How 'bout this for a Week 13 NFL matchup? The Chargers (6-5) vs. the Bengals (7-4). It's also a head-to-head showdown of sophomore slingers in Justin Herbert vs. Joe Burrow. The two field generals lead the No. 8- and No. 13-ranked offenses, respectively.
But these two teams come in with a different mindset. The Chargers are still stuck in a cold spell, having lost four of their last six, including last week's rather awful 28-13 loss in Denver.
The Bengals are coming off a dominant, confidence-inspiring blowout of the Steelers by a 41-10 count. The Bengals lost to the Jets and Browns in back-to-back games before their bye week. Since then, they have looked like a whole new team, having taken down the Raiders and now the Steelers by a combined score of 73-23. Their playoff drought has been going since 2015, but it looks like they are well on their way to ameliorating that.
Los Angeles (6-5) at Cincinnati (7-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 5 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Cincinnati -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Get your Mix-on
Joe Mixon has come on like gangbusters, posting back-to-back 120-plus-yard games. In the first half alone against the Steelers last week, Mixon had 20 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown as the Bengals jumped out to a 31-3 lead. That was the most first-half yards rushing the Steelers have given up to one player in the last 30 years. Whoa. Mixon's knack for yards after contact has been a real significant emergence this season as he never seems to get taken down by the first tackler. And oy vey, now he'll be facing the worst rush defense in the NFL as the Chargers relent 145 yards per game on the ground. Even against a patchwork offensive line last week, the Broncos were still able to dominate on the ground, gaining 147 yards and averaging 4.5 yards per carry against the Chargers. This doesn't bode well going into Cincinnati this week.
Ugh, the Chargers have one of the more dubious statistical oddities in the NFL, having had 28 passes dropped this season by their receivers. That is the second-highest total in the entire league, exceeded by only the Dolphins and their 29 drops. Justin Herbert threw for 303 yards against the Broncos last week but did have his struggles (more on that in a bit). But it's clear that he has reached a comfort zone with Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler, as those two combined for 13 catches and 143 yards and are the two leading pass catchers for the season. And to say the least, Allen has become such a clutch receiver. Against Denver, he had his 54th third-down catch since last season, which is tops in the NFL. But the Herbert-to-Mike Williams connection still has a blown fuse. Williams was targeted eight times against the Broncos but was only able to make four catches for a paltry 39 yards. Herbert needs a better performance from his receivers for the Chargers to have a chance.
3. A very fearsome foursome
If the Bengals can continue to put significant pressure on opposing quarterbacks without blitzing, that will be the biggest difference in this matchup. D.J. Reader has been a big block of granite in the middle, stuffing the rushing lanes and helping make that pass rush effective, even when rushing four. The Chargers' O-line allowed Herbert to get sacked three times and more importantly take 10 hits. That made Herbert a nervous Nelly in the pocket and helped lead to his two interceptions and nearly a couple more. For the Orange & Black, defensive end Trey Hendrickson has accrued 11 sacks this season, including two last week on Big Ben. On the other side, Sam Hubbard has added seven sacks.
While both teams are in the thick of this AFC playoff chase, it seems like they are going in opposite directions. The Bengals look like they are becoming the best offense in the NFL with the balance they have shown and Joe Burrow getting more and more comfortable in the pocket and in his decision-making. It's hard not to like this Cincy team and what they are developing into, coming of age right before our eyes and in for a real post-season push down the stretch.
Just like in basketball, you stick with the hot hand. And right now Burrow is a five-alarm fire all himself. Gimme the tiger stripes here.
Prediction: Bengals 31, Chargers 17
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.