SERIES HISTORY: 34th regular-season meeting. Chargers lead series, 19-14. The Bengals are facing the Chargers for the first time since their move from San Diego. The Bengals are 4-1 in the last five meetings and recorded a 24-19 home win in the last meeting in 2015 when they sacked Philip Rivers four times and forced three turnovers.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chargers, unlike their first half against the Steelers, will aim to start fast against a team that has struggled and is minus its two best playmakers in quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, who are among the 15 players on injured reserve for the Bengals.
Quarterback Philip Rivers and the entire unit will be playing with confidence and won't be shy about being aggressive against the NFL's worst defense. Don't be surprised if Justin Jackson gets a longer than usual look at running back as the rookie was impressive in last week's game, especially since Melvin Gordon is likely a week away from returning from a knee injury.
The Bengals seemed to emphasize their run game a little more in the last two weeks by attempting 20 and 23 carries respectively after carrying 16 times the previous two games when they fell behind by big margins early. It will be interesting to see how the play-calling goes should wide receiver Tyler Boyd face any double teams in his turn as the top receiver after A.J. Green was lost for the season. Regardless of how the Chargers defend Boyd, he will be the main target for quarterback Jeff Driskel in his second career start.
The Chargers will also try to get the Bengals into trouble from a penalty standpoint. Cincinnati has been penalized 25 times in its losses to Cleveland and Denver and several of those penalties were for false starts on the offensive line.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: LB Vontaze Burfict (concussion), T Cordy Glenn (back), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (ankle), CB Tony McRae (concussion)
--QUESTIONABLE: WR Josh Malone (hamstring)
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
--OUT: RB Melvin Gordon (knee), CB Trevor Williams (knee)
--DOUBTFUL: TE Sean Culkin (back), DT Brandon Mebane (not injury related)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
---Chargers run defense, which is down some key pieces, vs. Bengals running game that will be looking to take the heat off an inexperienced quarterback. DT Brandon Mebane, who has missed two games because of personal reasons, may return and should be able to stabilize a run defense group already missing LB Denzel Perryman and DT Corey Liuget because of injuries. Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard are going to be used quite a bit, if the Bengals can keep the game close. They will be trying to hide QB Jeff Driskel and a good way would be to test the Chargers' run defense.
--Chargers running game, which will likely be without Melvin Gordon vs. Bengals run defense, which is ranked No. 32. With Gordon still likely a week away from returning, the Chargers are eager to see what rookie Justin Jackson can do. He was good in his debut last week, supplying a bit more of a burst than the muscular Austin Ekeler. The Bengals can't stop the run no matter the ball-carrier and the Chargers will look to take advantage of the NFL's worst run defense.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bengals WR Tyler Boyd is officially the top receiving option for the Bengals after A.J. Green was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. Boyd is among the few bright spots for an offense averaging 16.2 points in its four-game losing streak. Boyd has 69 receptions for 938 yards and six touchdowns. He has been targeted at least 10 times in three games and it seems likely he will approach that figure again.
FAST FACTS: BENGALS QB JEFF DRISKEL completed 25 of 38 (65.8 pct.) for 236 yards with 1 TD vs. 1 INT for 80.6 rating in 1st career start last week. ... RB JOE MIXON had 95 scrimmage yards (82 rush, 13 rec.) last week. Has 250 scrimmage yards (125 per game) in his past 2. Since entering league in 2017, is 1 of 6 AFC RBs with 1,900+ scrimmage yards (1,924) & 10+ TDs (10). ... WR TYLER BOYD had team-high 97 rec. yards in Week 13. Aims for his 3rd in row with 85+ rec. yards. Leads team with 69 catches & 938 rec. yards. ... WR JOHN ROSS has TD catch in 3 of his past 5 on road & 4 of his past 6 overall. ... WR CODY CORE had 30-yard TD catch last week, his 1st-career TD catch. ... S SHAWN WILLIAMS led team with 9 tackles last week. Is only NFL player with 80+ tackles (82) & 4+ INTs (4) in 2018. ... Rookie S JESSIE BATES is 1 of 3 NFL rookies (FRED WARNER & LEIGHTON VANDER ESCH) with 85+ tackles (87) & 5+ PD (5). ... Rookie DE SAM HUBBARD has sack in 2 of his past 3. ... CHARGERS QB PHILIP RIVERS completed 26 of 36 (72.2 pct.) for 299 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 115.4 rating last week. Has 2+ TD passes in each of team's 1st 12 games this season, tied for 3rd-longest streak to begin season in NFL history. In his past 8 at home, has completed 71.4 pct. of passes (202 of 283) for 2,685 yards (335.6 per game) with 20 TDs vs. 4 INTs for 118.8 rating. ... Rookie RB JUSTIN JACKSON rushed for career-high 63 yards & 1st-career TD last week. ... WR KEENAN ALLEN had 14 catches for 148 yards & TD in Week 13. Aims for his 5th in row with TD catch. Since 2017, has 103 catches (7.4 per game) for 1,342 rec. yards (95.9 per game) with 7 TD catches in 14 home games. ... DE JOEY BOSA had sack in Week 13. Has 3 sacks in his past 2. ... Rookie S DERWIN JAMES had INT & 3 PD last week. Aims for his 3rd in row with INT. ... CB DESMOND KING had 10 tackles, 2 PD & 73-yard PR-TD last week.
PREDICTION: The Bengals are a free-falling mess with a bevy of injuries and the Chargers are among the hottest teams in the league. It would hardly be surprising if Rivers and the offense shreds the league's worst defense.
OUR PICK: Chargers, 34-15