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Game Preview: Cincinnati Bengals at Los Angeles Chargers

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Matt Lengel (89) celebrates his touchdown with teammates in the second half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. Eastern.

Television: The game will air on CBS-TV. In the Bengals’ home region, it will be carried by WKRC-TV (Ch. 12) in Cincinnati, WHIO-TV (Ch. 7) in Dayton and on WKYT-TV (Ch. 27) in Lexington. Broadcasters are Greg Gumbel (play-by-play), Trent Green (analyst), Bruce Arians (analyst) and Melanie Collins (sideline reporter).

Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).

The game also will air nationally on Sports USA Radio. Broadcasters are Larry Kahn (play-by-play), John Robinson (analyst) and Troy West (sideline reporter).

Setting the scene: The Cincinnati Bengals this week travel to Los Angeles to play the Chargers on Sunday at StubHub Center.

Carrying the burden of a four-game losing streak, the 5-7 Bengals look to rebound from last week’s 24-10 home loss to the Denver Broncos in a bid to stay within possible striking distance of a large group of contenders for the second of two AFC Wild Card spots. That group currently is led by the 7-5 Baltimore Ravens and followed closely by four 6-6 teams — the Indianapolis Colts, the Miami Dolphins, the Tennessee Titans and the Broncos. With just four games left, the odds of catching and leapfrogging those teams are slim at best, but certainly any possible advance must start no later than Sunday’s matchup with the Chargers.

That mission will not be easy. The 9-3 Chargers have won two straight games and eight of their last nine, and they’re fresh off a 33-30 come-from-behind victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

“They (the players) are still fighting, and they have things to fight for,” head coach Marvin Lewis said, when asked about keeping the players together through a losing streak. “Last I looked, we’re not out of it. We’ve dug a huge hole and need a lot of things to (happen to) work our way out of it, but maybe with everything else that’s gone against us, we can get some things to break our way. We just have to keep handling our business.

As it has been for most of the 2018 season thus far, one of the main storylines for the Bengals this week again will be the team’s attempt to overcome a series of injuries to key players. The Bengals started this week with 14 players on the Reserve/Injured list. That included four players who were starters at the beginning of the season — QB Andy Dalton, TE Tyler Eifert, TE Tyler Kroft and LB Preston Brown — as well as other players whose roles included significant playing time, such as DE Carl Lawson and DT Ryan Glasgow. In addition, a long list of regular starters currently on the 53-player roster have missed multiple games this season due to injuries, including HB Joe Mixon, HB Giovani Bernard, WR A.J. Green, OT Cordy Glenn, C Billy Price, LB Vontaze Burfict, LB Nick Vigil and CB Darqueze Dennard.

Last week, backup Jeff Driskel started at quarterback against the Broncos in place of Andy Dalton, whose season ended when he suffered a thumb injury on his throwing hand in Game 11 vs. Cleveland. Also against the Broncos, Green reinjured a toe that had caused him to miss Games 9-11, and Glenn missed a second straight game with a back injury. The availability of Green and Glenn against the Chargers will not be known until later this week.

As much as the wave of injuries has contributed to negating the team’s early 4-1 start this season, and as much as losing four straight games and six of the last seven has put it at a disadvantage in the standings, Lewis remains steadfast in his belief that the Bengals still could sneak into the playoffs. He says it’s the responsibility of the coaching staff to help the remaining players overcome the team’s setbacks and lead them there.

“We have to do a great job of preparing these guys, lifting them up, accentuating the positive, correcting the (mistakes), and trying to figure out a way to rid us of any negative,” Lewis said. “We have to dig deep to do it. There still are a lot of guys playing their tails off, and we have to continue to ride that. Hopefully, we can lift some others to make some plays around those guys as well, and get this pointed back in the correct direction.”

The series: The Chargers lead 20-15, including 10-8 as the home team. The Bengals have won four of the last five meetings, as well as three of the last four as the visiting team. The most recent meeting was a 24-19 Bengals win in Cincinnati in 2015.

The series includes two postseason games. Most recently, the Chargers won a 2013 season Wild Card Playoff 27-10 at Paul Brown Stadium. After the 1981 season, the Bengals beat the Chargers 27-7 in the “Freezer Bowl,” the AFC Championship game played in an NFL-record minus-59 degree wind chill at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium.

The Bengals played the franchise’s inaugural regular-season game in San Diego, on Friday night, Sept. 6, 1968. The Chargers won, 29-13.

