STAR PREVIEW Sun: Los Angeles Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals

ANDY RICHMOND is a lifelong punter and sports enthusiast who now writes extensively on horse racing and the NFL. His CV includes long spells on Timeform Radio and Racing UK having previously held several positions at the then-fledgling Betfair Exchange where he worked for six years. He has a particular love for the statistical and analytical side of sports which fits in well with the NFL. He writes all the NFL content on Paul Jones subscription service as well as having his own betting advisory service.


Two teams that can and have been difficult to figure out this year and I’ve always described the Chargers as an enigma wrapped up in a riddle as they have a superb roster yet always appear to be vulnerable. They looked to be a team that had finally figured things out this season starting out 4-1 but since then have gone 2-4 and once again find themselves on the edge of the playoff dancefloor rather than being at the centre of it.

There’s no doubt that they have one of the best young quarterbacks in the game with Justin Herbert flashing plenty of smarts and brilliance but like all youngsters at that position there are still some growing pains and mistakes. Here he faces a Bengals defence that has put up some solid numbers overall so far but there are one or two areas where they may just be vulnerable and one of those would be to what I like to call dual-threat running backs (those that can run and be used in the passing game). The Chargers have one of the best in Austin Ekeler and he finds himself with a good match up here against a Cincinnati defence that has yielded a league-high 81 receptions to running backs and Ekeler could cause some damage in that department.

Ekeler isn’t the only threat for the Chargers though and both Keenan Allen who continues to clock up targets and Mike Williams the real deep TD threat in the Los Angeles offence will need looking after by the Bengals secondary.

It’s the defence that has hurt the Chargers progress this season though and they have given up 24-plus points in each of their last seven games at an average of 31.3 points per game; repeat those sort of numbers here and they will be very unlikely to win this contest. The other question mark against the Chargers is the fact that they will be coming across country here for an early start and the last time they encountered that scenario they got battered by the Bengals divisional rivals the Ravens who have failed to repeat a similar score line since.

In mitigation the Chargers have had a difficult schedule (one of the toughest in the NFL) but you do have to trust a team that have been consistently inconsistent for the most part of the season but have the potential to do so much better. Personally I find them one of the most frustrating teams in the NFL, not to watch but to handicap as you never quite know which version of the roster you are going to get.

It may be pushing a point to say that the Bengals are the same but there are similarities between the two franchises and one of them would be a direct comparison that you could easily make at quarterback where Cincinnati have Joe Burrow, like his opposite number Herbert one of the best young quarterbacks in the league both of them coming from the 2020 draft class. Burrow has bounced back well from an injury he suffered towards the end of his rookie season and he’ll be looking to keep the Bengals in the playoff race.

There may be some recency bias at play when comparing these two teams as the Bengals enter this contest looking for their third straight win having won their last two contests by a combined 73-23 score against the Raiders and Steelers. However, it’s easy to forget that that just three and four weeks ago they were losing to the Jets and suffered a big loss to the Browns. Earlier in the year the Bengals were happy to ride the arm of Burrow and the connection that he had built up with rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase but over the last two weeks Cincinnati have been far more committed to the ground game via running back Joe Mixon.

Zac Taylor the Bengals head coach made a commitment to pound Mixon on the ground and it looks to have paid off as Mixon is truly the hot hand in the offence and put up one of the most dominant displays of his career last week. Mixon rumbled along for 165 yards and two touchdowns meaning that he had recorded multiple scores in four straight games, the longest current streak in the NFL and the longest in Bengals history.

Against the Chargers and their turnstile run defence Mixon has the chance to record some more stellar numbers although his recent performances and statistics are rather factored into the prices for doing so it’s hard to argue that he should be any bigger than 8-11 to score a touchdown and it’s rather a shame that there isn’t a price for him to extend his run of multiple scores in games as that would look an attractive proposition. That inability to slow down the ground game hindered the Chargers in this past weekend, giving up 147 yards on 33 attempts to Denver’s rushing attack and I’d expect the Bengals to focus on that weakness this time around.

This shapes up as an entertaining game with contrasting offensive styles and for the most part I’d expect offences to be on top and whilst we may not be in track meet territory in terms of points scoring it’s fair to point out these numbers. Four of the last five Bengals games have gone over the 50 point total and three of the last five of the Chargers games have also topped that mark. Over 50.5 match points is an Even money chance but the better play is over 5.5 match touchdowns at 10-11 with both teams capable of contributing to this metric.

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PROFIT/LOSS (DECEMBER 2021): LOSS -6.03 points
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