Bengals vs Chargers: Previewing key matchups, notable stats and a prediction

Key matchups, stats, a preview and a prediction for Sunday's Bengals game
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CINCINNATI — The Joe Burrow begins on Sunday when the Bengals host the Chargers at 4:05 ET at Paul Brown Stadium.

After a virtual offseason and the doubt about playing football in 2020, it's good to see the NFL returning for Week 1. 

"Where we are today, it's unbelievable," wide receiver A.J. Green said on Thursday. "With everything going on with this world I think we did a great job with handling this thing and getting everybody tested everyday. Hopefully we can finish this season. I know we've got the flu season rolling through so it's going to be challenging. We have a plan in place that everybody has to follow, so I'm very hopeful."

Matchup Microscope

Can the Bengals offensive line hold their own against Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram? Jonah Williams and Bobby Hart are going to have their hands full. 

"Obviously they have (Joey) Bosa and (Melvin) Ingram, two of the best pass rushers in the league," Burrow said on Wednesday. "I'm going to have to get the ball out of my hands quickly and know what I'm looking at. If I don't know what I'm looking at every snap, it's going to be a long day. Those guys will get to me quick. I know the O-line will be ready for it, and I will be ready for it as well."

If the Bengals can neutralize Bosa and Ingram, then their offense should be able to move the ball up and down the field. 

One to watch

How will the Bengals use Joe Mixon? Will he be more involved in the passing game than he was in the past? 

"He’s an all-around, complete back," offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said last month. "He can do just about everything you need him to do. Finding ways to get him some touches in the pass game are some of the things we’ve looked at and studied ways to do it better than we did it last year. 

"The more Joe touches the ball the better it is for our offense, without a doubt. All the ways we can find to get him the ball, the better it’s going to be."

Getting Mixon involved on the ground and through the air should make life easier on Burrow and the offensive line.

Fun to watch

The Chargers have one of the better cornerback rooms in the NFL. They signed Chris Harris Jr. in free agency. He joins Casey Hayward in the secondary. They also have Desmond King, who is more than capable of making an impact in Sunday's game. 

Will Tyler Boyd, John Ross and Green consistently win against the Chargers corners? There are plenty of people focused on the offensive line, but the Bengals receivers will play a huge role in Sunday's matchup. 

Key Stat

Like the Bengals, the Chargers have a new starting quarterback this season. Tyrod Taylor in entering his 10th year. He's a capable player, but he's struggled against the Bengals.

Taylor has 396 passing yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in five career games against Cincinnati.

Injuries

The Bengals have already ruled out defensive tackle Geno Atkins due to a shoulder injury. The eight-time Pro Bowler hasn't missed a game since the 2013 season. He's played in 96 straight contests, but that streak will come to an end on Sunday. Mike Daniels will take Atkins' place in the starting lineup. 

Cincinnati will also be without safety Shawn Williams, who injured his calf during training camp. 

The Chargers are going to be shorthanded as well. All-Pro Safety Derwin James suffered a season-ending knee injury in August. They'll also be without starting center Mike Pouncey. The four-time Pro Bowler is dealing with a hip injury. 

Chargers tackle Bryan Bulaga (hamstring) and guard Trai Turner (knee) are also questionable for Sunday's game.  

Pouncey being out helps make up for the loss of Atkins. The Chargers offensive line needs Bulaga and Turner. It could be a long day in the trenches for Los Angeles if they don't have their two veteran linemen. 

Record Breaker

Green enters Sunday's matchup with 63 receiving touchdowns. He's just four scores away from breaking Chad Johnson's franchise record (66). Green hasn't had a touchdown reception since Oct. 28, 2018. He missed all of last season with an ankle injury.

That isn't the only record that could be broken on Sunday. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap has 81 career sacks. He needs 2.5 more to pass Eddie Edwards (83.5) for the most sacks in Bengals history.

Prediction
The Chargers are favored by three points, but I like the Bengals in this matchup. They have just as much, if not more talent than Los Angeles.

The team that can win in the trenches is going to win this game. Cincinnati needs its' defensive line to set the tone early. That will make life easier on their young linebackers, who have the difficult job of trying to contain running back Austin Ekeler. He's going to be a big part of the Chargers' passing game this season. 

On the flip side, getting Mixon involved can neutralize some of Bosa's impact. Look for some quick screens and slants to loosen up the Chargers defense early on. 

Don't be shocked if the Bengals take a few shots downfield, too. They did that last year against the Seahawks in Week 1. They should be able to stretch the field with Green and Ross playing in the same game for the first time since Dec. 2, 2018.

Expect Mixon and Boyd to have big days from a volume standpoint, but Green and Ross will get their opportunities to make explosive plays downfield.

The Bengals squeak out a close one in Burrow's debut. 

Final Score: Bengals 20, Chargers 17

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