This will be rematch of the January 2014 Wild Card game which saw the underdog Chargers upset the Bengals, who were previously undefeated at home with a perfect 8-0 mark at Paul Brown Stadium in the regular season. That 2013 Bengals squad looked like a potential title contender after winning 11 games and the AFC North title.
That included a win at San Diego just weeks prior, but the Chargers got their win when the playoffs came around. On Sunday, many of the same players from both teams will be on the field, and the Bengals have revenge on their minds. Both teams exited Week 1 with wins but only one of the two teams will leave Paul Brown Stadium with a 2-0 record.
The Bengals notched a 33-13 win over the Oakland Raiders that was never close and saw both scores for the Raiders come in the fourth quarter. The Chargers had a bit more trouble with the Detroit Lions after falling behind 21-3. However, San Diego looked impressive as they reeled off 33 straight points en route to a 33-28 win.
As for what the experts are saying on this one, over at CBS Sports, six of their eight experts are going with the Bengals in this one. Pete Prisco thinks Cincinnati gets the win here thanks to a strong defensive effort that keeps Phillip Rivers and the Chargers offense at bay.
The Bengals were as impressive as any team in the league last week, while the Chargers impressed coming from way behind to beat the Lions. But this is Cincinnati's home opener and that defensive front will get all over Philip Rivers. Bengals take it.
The pick: Bengals 28, Chargers 20
ESPN has 12 of their 14 experts going with the Bengals as well. Coley Harvey has an interesting take on how the Bengals' defense can slow down the Chargers' offense thanks to the length of Cincy's defenders against a sidearm thrower in Phillip Rivers.
For how well the Bengals' defensive linemen counter the slightly sidearm-throwing Philip Rivers. Although he's 6-foot-5, San Diego's quarterback has a knack for throwing from a lower arm slot than most quarterbacks, almost pushing the ball out of his hand with the back of his body. It obviously hasn't caused Rivers many problems over the years, as his five-time Pro Bowl status indicates.
Still, this could be a good game for the Bengals' tall pass-rushers to get their hands up to tighten some of the passing lanes Rivers will have. At 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-7 respectively, Bengals defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson have considerable length coming off the edge. So do backups Will Clarke and Margus Hunt, who are 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-8, themselves.
Harvey may be on to something here considering Rivers has just two touchdowns, two interceptions, and is completing just 60 percent of his passes in his last three games vs the Bengals (including the playoffs).
At SB Nation, their team gives the slight edge to Cincinnati, 5-3. That means the Bengals are being picked to win by a combined 23-7 margin among experts across CBS, ESPN and SBN.
One thing that's helping the Bengals is that the chargers won't have starting offensive lineman D.J. Fluker this week. As Pro Football Focus' Rob Hamilton writes, losing Fluker is one of the biggest Week 2 injuries of any NFL team.
Fluker graded negatively at RT in 2014 (-8.8) and ’13 (-7.9), but was having an encouraging debut at RG for San Diego in Week 1 (+2.7) before going down in the second half with a high-ankle sprain (likely out four to six weeks).
His replacement is the unproven RG Chris Hairston, who had an less-than-impressive turn in his place with a -0.3 grade; paired with C Chris Watt (-6.3), San Diego will likely be weak overall up the middle. RB Melvin Gordon will truly be tested in the coming weeks, and like Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, will likely have to earn the bulk of his yards after contact, where he was able to rack up 30 of his 51 yards in Week 1.
Expect to see more of a heavy dose of the hard-running Gordon in the coming weeks to compensate for the projected drop off in O-line play San Diego is likely to suffer.
One thing the Chargers do have going for them is their dynamic cornerback tandem that looked very impressive in Week 1, as Fox Sports writes for San Diego's keys to beating Cincinnati:
Ask Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett for a repeat performance
San Diego's cornerback duo completely blanketed Calvin Johnson in their season opener. Megatron's stat line: Two receptions, 39 yards, no touchdowns. If Flowers and Verrett can team up like that against A.J. Green, it'll go a long way toward a 2-0 start.
My prediction: Watching both teams in Week 1 made me feel like San Deigo is the better team right now. As bad as they looked during their 21-3 start against the Lions, their 30-0 run showed just how good this team is when everyone is clicking. Their 9-7 record last year is also deceiving as the onslaught of injuries they went through made what Cincinnati experienced look like nothing.
I love their combo of Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers at corner to go with a very underrated front seven led by Corey Liuget. Not only do I expect San Diego to win this week, but seeing how much flux the AFC West is in, this could be the team that wins that division this year.
I'm still not sure who the Bengals will turn out to be since most teams look like world-beaters when they play the Raiders. This game will come right down to the wire with both teams having chances to win this, but I see the Chargers pulling it out in the end.
Final score: Chargers 23, Bengals 20