Cincinnati Bengals vs San Diego Chargers: CIN -1 (Pinnacle)
MatchupsI didn't think I'd be buying into what the Bengals were selling this year, but the numbers don't lie. Dalton and Green are going to get most of the headlines, but the area that has impressed me most is what the team is doing in the "make-or-break" moments.
In the first half of the season not too many teams were worse on third down and in the red zone. The Bengals ranked near the bottom in both areas on both sides of the ball. Fast forward to today and they've moved closer to the middle of the pack with their 3rd down offense and near the top of the league converting touchdowns. Defenisively, they've climbed to the middle of the pack in both situations as well. The Chargers on the other hand can't stop anybody. When the game is on the line, they fold. And I'm not just talking about the Ray Rice play because it's been a trend for this team all season long with no signs of improving.
Somehow, Cincy have also improved with their pass defense. Actually I shouldn't say "somehow" because a lot of it is due in large part to their D-line. Based on adjusted sack rates, the Bengals have the best defensive front in the entire NFL. The Chargers O-line is in trouble because they are not even adequate, let alone good.
Finally, there is a clear advantage at quarterback. Andy Dalton is very quietly turning out a very good season. If he keeps up this pace it won't be long until we are talking about him among the top 10 quarterbacks in the game. Philip Rivers by comparison, continues to toil near the bottom in QB efficiency rankings. I was once a big believer in this guy, and I still think he can get back on track with the right weapons around him, but his downward spiral isn't an anomaly anymore. It's real.
Bottom LineCan San Diego win this game? Sure. This is the NFL. Having said that, there's no question who is playing better ball at the moment and it's Cincy's improvement at the critical times in the game that has me most excited for their prospects.
NFL Pick: CIN -1.