Fearless Prediction: Bengals-Chargers
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The concern for the Bengals is the startling lack of a downfield passing attack that has contributed to the offense scoring just five touchdowns in its past 69 drives. RB Cedric Benson is the engine, and the Chargers' run defense is soft up the middle as San Diego is on its fourth different starting nose tackle. But Bengals QB Carson Palmer must find reliable targets outside of WR Chad Ochocinco. Chargers QB Philip Rivers is third in the NFL with 13 completions of 40-plus yards, and there will be a compelling matchup as he works against the Bengals' excellent young secondary.
FAST FACTS: The Bengals have committed 38 penalties over the past four games. ... San Diego has an eight-game winning streak and has won 16 consecutive games in December.
Inside The Camps
The Bengals have already dealt with plenty of adversity with the death of the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and the tsunamis in American Samoa, which affected the team's Samoan players.
But nothing can prepare a team or organization for what they faced on Thursday morning -- the death of one of their own.
Chris Henry, 26, died Thursday at 6:36 a.m. in Charlotte, N.C., after suffering head injuries in an accident on Wednesday. Carson Palmer informed the team of Henry's passing before their 10 a.m. walkthrough.
Palmer was one of Henry's most vocal supporters, often calling him Randy Moss Jr. during off-season interviews. The quarterback and receiver even shared a ride to training camp in Georgetown, Ky.
"Chris was a guy that I believe and our team believes was heavily misunderstood," Palmer said. "There was a lot of speculation about who he was, but the only guys that knew Chris and knew how good of a heart he had, how kind he was, how gentle he was, are the guys in our locker room, the guys who were close to him, his family."
To honor Henry during Sunday's game at San Diego, the team will wear a helmet decal with Henry's number and coaches will wear pins that look like the decal. Plans for Henry's funeral were unknown.
Almost everyone spoke about how Henry's public persona, which was known more for the five arrests in 28 months from 2005-08 than his on-field ability, was different than the person they knew in the locker room.
The most devastated in the locker room was Chad Ochocinco, who had tears in his eyes as he described his last conversation with Henry, which happened Tuesday night. They discussed last Sunday's game at Minnesota and Henry offered some words of encouragement.
Ochocinco wore a No. 15 jersey during Thursday's practice at Paul Brown Stadium.
"He was doing everything right, he was doing everything right," Ochocinco said. "My grandma always says you never question the man upstairs on decisions he makes ... everyone makes mistakes, but ... I don't see how Chris was supposed to go already, especially when he was on the right path."
On Nov. 9, after what looked to be a season of much promise, Henry's season prematurely ended after eight games when he fractured his left forearm during the second quarter against Baltimore. He finished the season with 12 receptions for 236 yards and two touchdowns.
Before the injury, coach Marvin Lewis saw Henry as the happiest he had been in a while. In the week leading up to the Oct. 25 game against Chicago, Henry had been suffering from the flu and was not in the team hotel the night before the game. But Henry started to feel better on Saturday and came to the stadium on Sunday ready to work.
"I watched him work out on the field and they didn't really do much but stand and catch. I said no, no, I need to see him run," Lewis said. "So he ran routes -- Jordan (Palmer) I think was throwing -- and he came over and sat with me on the photographer's stand at the end of the end zone and he said 'Coach, I feel better than I've felt in the last month.' I said, 'You know what? You look that way, so you suit up today.'
"And just the grin on his face because again, when Chris spoke and talked, you got to see the genuine person. And a lot of times Chris was very quiet and he let everybody speak for him too much. And until Chris turned the corner is when he began to speak up himself and distance himself from the people that were dragging him down and express his real thoughts and feelings. And I thought that day, he did that."
Henry had two receptions for 26 yards in that game, a 45-10 Bengals victory, including a 9-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Henry was in Cincinnati last weekend for an exam by the team's medical staff. With no rehabilitation for his injury beyond periodic adjustments of his cast, he was cleared at that point to return to Charlotte.
Henry was drafted by the Bengals in the third round in 2005. He was known as a player with immense talent, but his promise was marred by legal problems and three NFL suspensions totaling 14 games.
During his first three seasons, his run-ins with the law included drug charges to gun possession and DUI. He served jail time for drinking in a Covington hotel room with underage girls. He was remembered more for that than his game-changing touchdowns or the team-leading nine TDs he scored in 2006.
Born May 17, 1983, Henry's five-year totals were 119 receptions for 1,826 yards and 21 touchdowns in 55 games.
How the team responds in Sunday's game against the Chargers along with the three remaining regular-season games remains to be seen. Lost in all the tragedy is the fact that the 9-4 Bengals would clinch the AFC North with a win over San Diego or a loss by Baltimore. The game also has the second seed in the AFC on the line and a possible first-round bye.
Two Chargers of note -- but not very well known -- were able to practice on Thursday.
Defensive linemen Alfonso Boone (knee) and Travis Johnson (groin) both worked at the same time for the first time in nearly two weeks.
Boone missed last week's game in Dallas; Johnson usually takes one day of a week to rest his ailment.
The Chargers figure to need all their defensive linemen when facing the visiting Bengals on Sunday. Boone, at end, and Johnson, at tackle, being available has to help.
With the Bengals featuring a running game with Cedric Benson and old San Diego foe Larry Johnson at the ready, the Chargers are expecting Cincinnati to stay on the ground.
That not only keeps the Chargers' potent offense on the sidelines, but it also attacks San Diego's biggest weakness.
The Chargers are ranked No. 21 against the run, an area they have had trouble shoring up since losing Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jamal Williams in the season-opener.
But the run-stoppers got a dose of confidence when stopping the Cowboys on a goal-line stand, stopping them on three straight rushing players from the 1. That same unit will be tested again Sunday.
PREDICTION: Chargers 24-17