Raiders' 2019 opponents include Khalil Mack, Bears and awful reminder


Raiders' 2019 opponents include Khalil Mack, Bears and awful reminder

Well, it's official: The Oakland Raiders' 2018 season is, for all rights and purposes, is over. But their 2019 schedule will contain a slap-in-the-face reminder of the mess this year has been. 

Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs eliminated the 2-10 Raiders from playoff contention, so all that's left to play for is draft pick positioning and current player evaluation. Oakland's list of 2019 opponents is pretty much set, too, with the expection of two, which will be based on the AFC North and AFC East teams that finish in the same division standings spot as the Raiders. In other words, last-place finishers.

But one team the Raiders are guaranteed to see next season is the Chicago Bears. They have a linebacker whom Raiders fans know.

That's right: Khalil Mack, whose trade to Chicago sparked this gigantic disaster of an Oakland season, could be back at the Coliseum sometime in 2019. As a Bear. Wreaking havoc on Derek Carr and the Raiders' still-developing offense.

We say "could" because the Raiders have played international games in 2014 (London), 2016 (Mexico City), 2017 (Mexico City) and 2018 (London). So, it's fair to expect the team to be scheduled abroad in 2019, and the Bears are a perfect opponent for that contest because they wouldn't want to give up a home game. Playing the Raiders in Mexico, London or elsewhere could be a good way to force the Bears to play an international game.

So, while Raiders fans shudder at the thought of Mack truckin' the Silver and Black, check out the list of 2019 Oakland opponents as it stands now. The NFL typically announces dates for each game during draft week in April.

2019 Raiders Opponents

Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Chargers
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Same-place finisher in AFC North (Cleveland Browns, as of now)

Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Chargers
Indianapolis Colts
Houston Texans
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings
Same-place finisher in AFC East (New York Jets, as of now)

Raiders' Paul Guenther expecting emotional homecoming Sunday at Bengals


Raiders' Paul Guenther expecting emotional homecoming Sunday at Bengals

CINCINNATI – Cincinnati chili can be an acquired taste. Locals love it, though outsiders can be taken aback by the cocoa and cinnamon inside the concoction, or the fact that it’s often served on top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese.

Paul Guenther isn’t a huge fan.

“I never got into it,” Guenther said. “But my kids were born there and they really like it.”

The Raiders defensive coordinator isn’t a native, which explains his cautiousness toward the chili, but essentially grew up as an NFL coach in Cincinnati. He was hired as an assistant position coach back in 2005, climbed the ladder and eventually became an accomplished defensive coordinator for the Bengals. He spent 13 seasons in Cincinnati, and stayed there in 2014 despite competing offers to join friends and former co-workers Jay Gruden in Washington and Mike Zimmer in Minnesota.

He stayed put and continued a run of strong Bengals defensive play through 2017, but Jon Gruden’s call was too tempting. Guenther was Gruden’s first choice to run the Raiders defense upon his return to the Silver and Black, with relative autonomy on that side of the ball. Guenther has say in defensive players signed and drafted, able to construct and develop his unit with players he likes.

Guenther will be given time to improve a Raiders unit that has struggled for years and needs major upgrades, especially in the front seven.

He started at ground zero with a struggling unit that lost Khalil Mack in September (definitely not his choice), but his unit is making significant strides heading into his homecoming game.

The Raiders play the Bengals on Sunday in Cincinnati, in what will be an emotional moment for the respected defensive coach.

[RELATED: Four Raiders players you should watch Sunday vs. Bengals]

“Naturally. There are people there who were real good to me,” Guenther said. “I spent a lot of time with those players and the organization, the Brown family. The coaching staff means a lot to me. They still do.

“But, when toe meets leather at 1 o’clock, it’s business. I root for those guys every week and I hope they do good except for one game, which is this one.”

Guenther stands a solid chance of leaving with a victory if his defense can halt Bengals running back Joe Mixon and athletic quarterback Jeff Driskel. He won’t do it with a carbon copy of the scheme he learned and eventually ran in Cincinnati -- he has made adjustments to account for the lack of talent and consistent production up front, especially -- but the concepts are the same.

“They’ve morphed around defensively this year with the things they’re doing, but they’ve kind of settled in,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis told reporters this week. “Obviously, he had great experience coaching against Pittsburgh, so I thought they did a nice job of getting guys to understand, and they played well.”

The Raiders defense has kicked it up a notch recently. They are playing far better in the secondary, and are making improvements after struggling mightily against the run. The pass rush remains a problem -- Oakland simply doesn’t have the horses up front -- but Guenther has attempted to help that problem area schematically. That, after all, is what good coaches do.

