September 09, 2015

The Cincinnati Bengals' 40 wins the past four years rank among the most in the NFL. However, they've repeatedly failed to end a playoff victory drought that sits at 24 seasons.

The Bengals begin yet another quest to snap the streak with Sunday's road game against the Raiders, who have more modest expectations for what could prove to be their final season in Oakland.

Cincinnati (10-6-1) is among seven teams to win 40 games in the past four seasons, with league elites New England, Denver and Seattle also on that list. What separates the Bengals is an 0-7 playoff record since a 41-14 win over the Houston Oilers in January 1991, the NFL's longest active drought in the postseason.

"The mood for me, it's just now or never," running back Jeremy Hill said. "It's been four years in a row and I think if it doesn't happen this year, then it's probably never going to happen. ... I think something has to change."

The Bengals will lean on Hill, who ran for 1,124 yards in his rookie season, as well as one of the NFL's most reliable receivers. A.J. Green topped 1,000 yards for the fourth time in as many years in 2014 despite missing three games with an injured toe. He could be motivated by a lucrative new contract that's likely coming in the near future.

Green also sat out a 26-10 playoff loss at Indianapolis because of a concussion and Andy Dalton fizzled once again in the postseason, going 18 for 35 for 155 yards and posting a 63.4 rating.

Dalton has a 57.8 rating in his four playoff games compared with 85.2 in 64 regular-season contests, and those repeated failures had fans booing him during a celebrity softball game this summer.

Former Raiders coach and current Bengals coordinator Hue Jackson is pressing Dalton to take on a greater role in commanding the offense.

"I feel like I've done more from a leadership standpoint, of pushing guys and getting exactly what we're wanting," Dalton said. "I feel like I'm throwing the ball well. The ball is coming out of my hand really, really well."

The Bengals are hoping that defensive lineman Geno Atkins can regain his dominant form in his second year after knee surgery. Atkins had three sacks in 2014 after totaling 18 1/2 in his previous two seasons and Cincinnati finished with a league-low 20.

The Bengals also brought back defensive end Michael Johnson after one season with Tampa Bay, but his status is uncertain due to a sprained knee ligament. He recorded 11 1/2 sacks in 2012 but a combined 7 1/2 the past two.

Cincinnati will face an Oakland team that ranked at the bottom of the NFL with 282.2 yards per game in 2014 and whose 253 points were ahead of only Jacksonville's 249.

The Raiders also gave up a league-high 452 points while finishing 3-13, their worst showing since going 2-14 in 2006.

Oakland has an NFL-worst .292 winning percentage (56-136) since last making the playoffs in 2002 and hasn't won more than four games in any of the past three seasons.

First-year coach Jack Del Rio is the team's ninth since the last postseason game - a 48-21 loss to the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl - and Derek Carr became the 18th starting quarterback as a rookie.

Carr appears to have brought some stability to the position, becoming the seventh first-year player to throw for at least 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. The Raiders drafted star Alabama receiver Amari Cooper with the No. 4 overall pick and brought in Michael Crabtree from San Francisco to give Carr some much-needed weapons.

"I think in some key positions where we've added people, you add talented guys that can be potential game breakers for you," safety Charles Woodson said. "That's what you need in this game. You need some guys that can go out there and perhaps take the game over at any given moment. I think we have a few guys like that."

Latavius Murray is set to begin his first full season as the starting running back after averaging 5.4 yards per carry in his final six games of 2014.

Murray might be running on a different field next season with the Raiders reportedly looking at another move to Los Angeles, where they played from 1982-94. There's a $1.7 billion facility planned for suburban Carson that the team might share with the San Diego Chargers, and St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke had designs for a stadium in Inglewood.

The Raiders have won six straight and 14 of 15 at home all-time against Cincinnati, including playoffs. The Bengals have taken two of the past three overall meetings.

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