San Diego Chargers (1-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-0)
This is one of the toughest games of the week for me, but I’m going with the Chargers for two reasons. For one, I think San Diego is a little bit better. Going into the season, I had them as a 10-win playoff team with the Bengals just outside of the playoffs with 9 wins. Even though right guard DJ Fluker is out for this game with an ankle injury, the Chargers should still have fewer injuries on offense than they did last season, when they had the most offensive adjusted games lost to injury.
Their offensive line and running game are much improved and their receiving corps is more than equipped to deal with the loss of Eddie Royal in free agency and Antonio Gates to suspension, thanks to the addition of Steve Johnson, Danny Woodhead’s return from injury, and talented backup tight end Lardarius Green, all of whom had big games in San Diego’s 33-28 win over Detroit last week. Defensively, they still have major issues in the front 7, but they get Jason Verrett back from injury and have a strong trio of defensive backs in Brandon Flowers, Jason Verrett, and Eric Weddle.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, started off the season with a 33-13 victory in Oakland in a game that was 30-0 before garbage time. Their receiving corps is much healthier than last season, with AJ Green, Marvin Jones, and week 1 star Tyler Eifert all back from injury. They have a strong offensive line and will have a full season of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard working in tandem at running back, as they did so well to end last season. Andy Dalton might not be the best quarterback in the world, but this is his best offensive supporting cast.
Defensively, they add Michael Johnson to a defensive line that really needed it and should get a better season from Geno Atkins, who was one of the best defensive players in the game prior to a 2013 ACL tear, from which he’s now almost 24 months removed. They still have problems on the defensive line, in the linebacking corps, and in the secondary and they’ll be without talented linebacker Vontaze Burfict for at least the start of the season, but they’re a solid squad. It’s hard to pick a team between these two, but I like San Diego. The 2nd reason I’m going with the Chargers here is because the line has moved off of the key number of 3 to 3.5, so we’re not getting field goal protection with the Bengals anymore. I’m not confident, but the Chargers are my pick.
Cincinnati Bengals 27 San Diego Chargers 24
Pick against the spread: San Diego +3.5