He gained experience in stops before Cincinnati, but honed his craft as a play designer and play caller wearing orange and black.

“Paul did a fine job here,” Lewis said. ”Since he came here with us, he hustled, did a lot of different things here and did a good job at all of them.”

Four Raiders players to watch in NFL Week 15 game vs. Bengals

Four Raiders players to watch in NFL Week 15 game vs. Bengals

CINCINNATI – The Raiders are playing their best football down the stretch. They hung extremely tough against Kansas City, and then erased two fourth quarter deficits to beat Pittsburgh at home last week.

Cincinnati has lost five straight and look lost on defense these days, with Bengals fans here clamoring to hear that longtime head coach Marvin Lewis has been fired.

The Raiders could help secure such a fate with a victory at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals are 3.5-point favorites entering this game, which makes sense considering the Silver and Black’s overall performance this season and issues on the interior offensive line.

These teams are evenly matched, so it could very well be an entertaining game, even it’s not necessarily well played. The Bengals are working without receiver A.J. Green, quarterback Andy Dalton and middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The Raiders won’t have Kelechi Osemele and maybe Gabe Jackson at guard to deal with Geno Atkins.

Here are four Raiders to watch on Sunday morning -- guys who must perform well for the Raiders to notch a fourth victory.

LB Tahir Whitehead

The veteran linebacker and the team’s only three-down defender was justifiably criticized heavily this season for missed tackles and poor coverage. He has been much better of late, and a key cog in improved play against the run and pass. He had 16 tackles without a miss in Baltimore. He had a big quarterback hit and a forced fumble against Kansas City and had an interception against Pittsburgh.

“A couple of weeks ago, he couldn’t cover. He was [terrible in] coverage on Pro Football Focus,” head coach Jon Gruden said, sarcastically. “He just keeps playing, keeps hustling. …His effort level is great. I just think he’s a good player no matter who he plays for and what scheme he’s in. He just stays true to himself and trusts his abilities and makes plays.”

Whitehead’s ever-positive outlook has kept him on track towards improvement.

“I always tell the guys, ‘The same guy that’s rubbing the back, he is going to stick the knife in the same spot,’” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “Never listen to the outside noise and keep trying to get better as an individual, and that’s what he has done. He’s been a positive guy and a great asset for us. Hopefully he will continue to get better.”

He’ll need to make some big plays against Mixon, tight end C.J. Uzomah and athletic quarterback Jeff Driskel to keep the Bengals contained and lead the middle of the Raiders defense in what should be a competitive game.

NT Justin Ellis

The Raiders run defense has been better the past two weeks. The Chiefs had some yards piled up, but running backs didn’t have many. Pittsburgh barely moved on the ground, and it’s no surprise those improvements have come with Ellis back off injured reserve.

“It’s amazing how Justin Ellis has a factor in that,” Gruden said. “He’s helped us. Paul Guenther’s scheme is catching on I think. Yes, they have played better.”

He isn’t playing many snaps, but he spells others and plugs gaps for others to make plays. He and Johnathan Hankins must clog the middle and force Mixon to work for production outside.

Expect his playing time to move up a smidge this week as his conditioning has improved. Slowing Mixon is essential on Sunday, given that everything stems from him, especially considering Cincinnati’s offensive injuries.

“I know they have been putting an emphasis on that, trying to get him more touches, so we are going to have to deal with him,” Guenther said. “That’s not an easy task.”

LG Chaz Green

Recently signed Chaz Green will play in place of Osemele, despite being commonly viewed as a tackle. He has three professional games at left guard, so the position isn’t foreign -- although, he wasn’t good in those outings -- but he’s stepping into a difficult spot considering the opposition.

Dallas’ 2015 third-round pick must deal with elite Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who rotates on both sides of center but primarily plays against the left guard. Green will have help from Raiders Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson, but it’s still a difficult task going against game-changer like Atkins.

Quarterback Derek Carr has been excellent of late, which Gruden credits in part to solid protection up front. Interior pressure is the most troublesome kind, so the Raiders must find ways to keep Green going strong.

RB Doug Martin

The Raiders' run defense has been better lately, but remains statistically awful on the year. That said, they've been superior to the Bengals in that department. Cincinnati ranks dead last in the NFL with an average of 144.5 rushing yards allowed per game.

That means this could be a time for Doug Martin to lead the offense by steadily churning out yards. He has been solid since Marshawn Lynch went on injured reserve, primarily working on first and second down. Keeping the offense on schedule and on the field will be key in this one. If Martin ends up carrying the ball 20-plus times, that likely means things are going well.