordinator as of last season.
He says this is just another game for him, but I think once he hits the field where he got his first OC job as well as his only head coaching position, he might feel differently.
Center concerns in Cincinnati
As far as match-ups to start his career with his new team, they don't get much better than this for Dan Williams. When the Raiders signed him to play alongside Justin Ellis, they gave themselves the largest interior defensive line duo in football at a combined 650 pounds. The thinking being to stop the run up the middle.
Here is what SB Nation Bengals writer Scott Bantel had to say about Bodine
"He struggled mightily this preseason and in training camp, whether it be simple shotgun snaps, giving up sacks, or just being generally not good. As the old saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and Bodine is undoubtedly the offensive line's weakest link."
Based on what the Bengals have been getting form center Russell Bodine this preseason, Williams and Jelly could have their way inside in this one, while leaving Bengals running back Jeremy Hill with little room to run up the gut.
Gabe Jackson vs Geno Atkins
Raiders second year left guard will have his hands full in this game. Geno Atkins is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. He has been to three Pro Bowls, including last season, and was named All Pro twice. In his 2012 All Pro season, he had 12.5 sacks from the defensive tackle spot. He then had 6.0 sacks in 2013 in just nine games.
Atkins is so good that his 2014 Pro Bowl season was considered a down year for him after recovering from a major knee injury midway through the 2013 season. He is back to full strength now after a full offseason and training camp Jackson is looking to improve upon an impressive rookie season. He won't face many tougher assignments this season than the one he faces right out the gates in Atkins.
DJ/TJ vs AJ
Oh, boy. This could get messy. Unless the Raiders move TJ Carrie around to cover A.J. Green wherever he lines up, it's DJ Hayden who could see the most time on this four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver. That's four Pro Bowls in four seasons, by the way. Green is a beast. He's going to get his catches. Only once in his career did he not catch a pass in a game in which he appeared. And only three other times did he see less than two catches in a game.
Hayden has been a beating post for Raiders wide receivers in training camp and hasn't fared too well in preseason either. The former 12 overall pick has never played a full season due to multiple injuries. This could be a make or break season for him and AJ Green is one hell of a tough test to begin Hayden's quest to prove he is worthy of being a starter.
Austin Howard vs Carlos Dunlap
At the defensive end spot, Carlos Dunlap is the Bengals pass rusher. He had 8.0 sacks last season for the Bengals along with 19 QB hits and 34 hurries. The man who will be charged with stopping him was a backup for the Raiders all offseason and training camp until Menelik Watson was lost to a ruptured Achilles. This match-up should make Derek Carr very nervous.
Curtis Lofton vs Jeremy Hill
The new man in the middle for the Raiders is Curtis Lofton. One of his primary tasks will be to be wherever Bengals second year phenom running back Jeremy Hill wants to be. The 2014 second round pick ran for 1124 yards and 9 touchdowns as a rookie despite starting just 8 games. He averaged an impressive 5.1 yards per carry for the Bengals and heads into his second season with high hopes placed upon him.
Lofton comes to Oakland after being cut by the Saints. He has never not been a starter in his 7-year career, though he has never been named to a Pro Bowl. He was a tackling machine last year with 142 combined tackles, but he also missed a lot of tackles with the Saints relying heavily on him. The Raiders have a tough front four against the run, but Hill will find a few seams and it's up to Lofton to keep those runs to a minimum and keep down the "explosives" as Ken Norton puts it.