Already 0-2 against the AFC West, the Cincinnati Bengals are about to face one of that division’s top teams and another MVP-caliber quarterback.
Cincinnati travels to play the Los Angeles Chargers (9-3) on Sunday, seeking to end a four-game losing streak.
The Phillip Rivers-led Chargers sit only behind the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West and are coming off a 33-30 win over AFC North leading Pittsburgh. The Bengals lost 24-10 to Denver (6-6), which also had just beaten the Steelers the week before facing Cincinnati.
Los Angeles is about as well-rounded of a team as the Bengals have seen this season.
The Chargers are among the top 12 in every major team statistical ranking. They are fifth in total offense (399.4 yards), sixth in scoring offense (28.3 points), seventh in scoring defense (20.8 points), eighth in pass offense (274.3) and total defense (334.9 yards), 10th in rush offense (125.2 yards) and pass defense (230.9 yards), 11th in run defense (104.0 yards) and 12th in turnover margin (plus-5).
Rivers, with his cast of capable targets, poses a big enough challenge for opposing defenses, but the Bengals especially will have to be ready for a dynamic running back in Melvin Gordon, who is the team’s leading rusher and second leading receiver.
»REPORT CARD: Grading Sunday’s loss to the Broncos
Gordon has rushed for 802 yards and nine touchdowns but also adds 453 yards and four touchdowns on 44 receptions.
At 36 years old, Rivers is in the midst of a career year. He’s thrown for 3,418 yards and 28 touchdowns with just six interceptions, good for a 115.66 rating, and defenses have gotten to him for only 22 sacks through 12 games.
Keenan Allen leads the Chargers receivers with 996 yards and five touchdowns on 83 catches, but Rivers spreads the wealth. Tyrell Williams has 533 yards and five touchdowns on 29 receptions, and Mike Williams chips in 471 yards and seven touchdowns on 27 catches.
Defensively, Los Angeles has playmakers like Desmond King and Derwin James, who each have three interceptions. James also leads the team with 56 solo tackles and 3.5 sacks. Jatavis Brown adds 48 tackles and a fumble recovery. The Chargers have 29 sacks as a team.
The Chargers lead the series against the Bengals 20-15, including 10-8 as the home team. Cincinnati has won four of the last five meetings, as well as three of the last four as the visiting team, and the most recent meeting was a 24-19 home win for Cincinnati in 2015.
Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict is from Inglewood, Calif. (Centennial High School) … Bengals WR John Ross (Jordan High School) and DT Josh Tupou ([Reserve/Injured] Buena Park High School) are both from Long Beach, Calif. … Bengals G Alex Redmond is from Cerritos, Calif. (Los Alamitos High School) and played at UCLA … Chargers LS Mike Windt is from Cincinnati (Elder High School) and played at the University of Cincinnati … Chargers DE Joey Bosa and QB Cardale Jones (practice squad) both played at Ohio State University … Chargers C/G Cole Toner spent time on the Bengals’ practice squad in 2017 … Bengals DE Aaron Wallace (practice squad) is from San Diego, Calif., and played at UCLA … Bengals WR Hunter Sharp (practice squad) is from Palmdale, Calif. (Highland High School) … Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was linebackers coach at Long Beach State University from 1985-86 … Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney coached at UCLA from 1990-92 … Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton was on the San Diego Chargers’ coaching staff from 1992-94 … Bengals special assistant to the head coach Hue Jackson is from Los Angeles, coached at Cal State-Fullerton from 1990-91 and coached at the University of Southern California from ’97-2000 … Chargers assistant defensive line coach Eric Henderson played for the Bengals from 2006-08 … Chargers quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen coached at Louisville in 2010.
AFC NORTH OUTLOOK
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1): The Steelers lost their second straight game, as the Chargers rallied to beat them 33-30 on Sunday night. Pittsburgh’s grip on the division is loosening with the Ravens on the rise and the Steelers still having to face the Patriots and Saints. Next up, though, is a struggling Raiders team Sunday in Oakland.
Baltimore Ravens (7-5-0): The Ravens won their third straight game Sunday, beating Atlanta 26-16, but now they must travel to play AFC West leading Kansas City.
Cleveland Browns (4-7-1): The Browns had a two-game win streak snapped Sunday with a 29-13 loss at Houston. They’ll look to rebound Sunday at home against Carolina, which has lost four straight.