The 7-4 Bengals barge into Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the 6-5 Chargers with the chance to do things they haven't done since the 2015 AFC North champs in what head coach Zac Taylor calls the biggest game of the year.
They come into December with a winning record for the first time since 2015 and try to win three straight for the first time since that team started 8-0. A victory would give them eight wins for the first time since the Bengals finished 12-4 in 2015.
"It's a chance to create real momentum in what seems to be the biggest game of the year," Taylor said after Friday's practice. "Against a team playing for their playoff life. We have to play our best football. We absolutely have to win this game. Guys understand what the mentality is."
The elusive three-game winning streak is more than a number. It represents the one thing Taylor has pursued in his three seasons.
"I don't think this team lacks confidence but that has been a little bit of what we've talked about," Taylor said. "We've been good in spurts. We haven't finished off that string of games and now's an opportunity to build some real momentum."
INJURY UPDATE: Both teams have issues.
The Chargers, ranked last against the run, are going to be without their best run defender up front in monstrous tackle Linval Joseph, on the COVID list for the second straight week. Last week they gave up 147 yards on the ground without him in the loss to Denver. They're also without starting cornerback Asante Samuel and are turning to Tevaughn Campbell, a second-year undrafted free agent with eight NFL starts
Taylor called two of the Bengals starting offensive linemen questionable after right tackle Riley Reiff and center Trey Hopkins didn't practice at all this week with ankle injuries and says they are game-time decisions.
If it goes the wrong way, it's going to be their biggest shuffling of the season up front. Hopkins and Reiff have yet to miss games and they would be replaced by rookie Trey Hill and second-year man Isaiah Prince, respectively.
Hill made his first NFL start at right guard in Detroit Oct. 17 and was pulled after two series. It could be Prince's first Bengals' NFL start, but second NFL start at right tackle. His first one also came against the Chargers in 2019 when he was a rookie for the Dolphins. He also started one game as an extra tackle that season, a role where he has played the bulk of his 85 snaps this season. They like the way he played last Sunday when Reiff went down and he had a season-high 31 snaps, 22 of which were run blocks and he graded out as the fourth best run blocker for them against the Steelers.
Third running back Chris Evans (ankle) is listed as doubtful. Trayveon Williams is at his limit for game activations from the practice squad, so we'll see if they activate Elijah Holyfield or just go with Mixon and Samaje Perine or activate Williams the standard way.
STAT LOOKS: Running back Joe Mixon is gunning for his third straight 100-yard game and would become the first Bengals back to do that since Jeremy Hill in 2014 …
Mixon is trying to score a touchdown in his ninth straight game, tying him with A.J. Green and putting him within one of Carl Pickens' club record. He'll try to extend his club record for consecutive games with multiple touchdowns to five. The last time that happened in the NFL, Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson went for eight straight in 2006.
Naturally, Tomlinson did it for the Chargers, and his third game in the streak came at PBS when he had four in San Diego's 49-41 video game win …
Mixon is 86 yards shy of his third 1,000-yard season. The last Bengal to do that was Cedric Benson and he would join him, Corey Dillon, Rudi Johnson and James Brooks in the three-time club. Only Dillon (six) did it more…
Rookie wider receiver Ja'Marr Chase is 92 yards from 1,000. Only Green in 2011 with 1,057 and Cris Collinsworth in 1981 with 1,009 have caught 1,000 in their first years …
Right end Trey Hendrickson is looking to extend his NFL-long and Bengals record sack streak to eight straight games. He's got 10.5 for the season and with left end Sam Hubbard at seven, he's three from making him and Hendrickson the first Bengals tandem of end to get double-digit sacks in the same season …