AFC Wild Card preview: San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals

Paul Brown Stadium

Kickoff Sunday January 5, at 1:05 ET

The rollercoaster of a season for the San Diego Chargers continues as they head into the playoffs, after a three-year hiatus from the postseason, as the #6 seed in the AFC. They will travel to Cincinnati to take on the AFC North champion Bengals, a rematch from the 1982 “Freezer Bowl” when these two teams squared off in the AFC Championship game with a wind chill dropping the temperature to -37°. The only thing colder was the hearts of Steelers fans after the Chargers snuck into the playoffs. (Zing!)

Lets take a look back down memory lane at just how the Chargers even made it to this position last Sunday. With a dramatic, improbable run that saw the Chargers win 4 games in a row, including two against the 11-5 Chiefs and the Denver Broncos (13-3).  It came down to the final Sunday in the regular season, and the Chargers needed some help to make their game even meaningful. Both the Ravens and Dolphins had to lose and the Chargers had to win.

Well, it seemed the hard part was behind them when both the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins lost. On top of that, Kansas City coach Andy Reid decided to rest 22 of the 25 starters, seemingly making the Chargers a lock for the #6 seed.

As fate would have it, the Chargers struggled all day against the Chiefs’ backups. With the game tied at 24-24, the Chiefs drove into field goal range to set up a game winning field goal. The sure-footed Ryan Succop missed a 41-yard field goal that would have sent the Chargers straight to their couches to watch the playoffs. The Chargers got away with having an illegal formation on the field goal that the referees missed that would have allowed the Chiefs to attempt the field goal again, but that’s neither here nor there!

In overtime, things only got more dramatic as Chargers’ free safety Eric Weddle called an audible on a punt attempt and took the direct snap, taking it right up the middle and getting the first down. However, at the end of the play it appeared that Weddle was stripped, but the referees ruled that his forward progress was stopped, another close call that went in favor of the Chargers. That first down led to a Nick Novak field goal, and the Chargers stopped the Chiefs to lock up a playoff berth.

With the hearts of every Chargers’ fan feeling a lot older than before the game, we celebrated.

Now, onto the preview for the Wild Card matchup against the Bengals. These two teams met just over a month ago on December 1 in San Diego, with the Bengals taking the W 17-10. The Chargers’ offense was out of sync most of the game, however neither Andy Dalton nor Phillip Rivers had good games, both throwing only 1 TD and 1 interception.

San Diego Chargers

Phillip Rivers will have to play mistake free football against a physical Bengals defense (Photo Cred: Sean M. Haffey/UT San Diego)

The key in the rematch will be disrupting Andy Dalton and the timing with his big target, wideout A.J. Green, who went for 5 receptions, 83 yards and a TD in the last matchup. The issue will be the Chargers’ defense, which last week looked completely lost (at least for the first half), against a 2nd string Chiefs team will come out and respond in this game. The secondary is going to have to play aggressively and I’m hoping defensive coordinator John Pagano will have the corners playing bump and run against the Cincinnati receivers. Pressure from the front seven will also be a deciding factor; Melvin Ingram, Kendall Reyes, and Corey Liuget will need to collapse the pocket and make Andy Dalton uncomfortable, forcing him to commit mistakes. In the last game of the season Dalton threw a career high 4 interceptions and has continued to look pedestrian in the later half of the season.

Another factor that could come into play is the weather; the forecast predicts snow and degrees reaching the teens later in the afternoon. With a team like the Chargers, who play in some pretty excellent weather even in the dead of winter, are likely to be vulnerable to such conditions. The snow would certainly give the upper hand to a solid running game and physical defense, both something the Bengals posses. However, I’m fairly confident weather will not be an issue for our San Diego Chargers. I think with the reemergence of Ryan Mathews and the ability of Philip Rivers to lead the offense on clock eating drives, the Chargers will be able to run a potent offensive attack…. just with a few more layers on of course.

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The Bengals went 8-0 this season at home, a very impressive feat and makes this matchup even more difficult to predict. Luckily for Chargers fans, this same franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990. That’s not a typo, 1990, a 23-year drought that I’m hoping does not come to an end this Sunday. With the Chargers on such a roll, and the offense playing at a high level, I’m filled with confidence knowing this team has fought through so much and I’m hoping they take full advantage of the opportunity.

Prediction: Chargers 27 Bengals 24

 

Side note: Keenan Allen better get Offensive Rookie of the Year. The guy is an absolute beast, he’s been doing work for the Chargers all season and he is a huge reason why the Chargers are in the playoffs.

Stats:

71 Receptions

1,046 Yards

8 Touchdowns

Read more Chargers rumors, news and opinion on our San Diego Chargers page