In the middle of last season, the Cincinnati Bengals traded Carson Palmer to the Raiders. They finally cut ties with the quarterback who, despite being draft No. 1 overall and leading the team to two playoff appearances — and their most successful seasons since the Boomer Esiason era — held out for an entire season. He was unhappy with the team and his contract situation, and declared his retirement from football unless he was allowed to play elsewhere.
Halfway through last season, the Bengals had found their new franchise quarterback in Andy Dalton, and were finally ready to let Carson Palmer go. Sunday, Palmer returns to the Queen City in a game between two teams on separate paths this season, but a game that carries a lot of significance for one player and his former city and team.
Meet the Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals are 5-5 and looking like a legitimate playoff contender, especially with the Pittsburgh Steelers dealing with a plethora of injuries and the rest of the AFC not seeming very formidable this season. Behind Dalton, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and their best player, wide receiver A.J. Green, the Bengals offense has turned into a net positive and the defense is right at league-average, good enough to sneak into a Wild Card slot.
Green has proven to be every bit as good as advertised, and has improved from a stellar rookie season. Through 10 games, he has 64 catches for 911 yards and 10 touchdowns, tied with Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski for most in the league. He's in the top 10 in receptions, yards, and receptions for first downs.
Their road to the playoffs isn't tough. If they can get by the Raiders, they'll have winnable games against the Chargers, Cowboys, Eagles and Steelers left on the schedule before ending the season against the Ravens.
Meet the Raiders
The Raiders are 3-7 and completely banged up. Star running back Darren McFadden, his backup, Mike Goodson, and defensive end Richard Seymour have already been declared out for the Bengals game, and that's pretty much been the story of the season. Palmer has had to attempt 40 or more passes in four of the last five games, which hase turned the Raiders into the seventh-most productive passing offense in the league, but the third-worst rushing team.
Defensively, the Raiders have been a nightmare as well. They're in the bottom-third in rushing and passing yards allowed, which has meant teams like the Buccaneers and Dolphins have scored north of 30 points against them. Tthe Ravens blasted them with 55 points two weeks ago, the most in that franchise's history. The Bengals don't have the world's most high-octane offense, but they won't need it to take advantage of the Raiders' defensive woes.
Local Takes: Bengals
SB Nation's Cincy Jungle had a great couple of posts engaging in point-counterpoint over Palmer's return. Anthony Cosenza played the role of counterpoint in arguing that Palmer's return is, in fact, significant.
The first, and most important, is that this game has huge playoff implications for the Bengals. Currently sitting at 5-5, the Bengals are playing their best overall football of the season right now, which is a stark contrast to last season when they fizzled out at the end of the year.
[...]Secondly, and an admittedly more petty reason, is revenge. Yes, revenge on Palmer and his scorning of the team and the fans, but revenge more so on the demons of Bengals past. You see, the Bengals don't normally win these types of emotional games--be it "football karma", or whatever you would like to label it. When Palmer took that unfortunate knee injury in the 2005 Wild Card game, the Bengals were never able to fully recover and punch the Steelersback in the mouth (figuratively speaking) and win games against them over the years. Normally, other fans of other teams wouldn't have this attitude towards a former player. But, then again, players defecting against the franchise and opting for retirement over continuing to play for said franchise doesn't happen anywhere else in the NFL.
Local Takes: Raiders
Raiders' blogger Marcus Allen Krause at Silver and Black Pride has a game preview, and it's a good one. He thinks the Raiders and Bengals should immediately be considered rivals in the aftermath of the Palmer trade.
Even with the mess that is the Raiders defense right now I expect this to be a very competetive game. With the Raiders addition of Palmer I believe these teams should instantly be considered rivals and therefore the records and stats going into this game mean less.
Both teams have extra motivation in this game. The Raiders want to win to show they didn't overpay for Palmer, and the Bengals want to win to show Palmer why he shouldn't have left. It will be very interesting to see how the final score ends up.
Follow the Fun
Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Cincy Jungle and Silver and Black Pride for more analysis and highlights from the game.
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
With the Bengals being blacked out, Cincinnati getting Steelers and Browns on early CBS game instead.— Josh Kirkendall (@CincyJungle) November 23, 2012
@LeviDamien, lead writer for Silver and Black Pride
Cincinnati Enquirer Bengals reporter Joe Reedy
If the amount of people who have tweeted me asking about a blackout would have bought a ticket, this game would be a sellout— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) November 23, 2012
San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Vic Tafur
The Bengals have defeated opponents in consecutive weeks by 18 points or more for the first time in 27 years.— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) November 24, 2012
Though Palmer will likely be more focused this week than he has been all season, the Raiders are simply too banged up offensively and, especially without Seymour creating havoc along the line, too weak defensively. It's hard to imagine A.J. Green not going for 100 yards and a touchdown against this secondary, and Green-Ellis should be a force inside.
Bengals 28, Raiders 17
The Oakland Raiders opened as 6.5-point underdogs, but their recent performances and injuries haven't instilled any confidence in the bettors. Oddsshark.com now lists the Bengals as 9.5-point favorites.
The Bengals go on the road in Week 13 to take on the San Diego Chargers in another game against an underachieving West Coast team. The Raiders will host the equally hapless Cleveland Browns before two home games against division rivals Denver and Kansas City.