Consistent Play Needed If Bengals Wish To Outlast Chargers
By Joe Sorensen
The bye week is in the past and the Cincinnati Bengals are getting ready for the final part of the 2013 regular season. This stretch begins with a road contest in San Diego against the Chargers, who are fighting for their lives for a wildcard spot in the AFC. Meanwhile, the Bengals are trying to maintain their spot atop the AFC North. The two teams are coming off of similar showings in their most recent games. Last week, the Chargers put up 41 points against the Kansas City Chiefs and the league’s top defense. Two weeks ago, the Bengals scored 41 points (two defensive touchdowns) after forcing four turnovers against the Cleveland Browns.
The biggest question mark for the Bengals – as it is every week – is which version of the offense is going to show up. Good offenses will show up on the road, but a mediocre offense like Cincinnati’s is questionable. Against the Browns, QB Andy Dalton did throw three TDs but finished the game with fewer than 100 yards passing. On the road, the Bengals’ defense is going to have to play the same way they did against the Browns and Dalton will have to become a game manager, doing just enough for the team to get the win.
The Chargers enter Week 13 as the fifth-ranked offense in the NFL, led by the fourth-ranked passing attack. QB Philip Rivers (22 TDs and eight interceptions) has been spreading the ball around and making superstars out of his weapons. Reliable TE Antonio Gates (59 catches, 685 yards and three TDs) is having another big year. Newcomer RB Danny Woodhead (735 total yards and seven TDs) and rookie WR Keenan Allen (50 catches, 737 yards and three TDs) have helped Rivers balance the offense all season.
With the Baltimore Ravens beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thanksgiving, they currently hold the final wildcard position in the AFC. Five teams are within a game of the Ravens – including the Chargers – making each game critically important. The Bengals currently hold a 1 ½-game lead over the Ravens, who appear to be getting their act together as their new pieces are starting to mesh. Meanwhile, the Bengals, who field almost the entire same team as last season, do not appear to be in a good rhythm. Coming off of the bye week, one can hope that Cincinnati made an effort to fix its inconsistency.
Prediction: Bengals 27, Chargers 21
Rivers is going to throw for 300 yards and two TDs. With the way he is playing this season, there is no way to prevent it. But he is due for turnovers at some point. This is the week that Rivers will throw at least two interceptions and cough up a fumble, one of which will turn into a score for the Bengals’ defense. Offensively, Dalton will return to being a game manager, like he was earlier in the year. By allowing on his running game to open up passing lanes, Dalton will be able to get the ball to his main weapon, WR A.J. Green.