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Key Matchups: Raiders prepare for final AFC North matchup this Sunday

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What a week it’s been.

Sunday, the Oakland Raiders defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-21 in a thrilling upset at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Monday, the team parted ways with General Manager Reggie McKenzie.

It’s been a roller coaster of emotions at 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway, but the team is focused on its preparation for this weekend’s battle against the Cincinnati Bengals. For the final time this season, the Raiders will square off against an AFC North opponent.

Before the team departs for Ohio, let’s take a look at three matchups I’ll have my eye on in Week 15.

Raiders defensive line vs. running back Joe Mixon

The Raiders have allowed just 79 rushing yards, and one touchdown to opposing running backs the last two weeks, and against some high-powered offenses no less.

Against the Bengals, the Silver and Black will need to stop Joe Mixon, who is averaging 4.8 yards per carry this season, and he’s totaled 866 rushing yards, six touchdowns, 283 receiving yards, and one receiving touchdown. Without Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, the Bengals have relied heavily on the production of Mixon and wide receiver Tyler Boyd. The former Oklahoma Sooner is an explosive runner, and holding him in check will be a point of emphasis this week during practice I’m sure.

Raiders interior line vs. Bengals defensive line

Injuries at the guard position has been a problem in recent weeks for the Raiders, and this week they’ll face a stout defense with two linemen that have 15 sacks combined. Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins have been consistent players in the NFL for years now, and you can bet they’re going to be active in the trenches this week.

Versus the Steelers, both guards Jon Feliciano and Gabe Jackson sustained injuries. Tuesday, the team placed Feliciano on the Reserve/Injured list, and Jackson will be worth monitoring on the injury report the next few days. In addition, Pro Bowl guard Kelechi Osemele missed the game in Week 14 due to a toe injury. If the Raiders want to be successful against the Bengals, they’ll need to keep Derek Carr upright.

Tight end Jared Cook vs. safety Shawn Williams

Williams is having his best statistical season since joining the Bengals in 2013, leading the Cincinnati defense in tackles (67) and interceptions (4). Cook is also in the midst of his best season, and if Williams is matched up on the dynamic tight end it should be a good matchup.

Cook is coming off back-to-back 100-yard receiving games, and he has a career-high in receiving yards (825), and receiving touchdowns (6). No. 87 has been Carr’s favorite target all season, and for good reason. The former South Carolina Gamecock has been his most-reliable weapon, and the mismatches Cook presents are a challenge for any opposing defense. At 6’ and 212 pounds, Williams is much smaller than the 6’5”, 254-pound Cook, and I expect Carr to take some chances throwing 50-50 balls to the big tight end downfield.

If the Raiders are able to pull out the win on the road, it’ll be the team’s first back-to-back win of 2018, and would bring their record to 4-10. The playoffs are out of the question, but hopefully the team can end the last quarter of the season on a high note.

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