When an NFL team plays the Cincinnati Bengals, the feared scenario becomes "letdown."
While that term can be a tired cliché, it is also a legitimate fear in the parity-filled NFL. The Oakland Raiders (0-1) are the latest team to face the Bengals (0-1) Sunday in Oakland. Do not, however, expect the Raiders to fall prey to a lackluster performance.
"We're 0-1 too," Raiders starting right guard Mo Collins said. "Nowadays in this league anything can happen. You take somebody lightly, it's going to come and bite you."
The Bengals have epitomized the term "Humpty Dumpty" as they have not had a winning season since 1990. While that streak figures to continue in 2003, Cincinnati appears to have a sense of direction under first-year head coach Marvin Lewis.
The fact that Oakland is 0-1 after falling to Tennessee 25-20 last Sunday should prevent such a pratfall. The Raiders follow Sunday's matchup with Cincinnati by traveling to AFC West rival Denver next Monday on the road. Oakland knows it can ill-afford a 0-2 start going into Denver if it wishes to have championship aspirations.
The Raiders have faced two situations that are somewhat similar to Sunday over the last two seasons, both against Arizona.
In 2001, Oakland entered an early December home game against Arizona with an 8-2 record and cruising toward an AFC West title. Arizona, meanwhile, was at best a playoff longshot at 4-6. The Cards stunned Oakland 34-31 in overtime. The fact that the Raiders were coasting to a division title, in hindsight, may have lent itself to a letdown.
Last season, the Raiders visited Arizona in late November. Arizona, which finished the season 5-11, was out of playoff contention. Oakland, meanwhile, was 6-4 and in a rugged battle for the AFC West title with Kansas City, Denver and San Diego. Oakland defeated Arizona 41-20 at Sun Devil Stadium that day. The fact that Oakland entered that game knowing it could not afford to stub its toe perhaps helped prevent a lackluster performance.
"That's the great thing about this league is that you can't overlook anyone," Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown said. "We're 0-1 also. It's not like they're 2-12 in December."
That's all the more reason why Oakland will not be 0-2 by Sunday's end.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org