Chargers (9-3) vs. Cincinnati (5-7)
When Chargers have the ball
The Bengals are last in the NFL in points and yards allowed per game and percentage of third-down conversions permitted. They have also lost six of seven games amid a barrage of injuries. In other words, this is a defense Philip Rivers and the Chargers should be able to dissect even without running back Melvin Gordon, who will miss his second consecutive game because of a knee sprain. Rookie Justin Jackson provided an unexpected spark in the second half last week in Pittsburgh, running for 63 yards and the Chargers’ final touchdown. He could play sooner and more often Sunday, sharing time with Austin Ekeler, who will be looking to bounce back after he and his offensive linemen struggled to run the ball in the first half against the Steelers. The Chargers have scored 15 touchdowns this season on plays covering at least 20 yards. (Their defense has permitted only seven such plays.) Cincinnati’s defense has yielded 13 scores of at least 20 yards. So there is big-play potential for the Chargers in this one. And here’s a good spot to mention that Keenan Allen’s longest touchdown this year has been a measly 20-yard reception from Rivers way back in the season opener.
When Bengals have the ball
Quarterback Jeff Driskel has made 203 fewer starts than Rivers. That means he’s made exactly one — last week against Denver in a 24-10 loss. In his third season, Driskel is replacing Andy Dalton, who is out for the remainder of the season because of a thumb injury. Facing such inexperience, the Chargers will be looking to unleash pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Bosa, in particular, figures to be hungry as he continues to try to make up for time lost this season because of a lingering foot issue. The Bengals also will be without leading wide receiver A.J. Green because of a toe injury, and this offense really is in no position to be losing players. In each of its last six defeats, Cincinnati has failed to score more than 21 points. Those losses include a 45-10 decision at Kansas City and a 51-14 setback at home against New Orleans. So the Bengals are susceptible to being blown out, something the Chargers will be looking to do coming off a second-half performance in which the defense allowed Pittsburgh only seven points.
When they kick
Michael Badgley made the game-winner — a 29-yard field goal — with no time remaining in the Chargers’ stirring 33-30 victory at Pittsburgh. For the season, the rookie is 10 for 11 on field goals and 18 for 19 on extra points, and who can even remember the name of the kicker he replaced just last month? Time’s up. It was Caleb Sturgis and, if you’re a true Chargers fan, you can still easily recall that name, given the uneven kicking history of this franchise lately. The Bengals kicker is Randy Bullock, who’s 10 for 14 on field goals and 34 for 36 on extra points. But if this game comes down to a kick, the Chargers won’t be happy.
Jeff Miller’s prediction
The Chargers haven’t played like a team susceptible to this sort of “trap game.” With their emotional victory on the road over the Steelers and a short week ahead of their next game in Kansas City, they could be flat against a Cincinnati team careening toward the end of its season. The guess here is that won’t happen Sunday, setting up a huge AFC West showdown against the Chiefs.