Two teams loaded with question marks in 2020 will face off on Sunday, Sept. 13 in Cincinnati, OH to kick off their much-awaited seasons as the Bengals host the Chargers for the teams’ 37th all-time meeting.
What to Look For
For Cincinnati, it’s the unveiling of their prized draft pick and college legend Joe Burrow, along with a fully healthy complement of weapons. A.J. Green makes his return after missing all of 2019 with an ankle injury. John Ross is also healthy to start the season. Additionally, the young gunslinger has fellow draft pick Tee Higgins as well as one of the best slot receivers in the league with Tyler Boyd. Joe Mixon, fresh off of a hefty contract extension will line up behind the rookie quarterback for a team poised to move the ball with ease this year.
The Los Angeles Chargers are coming off of a disappointing 2019 campaign. They were decimated by injuries on offense but still finished sixth in defensive yards allowed in 2019. They lost 2018 All-Pro Safety Derwin James to a torn meniscus during this preseason. Nonetheless, they boast one of the best secondaries in the NFL, as well as a pair of fearsome pass-rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III on the ends. Losing James was a devastating blow but Los Angeles has a playoff-caliber defense that aims to keep them in the hunt for the crowded AFC West.
The questions come on opposite sides of the ball. Cincinnati had one of the worst defenses in the league in 2019, ranking 29th defensively and giving up nearly 43 percent of third-down conversions. Repeatedly gashed by runs up the middle and tight end targets, the Bengals went out and got pro-stopper D.J. Reader for the middle of the line and drafted a trio of linebackers to address the issue. All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins will miss the maiden voyage of 2020 with a shoulder injury, but that loss is countered by the presence of free-agent signee Mike Daniels.
Daniels and Reader will be lining up over a Chargers team missing starting center Mike Pouncey, who will miss Week 1 with a hip injury. That said, Los Angeles has an accomplished veteran at quarterback in Tyrod Taylor under center, who has a knack for escaping pressure. Particularly adept at rolling to his right, the additions of right guard Trai Turner and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (both listed as questionable but expected to play) will aid this attack. Keenan Allen, whether lined up on the perimeter or in the slot, stands to garner a lot of targets and will give the Cincinnati secondary headaches.
The wildcard in this game is the running back position. Both teams have had issues in the past with shifty backs who work especially well in space and the Bengals’ Joe Mixon and the Chargers’ Austin Ekeler are likely to give each defense fits once they get through the first level. If one team or the other figures out how to shut down the feature back, it would get ugly in a hurry, but the chances are that both grind out the yards and this is a relatively conservative game plan for both Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor and Los Angeles coach Anthony Lynn coming off an abbreviated offseason.
Start Time: 4:05 EST
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Stadium: Paul Brown Stadium
TV Info: CBS
Point Spread: LAC -2.5 (-121) | CIN +2.5 (-103)
Moneyline: LAC -143 | CIN +125
Over/Under: Over 42 (-110) | Under 42 (-110)
With the Bengals coming off of a 2-14 season, it is a little surprising to see the oddsmakers only favoring Los Angeles by 2.5. It speaks to the confidence that handicappers have in the Cincinnati offense with a dynamic rookie at quarterback. The Chargers will be ready to keep points off the board, but questions remain if they can put enough up. This game will go a long way to determining future spreads for both.
Lynn has the Chargers ready to go. However, the loss of James and minimal upgrades at the linebacker position leave them a little susceptible. Coach Taylor’s group has added a lot of talent in the offseason and he finds a way to get them fired up every week. This time, the talent level meets the players’ desire.
Final Score: Chargers 13, Bengals 16
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