Bengals’ O excels in red zone: The Bengals’ offense this season has scored TDs on 25 of its 33 trips to the red zone, good for a 75.8 percentage that ranks second in the NFL. Of Cincinnati’s 25 red-zone TDs, 16 have come by pass and nine have come via the running game. Four of the passes have gone to WR A.J. Green, four have gone to WR Tyler Boyd, three have gone to WR John Ross, and two have gone to TE C.J. Uzomah. TE Tyler Eifert, TE Matt Lengel and HB Joe Mixon each have one TD reception apiece. Mixon also has five of Cincinnati’s eight rushing TDs in the red zone, while HB Giovani Bernard has three and QB Jeff Driskel has one.

The Bengals had just one trip to the red zone last week, and were held to a field goal. They have, however, scored TDs on 13 of their last 16 trips to the red zone, dating back to Game 6 vs. Pittsburgh.

Bengals-Chargers connections: Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict is from Inglewood, Calif. (Centennial High School) ... Bengals WR John Ross (Jordan High School) and DT Josh Tupou ([Reserve/Injured] Buena Park High School) are both from Long Beach, Calif. ... Bengals G Alex Redmond is from Cerritos, Calif. (Los Alamitos High School) and played at UCLA ... Chargers LS Mike Windt is from Cincinnati (Elder High School) and played at the University of Cincinnati ... Chargers DE Joey Bosa and QB Cardale Jones from Inglewood, Calif. (Centennial High School) ... Bengals WR John Ross (Jordan High School) and DT Josh Tupou ([Reserve/Injured] Buena Park High School) are both from Long Beach, Calif. ... Bengals G Alex Redmond is from Cerritos, Calif. (Los Alamitos High School) and played at UCLA ... Chargers LS Mike Windt is from Cincinnati (Elder High School) and played at the University of Cincinnati ... Chargers DE Joey Bosa and QB Cardale Jones (practice squad) both played at Ohio State University ... Chargers C/G Cole Toner spent time on the Bengals’ practice squad in 2017 ... Bengals DE Aaron Wallace (practice squad) is from San Diego, Calif., and played at UCLA ... Bengals WR Hunter Sharp (practice squad) is from Palmdale, Calif. (Highland High School) ... Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was linebackers coach at Long Beach State University from 1985-86 ... Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney coached at UCLA from 1990-92 ... Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton was on the San Diego Chargers’ coaching staff from 1992-94 ... Bengals special assistant to the head coach Hue Jackson is from Los Angeles, coached at Cal State-Fullerton from 1990-91 and coached at the University of Southern California from ’97-2000 ... Chargers assistant defensive line coach Eric Henderson played for the Bengals from 2006-08 ... Chargers quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen coached at Louisville in 2010.

Injury tidal wave hits Cincinnati: The Bengals this season have faced perhaps the harshest run of injuries in Marvin Lewis’ 16 seasons as head coach (2003-present). With four games left to play, Cincinnati has 14 players on the Reserve/Injured list, including notable names like QB Andy Dalton (thumb), TE Tyler Eifert (ankle), TE Tyler Kroft (foot), DE Carl Lawson (knee) and LB Preston Brown (knee).

Of the 53 players on the roster for the regular-season opener at Indianapolis, 18 have missed at least two games due to injury. Nine of those 18 players are currently on Reserve/Injured, and one more — HB Tra Carson (groin) — was waived from Reserve/Injured with an injury settlement on Sept. 28.

The players missing time have been valuable ones too — 17 of the 46 Bengals active on opening day have since missed at least two games (eight are currently on IR), including 11 of the 22 players to see at least 50 percent of the snaps on offense or defense.

Seven starters on offense from the season opener have since missed at least two games — Dalton (thumb), Eifert (ankle), Kroft (foot), WR A.J. Green (toe), LOT Cordy Glenn (back), C Billy Price (foot) and HB Joe Mixon (knee). Two more regular contributors — WR John Ross (Groin) and HB Giovani Bernard (knee) — have missed multiple games as well.

Two defensive starters from the opener — Brown (knee) and SLB Nick Vigil (knee) — have missed at least two games this year. Three more regular contributors — Lawson (knee), DT Ryan Glasgow (knee) and CB Darqueze Dennard (sternoclavicular) — have also missed at least two games (Glasgow and Lawson are currently on Reserve/Injured). Additionally, starting MLB Vontaze Burfict, who missed the opener due to a four-game suspension, has missed two additional games this season due to a hip injury.

Since Lewis’ arrival in 2003, the most Bengals players on Reserve/Injured at the end of a season is 19, in 2010. Lewis’ 2007 and ’08 teams each ended their seasons with 17 players on Reserve/Injured, while the ’03 club had 16.

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