The Los Angeles Chargers will try to get one step closer to the playoffs when they host the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14 NFL action. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:05 EST on Sunday, December 9, at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. Fans in local markets can find the game on CBS.
The Chargers opened the week favored by 14.5 points. However, the Week 14 NFL odds currently list them as 14-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 48 points.
The Chargers are fresh off a spectacular comeback win in Pittsburgh last week. A loss in that game could have potentially dragged Los Angeles into the thick of the wild-card race in the AFC. However, at 9-3, they have a three-game cushion with four games left to play, so they are poised to reach the playoffs one way or another.
Of course, the Chargers are still hoping to catch the Chiefs for the top spot in the AFC West. They have a showdown in Kansas City next week that will enable the Chargers to tie the Chiefs in the standings. But the Chargers will also need to win the rest of their games, so they can’t afford to sleep on the Bengals this week.
As for Cincinnati, they are all but out of the playoff picture. The Bengals have dropped four straight games while also losing Andy Dalton and A.J. Green to season-ending injuries. Jeff Driskel played well in his first career start in place of Dalton last week. But the Cincinnati offense could only muster 10 points in a home loss to the Broncos. Head coach Marvin Lewis has indicated that he’s not particularly confident about his job security heading down the stretch, which tells you everything you need to know about where the Bengals stand right now.
At 5-7, Cincinnati would have to win out and get a lot of help to make the playoffs. With three of their four remaining games on the road, including rivalry games with the Browns and Steelers, that seems unlikely. A loss in Los Angeles on Sunday will all but guarantee that the Bengals miss the playoffs for the third straight season. It could also mean the end of Lewis’ time in Cincinnati.
It’s never easy swallowing this many points in an NFL game. However, the Bengals look dead in the water, and that’s putting it kindly. Meanwhile, the Chargers have four wins this year by at least 14 points, so they know how to take care of business against bad teams. It’s tough giving Cincinnati the benefit of the doubt against a good team on the road, especially since they’ve lost by at least 14 points in three of their last four games. I like the Chargers to win going away and cover the two-touchdown spread.
Obviously, the Chargers got some good fortune during their win over the Steelers last week, but they were incredible in the 2nd half. The also managed just fine without the injured Melvin Gordon. Rookie Justin Jackson came out of nowhere to give Philip Rivers plenty of ground support. Even if Gordon can’t play this week, the Chargers will be in good shape with Jackson and Austin Ekeler. It also helps that the Bengals are giving up over 150 yards per game on the ground.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati pass defense has been nearly as bad. Keep in mind that the Bengals are giving up close to 31 points per game. Even if Rivers has to carry the offense, the Chargers should still be able to score points. Rivers was unconscious during the 2nd half against a solid Pittsburgh defense last week. That performance came one week after he completed 28 of his 29 passes against a bad Arizona defense. I wouldn’t count out Rivers having a similar mastery of the Cincinnati defense this week.
Needless to say, the Bengals are going to have to put some points on the board if they’re to keep this game close. With an inexperienced quarterback, the key for Cincinnati will be running the ball with Joe Mixon. For the most part, Mixon has been good this year, rushing for 80-plus yards in each of the past two weeks. But with Dalton and Green both out, the Chargers know that Mixon is the guy they have to stop.
In my opinion, the Los Angeles defense has been underrated for most of the season. The Chargers have held six of their last eight opponents to under 20 points. Joey Bosa already has three sacks in three games since returning from injury, giving the Los Angeles pass rush a huge boost. Driskel took four sacks last week against Denver’s vaunted pass rush. Cincinnati’s offensive line could be equally vulnerable this week, especially if the Chargers are able to keep Mixon bottled up.
All things considered, I feel good about eating 14 points in this game. Even if the Bengals play their best, they have a narrow path to victory. It’s far more likely that Cincinnati falls behind early and has trouble getting finding a foothold in the game. It’s not hard to see this game getting out of hand, so I’ll take my chances with the Chargers being able to cover.