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Los Angeles Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals Odds & Game Pick (2021)

by December 2, 2021
Joe Burrow

Perhaps the most interesting matchup of the Week 13 NFL slate will take place in Cincinnati, as two of the top three quarterbacks taken in the 2020 NFL Draft will duke it out for the first time.

Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals continue to impress and are coming off an emphatic victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Chargers led by Justin Herbert continue to be one of the toughest teams in the league to get a grasp on.

Are we backing the #1 overall pick, or the #6 overall pick in this critical AFC showdown? Let’s break it down.

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  • Opening line: Cincinnati -2.5
  • Current line: Cincinnati -3
  • Total: 50.5

Chargers are a talented team with flaws 

The Chargers are an easy team to fall in love with. They’ve got a quarterback with a rocket arm. They’ve got an explosive offense with talented playmakers. They have some big names on defense. And they have a young coach who’s shown impressive aggressiveness in his first season on the job.

All of those components give the Chargers a bright future and make them a viable playoff contender. But they just aren’t a complete enough team to be a realistic Super Bowl contender in 2021. The Chargers rank 16th in overall DVOA, which makes them squarely a league-average team. Los Angeles’ upside is sky high. They’re just a wildly inconsistent squad.

The Chargers offense has been outstanding when it’s clicking, ranking second in DVOA. But coach Brandon Staley still has major personnel issues on a defense that ranks 23rd in defensive DVOA and is dead last against the run.

Justin Herbert has an insanely bright future, but he still has a tendency to go haywire when under duress. Two of his three multi-interception games have come during games in which he’s been sacked three times. Los Angeles has done a great job of protecting its franchise passer, as the offensive line ranks fourth in adjusted sack rate. They’ll hopefully get starting guard Matt Feiler back from injury this week. The Chargers will need all hands on deck against a Bengals defense with 28 sacks on the season.

Defensively, Los Angeles could face a big mismatch in the trenches. The Chargers rank 30th in defensive adjusted line yards, which could be problematic against a Bengals offensive line that can get a push on the line of scrimmage. Cincinnati ranks eighth in adjusted line yards.

Could Cincinnati be ripe for an emotional letdown? 

As unpredictable as the Chargers are, the Bengals can be a high-variance team too. While they have dominant wins over the Ravens and Steelers on their resume, they also have ugly losses against the Jets and Browns.

This is also an interesting spot for Cincy, who is coming off its first season sweep of the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2009. That’s a big deal for a franchise like the Bengals, where success has been elusive. The Bengals didn’t just beat Pittsburgh though, they dominated them in an emotionally charged victory. Now, Cincinnati has to bring a similar energy for a Chargers team that’s better than Pittsburgh.

Despite an impressive 7-4 record, the advanced metrics don’t seem to be as impressed with the Bengals. In fact, Cincinnati actually ranks 18th in overall DVOA, which is two spots below Los Angeles.

Cincinnati’s offense has plenty of star power in Burrow, Joe Mixon, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, but the offensive line is still dragging them down. The Bengals rank 21st in offensive DVOA and just 24th in pass DVOA. Why? Because Cincinnati has the eighth-worst adjusted sack rate in the league at 7.9%. Until this unit can consistently protect Burrow, the offense won’t reach elite status.

Defensively, the Bengals have fallen off a bit. Cincinnati now ranks 16th in defensive DVOA and 19th against the pass. Cincinnati is league-average at getting to the quarterback and is giving up 6.3 net yards per pass attempt. The Bengals aren’t a bad defense, but they might not be good enough to contain Herbert and this Chargers offense.

Bottom Line 

These are two teams you have to pick your spots with. And this feels like a great spot to buy the Chargers low and sell the Bengals high. Los Angeles is coming off an ugly loss to Denver, while Cincinnati is coming off a resounding win over a hated rival.

The Chargers also match up well with Cincinnati’s defense, as Herbert should have time to throw throughout the game. And while Los Angeles is dreadful against the run, I suspect Joey Bosa can make life difficult for Burrow throughout the day.

In the NFL, we can’t dwell too much on what happened the week before. That’s exactly what we’re doing in this game. Take the Chargers to cover and win outright.

The pick: Chargers +3, Chargers +148


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Matt Barbato is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Matt, check out his archive and follow him @RealMattBarbato.

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