Published November 23, 2012
| Sports Network
If nothing else, Carson Palmer ought to know his surroundings Sunday.
A two-time Pro Bowler and two-time playoff participant during seven seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, he'll make his first appearance at Paul Brown Stadium as an opponent when he arrives with the Oakland Raiders with an eye on spoiling the home team's late-year push.
Palmer was the No. 1 overall selection by the Bengals in 2003 after winning the Heisman at Southern Cal and he ultimately helped a moribund Cincinnati franchise to a pair of division titles before an awful 2010 season yielded a trade demand and an ugly divorce in the middle of 2011.
Oakland picked him up for a first-round pick in 2012 and a conditional selection in 2013, but Palmer's initial full season with his new team hasn't exactly been a parade lap. The Raiders come to Cincinnati aiming to avoid a fourth straight loss in a skid that's already dropped them to third place in what's becoming a runaway AFC West for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Oakland hasn't lost four straight games in four years.
"It's a big game," Palmer said. "But it's obviously a much bigger game for our team. We have to get a win. We're going to fight, we're going to grind this week. We have a lot of room for improvement, a lot of areas we need to improve on."
As for parades, don't expect a sentimental Palmer-centric one from the Cincinnati side.
"(He's) just like any other player who was here," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "Now he's not here, so our job is to beat the Oakland Raiders and Carson Palmer on Sunday. He no longer plays here, so I think we no longer need to spend any time speaking about it."
Cincinnati has been erratic all season, starting 3-1 before a four-game skid that's since been ended with dominant defeats of the New York Giants and Kansas City.
In the latter two games, the Bengals have outscored their foes, 59-19. As a result, they are a game behind the current front-runners for the AFC wild card playoff berths -- Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.
"We're playing the way we should've been playing all year," linebacker Thomas Howard said. "I'm really excited about how we're playing on defense. Our offense is putting points on the board. This is Bengal football as you've been seeing the last two weeks, and I expect more of it."
Quarterback Andy Dalton has been red hot in the latest winning stretch, throwing six touchdowns and no interceptions in the last two games. He led Cincinnati to the playoffs after filling Palmer's void last season and has 20 touchdowns in year two while a 92.7 passer rating is 11th in the league.
His favorite target is fellow second-year man A.J. Green, who's scored in nine straight games and is already one catch short (64) of last season's total. His 10 touchdowns are already three better than the seven he hauled in as a rookie in 2011.
Augmenting him on the ground is ex-New England Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis, whose 101 yards against the Chiefs last week were a season high.
Oakland is last in the league in scoring defense (32.2 points per game) and has allowed 135 points in its last three games -- an average of 45 per week. Its offense hasn't exactly been world class either while scoring 69 points (23 per game) in the three losses.
Palmer is third in the league with 3,035 yards, but has 11 interceptions - including a pair returned for scores last week against Indianapolis. He has gotten production out of hybrid fullback Marcel Reese, who's rushed for 151 yards in the last two weeks and is second on the year for the year with 37 catches.
Starting running back Darren McFadden has been slowed with an ankle injury and hasn't played the last two weeks.
"We're playing against a good team, from a good division," Palmer said. "We need to go in there and find a way to get a win. I think consistency has been our biggest Achilles' heel. The teams that win consistently in this league play consistently well four quarters of the game. That's something we haven't done."
The Raiders lead the all-time series, 18-8, and have won seven of the last 10, though Palmer led the Bengals to a 27-10 triumph in the most recent game in Cincinnati in 2006.
Cincinnati's Lewis is 1-2 in three career meetings with the Raiders, while Oakland coach Dennis Allen has never faced the Bengals.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Dalton and the Bengals don't figure to be reticent to engage in an aerial show with Palmer, especially with Cincinnati facing an Oakland defense that's 24th in the league against the pass (253.2 yards per game) and has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 66.8 percent of their passes (third-worst in the league) for 20 touchdowns against only six interceptions.
Green should plug into the matchup nicely, and the hosts may also get production against a weak secondary from both another second-year man, Andrew Hawkins (34 catches, 394 yards, three touchdowns), and rookie Mohamed Sanu (11 catches, 125 yards, two touchdowns).
While Palmer returning with a new team to take down the squad whose ownership cast him aside would be a nice story, it doesn't figure to have much grounding in reality this week.
Dalton and Co. seem to have shaken off their four-week slump and their performance against the big boys -- i.e., the Giants two weeks ago -- shows they're a somewhat legitimate entity every week. This time around, in a game whose matchups favor them across the board, it should be no different at the end.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bengals 30, Raiders 20