CARSON, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers are coming off a 16-point comeback victory at Pittsburgh and have a crucial AFC West showdown next week at Kansas City. Before Anthony Lynn’s team can turn attention toward the Chiefs, there is the matter of taking care of the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
The Chargers (9-3) are double-digit favorites against a Bengals squad that has dropped four straight and six of its last seven, but they are well aware of what can happen when they overlook an opponent. Denver, which had dropped five of six before facing Los Angeles on Nov. 18, rallied from a 12-point deficit to win 23-22.
“It was an emotional game last week, nationally televised and all of that, but that’s behind us now. We have to lock in this week,” Lynn said.
Los Angeles is closing in on its first playoff spot since 2013. Cincinnati (5-7) appeared to be in the postseason conversation early after winning four of its first five before the bottom fell out, largely due to injuries. Its only hope now is to win out and then get a lot of help.
“You have to prepare for them like everybody else whether they’re in it or out of it,” Lynn said. “Their playoffs basically start this week. We have to be aware of that, the urgency that they’re going to play with and what they’re going to bring to the table.”
The Chargers come in with plenty of momentum after last week’s 33-30 win at Pittsburgh, as they pulled off the largest road comeback against the Steelers. Philip Rivers has thrown two or more touchdown passes in every game this season and Keenan Allen has a TD catch in four straight games.
The Bengals have been beset by injuries with QB Andy Dalton, WR A.J. Green, TE Tyler Eifert, DE Carl Lawson and LB Preston Lawson on injured reserve.
“Last I looked, we’re not out of it. We’ve dug a huge hole and need a lot of things to work our way out, but maybe with everything else that’s gone against us, maybe we get some things to break our way,” coach Marvin Lewis said.
Things to watch as the Bengals and Chargers meet for the first time since 2015:
DRISKEL’S SECOND CHANCE
Jeff Driskel’s first NFL start didn’t go so well. He took four sacks, threw an interception and lost a fumble during a 24-10 loss to the Broncos, his first game filling in while Andy Dalton recovers from surgery on his thumb. There were some problems getting everyone on the same page. He and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor are expecting things to be smoother the second time around.
“His poise was fine,” Lazor said. “His communication was fine. There were a couple things in the huddle or at the line that weren’t great, but I’m not sure that it was him.”
BACKFIELD BY COMMITTEE?
With Melvin Gordon likely to miss his second straight game due to an MCL sprain to his right knee, the Chargers will go with the duo of Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson at running back. Ekeler was held to 21 yards on 13 carries, but Jackson came in during the second half and rushed for a season-best 64 yards with a touchdown.
“Surely, he’ll be more involved early, but we didn’t run the ball as much in the first half last week. It just depends on how this game goes,” said Lynn about Jackson.
The Bengals’ defense is ranked last against the run and has allowed over 200 yards in three of the past four games. Cincinnati is 0-3 since Lewis took over running the defense after coordinator Teryl Austin was fired on Nov. 12.
TURN MIXON LOOSE
With receiver A.J. Green out for the rest of the season with an injured toe, the offense is leaning heavily on running back Joe Mixon, who is averaging a healthy 4.9 yards per carry. The problem is the Bengals have fallen so far behind in games that they’ve abandoned the run. During the four-game losing streak, Mixon has carried 11, 12, 14 and 12 times, leaving him wondering what he could do with more chances.
“I’m definitely more than ready when the time comes,” Mixon said. “Just have to stay patient. My time will be coming.”
JAMES MAKING IMPACT
Chargers rookie safety Derwin James has picked off passes two straight weeks and made a couple big plays in coverage last week against the Steelers. The first-round pick has once again started to make his presence felt in coverage, making a big hit last week along the sideline on Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown which prevented him from getting both feet down inbounds.
“He’s a guy that we want to make sure he is around the ball. He’s been consistent all year,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “His skill set is very unique and it is our job to position him to make plays.”
James is the first rookie since Zach Brown in 2012 to have at least three interceptions and three sacks in a season.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, who missed the first nine games due to a foot injury, has three sacks since returning. Two of those came two weeks ago against Arizona, when he was matched up against Andre Smith, who was released following that game. Smith was signed by the Bengals, who drafted him in the first round in 2009, as injuries have wreaked havoc on the offensive line.