The 7-4 Cincinnati Bengals head to the west coast this Sunday to take on the 5-6 Chargers. Both teams have playoff implications on the line these last few games, and this Sunday’s is just as important as any other.
The Bengals are in sole possession of first place in the AFC North, but after Baltimore beat the Steelers on Thanksgiving night the Bengals lead was cut to just a game and a half for first place. San Diego is barely hanging on the AFC, and they will need help as the season continues. They currently hold the eighth seed in the AFC, two behind the last playoff spot, which is held by Baltimore.
The Chargers hold the all time series lead against the Bengals, 19-13, but the Bengals have won the past two out of three meetings. The Chargers, however, are coming off a big time win, 41-38 over the Kansas City Chiefs. Phillip Rivers has been playing well as of late, having thrown five touchdowns to one interception in the Chargers’ past three games.
After coming off their bye week, the Bengals seem to be well rested and will get back key defensive player, Rey Maualuga, after losing him to sprained MCL in the October 27th game against the New York Jets. Having him back will help a lot on defense, especially with stopping the run up the middle. The Bengals have struggled with that the past couple weeks, especially after they lost defensive tackle Geno Atkins for the year. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who leads the NFL in tackles, is listed as questionable with an ankle sprain. If he does not play on Sunday, the Bengals will be without one of their key defensive starters.
If Burfict can not go, the Bengals will have a tough time containing Danny Woodhead, who is a huge threat receiving out of the backfield. His replacement would be linebacker Vinny Rey, who has been impressive when he has filled in for Burfict this season.
If the Bengals hope to keep their lead in the division, Andy Dalton will need to step up his game. I feel like a broken record preaching about how the play of Andy Dalton affects the success of the whole team, but it plays an important role. The defense proved that they can win a game for the team when the offense is not playing up to par in their 41-20 win over the Browns. Dalton began the game throwing two interceptions with one returned for a touchdown. Dalton eventually turned it around by finishing with three touchdowns on the day. I think that says a lot about Dalton’s ability to not let the bad plays get to him and just take the game one drive at a time.
The keys to this game for the Bengals will be their ability to stop the run and put an end to Phillip Rivers’ hot streak. A win would mean a confidence boost for the Bengals and they would gain ground in the division race for the AFC North.