Chargers vs. Bengals: Keys to Victory for Each Team in Wild Card Round

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2014

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 22:  Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals throws a pass before the NFL game against the Green Bay Packers at Paul Brown Stadium on September 22, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

This time it counts for the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers.

The two teams met in Week 13 of the regular season, with the Bengals earning a 17-10 win on the road. It was a very close game, ending with each team within 20 total yards of one another.

The Bengals will be the favorite in the rematch since the game is at Paul Brown Stadium. They're 8-0 at home, while the Chargers are just 4-4 on the road.

Considering San Diego's hot streak to end the regular season, though, this is a game that could go either way.

For both teams, much will depend on accomplishing these goals.


San Diego Chargers

Blanket A.J. Green

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 22:  A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals catches a touchdown pass  while defended by Chris Cook #20 of the Minnesota Vikings during the NFL gameat Paul Brown Stadium on December 22, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In the last two Wild Card Rounds, A.J. Green has combined to catch 10 passes for 127 yards and zero touchdowns.

While those numbers are acceptable in the regular season, they aren't in the postseason.

The Houston Texans did a great job in each of the past two years in cutting Green off from the rest of the offense. Andy Dalton was forced to look elsewhere, which was a problem because Jermaine Gresham couldn't catch the ball and the other weapons in the passing game were lacking.

While the Bengals have addressed the problem somewhat, there's no doubt that if Green is shut out of the game, Cincinnati could have a hard time moving the football.


Establish the Running Game

Dec 22, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews (24) runs for a short gain during the first half against the Oakland Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

According to The Weather Channel, the weather in Cincinnati won't be conducive to passing the football. The forecast calls for a 100 percent chance of precipitation and temperatures in the 30s.

While it's no Freezer Bowl, those are pretty tough conditions nonetheless.

Just how much cold weather affects quarterbacks is often overstated, but the snow/rain will no doubt have a massive impact on what each offense will be able to do.

The Bengals are no strangers to this sort of game, but it will be a change of pace for the Chargers. Philip Rivers may not be in a position where he can dictate the game.

Instead, the burden will fall to Ryan Mathews, who, despite not practicing on Thursday, should be good to go on Sunday, per Annie Heilbrunn.

Once one of the most frustrating running backs in the league, Mathews has become a steady runner, and he'll need every bit of that steadiness if San Diego is to move the ball against a tough Bengals defense.


Cincinnati Bengals

Don't Throw Interceptions

Dec 29, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) runs the ball for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati defeated Baltimore 34-17. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA T
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

And now an update in misleading statistics.

Seriously though, it's crazy to think that Andy Dalton—of all people—is in the same company as Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. Maybe he's no so bad after all?

Nah, he's still kinda bad.

Dalton's 20 interceptions were fifth-worst in the league. While he's not yet in Eli Manning territory, that's still a concerning number.

Unsurprisingly, when Dalton throws interceptions, it's generally a bad sign. In Cincinnati's 11 wins, he has 27 touchdowns to 11 INTs. Those numbers are six and nine, respectively, in the Bengals' five losses.

There are also the last two postseasons, where he combined to throw four interceptions and zero touchdowns.

As long as Dalton isn't handing the ball back to the Chargers and killing his team's momentum, Cincinnati should be fine.


Play to the Weather

Dec 1, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) hands the ball off to running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (42) during the first half against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinc
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Jay Gruden has come under fire at times for his somewhat unimaginative play-calling. Fans have seen enough BenJarvus Green-Ellis runs to last them a lifetime.

But it's that kind of conservative offense that could serve the Bengals well on Sunday.

Should the weather forecasters be correct, the chance of making any downfield throws will be microscopic. The most effective plays will be runs on the inside and short passes over the middle and to the sidelines, which is Cincinnati's bread and butter.

There's no need to try to reinvent the wheel.

Plus, the Chargers have one of the worst defenses in the league. The Bengals shouldn't have any trouble offensively.