Will the Bengals' offense take off in Week 1 at home against the Chargers?
The Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers go by the adage "out with the old and in with the new," as Philip Rivers and Andy Dalton will not be their starting quarterbacks in 2020. Cincy is going with LSU rookie Joe Burrow who was the No. 1 pick overall in the 2020 draft. Meanwhile, Los Angeles is going with veteran Tyrod Taylor who is a placeholder for Justin Herbert, who went five picks later in the 2020 draft.
All of the talk in the AFC West surrounds the Chiefs, but I think the Chargers deserve some more love as well. It's an important year for Anthony Lynn, who is coming off a 5-11 season and a fourth-place divisional finish. The hope is that Taylor will provide some stability for an offense that chock full of talent. The goal is for them to not turn it over a ton and give their awesome defense room to work. The loss of safety Derwin James is huge, though, since you could make the case that he's among the 10 best defenders in the league. The special teams are pretty strong too, and that makes a big difference for a team that had massive kicker issues for years.
On paper, the Bengals should have a fantastic offense, especially if A.J. Green stays healthy. Green joins John Ross III, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and Auden Tate in a crowded wide receiver room. The big question will be how much of a struggle will it be for Burrow in his rookie season and can this offensive line give him time to survey the field. There's some talent on defense led by Geno Atkins up front. William Jackson III doesn't get enough publicity for what he does at cornerback either. There will be some growing pains for Cincy, but the building blocks are there for a very bright future.
Los Angeles at Cincinnati
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 13 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Chargers -3
Three Things to Watch
Yes, even though it's Week 1, there are still some intangibles to consider when looking at this and every matchup. First off will be the travel situation. At one point this offseason, the talk was of leaving for a game the day of so teams do not have to stay the night. Well, that could be hard for a team like LA flying east, so we'll see when they make the excursion. The Bengals will have 6,000 fans in the stands, but how much juice and energy can be generated from that? We'll see which side can handle a potentially sleepy atmosphere.
2. New starting QBs
Taylor is a solid but unspectacular signal-caller who has had a few stops in his NFL career. The last time he started was 2018 with the Browns, where he went 1-1. The best part of the former Hokie's repertoire is that he just doesn't throw interceptions — with a 1.5 percent rate. All he has to do is manage the offense and get the ball to Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, and Mike Williams.
The same can be said for Burrow, who has a wealth of skill position guys and a solid running back in Joe Mixon who got his new long-term deal. The signal-caller had 60 touchdown passes for LSU in 2019 to just six interceptions. We'll see how much of that success was due to Joe Brady his play-caller and his NFL caliber wide receivers. It'll be interesting to see if Zac Taylor unleashes his QB early or plays it close to the vest.
3. Will the defense be ahead of the offense?
We've seen a mixed bag in the early college football games where the offense was ahead of the defense and the other way around as well. LA has the advantage here despite losing James to a season-ending knee injury in August. Joey Bosa, Linval Joseph, and Melvin Ingram III help form a fierce front four while Casey Hayward Jr. and Chris Harris Jr. are a very good duo at corner. There are some question marks at linebacker where OU rookie Kenneth Murray Jr. resides, but Nick Vigil and Denzel Perryman are veterans at the position. The Bengal front seven should be good and the secondary will be improved if either Mackensie Alexander or Trae Waynes can work out as both came over from Minnesota.
There's a lot to consider here when looking at this game. It's Burrow's debut, and he's not getting eased in against this defense. This is almost a must-win for LA with the Bucs, Saints, and Chiefs ahead in the coming weeks. I'm higher on the Chargers than a lot of people, and I think it begins here with a hard-fought close road win.
Prediction: Chargers 23, Bengals 20
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.