The Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) travel to San Diego to face the Chargers (5-6) at Qualcomm Stadium for a 4:25 pm (ET) showdown Sunday on the west coast. Unlike Cincinnati’s other professional sports team the Reds, the Bengals have been a little more respectable by the Pacific with a .500 record since 2000 when facing the Chargers away.
The Bengals have had time to treat some wounds during their Bye Week last week. And with the Baltimore Ravens (6-6) finally putting things together and gaining ground, every game from here on out is important.
Although I hate it when coaches, players and fans say, “this upcoming game is important,” while in playoff contention as if the first four games of the season don’t count, it certainly seems true for Cincinnati from now until the new year.In order for the Bengals to make the playoffs for a franchise record third time in a row, they will have to beat a Chargers team that won against the 9-1 Chiefs in comeback fashion last week.
With Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers always tough against Cincinnati, the Bengals will need every player available for a chance to win and an almost certain spot in the playoffs.
Vontaze Burfict: Questionable (ankle)
Kevin Zeitler: Out (foot)
Michael Boley: Probable (hamstring)
Chris Crocker: Probable (hamstring)
Brandon Tate: Probable (ankle)
The big name on that list that Cincinnati really can’t afford to lose is leading tackler Vontaze Burfict. There’s been talk that Burfict has a chance to be the AP Defensive Player of The Year, and after going down with an injury during practice on Friday, there’s a possibility he won’t play Sunday to add on to his NFL-best 118 tackles.
With the Bengals’ defense already without Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and its best cover cornerback Leon Hall, the play makers on defense are running thin. With Burfict possibly out, the Bengals will have a very huge void to fill in the middle of the field on passing downs with the Chargers’ running back Danny Woodhead one of the best in the NFL when catching out of the backfield.
If Burfict is a no-go Sunday, the most likely candidate would be Vincent Rey who’s played in place of Maualuga while he was out the past few weeks with a knee injury. Rey is one of the better options at linebacker on passing downs, but the Bengals’ D will surely miss Burfict who hasn’t missed a game in two seasons if he is unable to suit up against the Chargers.
San Diego injuries:
Antonio Gates: Probable (hamstring)
Nick Hardwick: Probable (neck)
D.J Fluker: Probable (knee)
Eddie Royal: Questionable (chest)
Jarret Johnson: Questionable (hand)
Philip Rivers will be happy to hear that one of his favorite targets, Antonio Gates will most likely be playing Sunday which is good considering the Chargers could use the tight end on favorable matchups against the Bengals’ thin line backing corps.
The Chargers’ offense would be at a big disadvantage if receiver Eddie Royal and his seven touchdown catches won’t make it to the field. The six-year veteran Royal is enjoying his best season since joining the Chargers in 2012 and has 34 catches for 484 yards to go along with his career-high seven touchdowns.
OLB Jarret Johnson has played only one game out of the past six while dealing with a hand injury. Before the injury, Johnson was on pace for a career-high 10 sacks. If he can make it Sunday, Johnson could help bolster an otherwise lousy Chargers’ passing defense.