The San Diego Chargers (9-7) make the trip to Paul Brown Stadium for a Wild Card Round bout against the AFC North champ Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) on Sunday, Jan. 5, at 1:05 p.m. ET.
These AFC foes have not met in the postseason since 1982, where inclement weather was the big storyline in what is now known as the Freezer Bowl, as ESPN illustrates:
While torrid weather conditions are set to ravish the East Coast, Cincinnati will remain relatively unscathed for this contest, with the forecast showing rain rather than snow, per Jay Morrison of the Dayton Daily News:
That is outstanding news for the Chargers. They went 4-4 away from Qualcomm Stadium this season and are now tasked with taking down the Bengals, a team that went 8-0 at home this year and scored more than 40 points in four of their last five at Paul Brown Stadium.
San Diego has already tasted defeat at the hands of Cincinnati this year via a Week 13, 17-10 loss at home. Tight end Antonio Gates (who lost a fumble in the defeat) is one player excited to get another shot at the Bengals, per Ricky Henne of the team's website:
I’m excited to play them again. Now I don’t want to make this about me against the Cincinnati Bengals because it’s about us executing and being efficient against a very good defense. They did some things to disrupt my timing, so I take my hat off to them. A lot of teams don’t have a whole bunch of success against that defense, so for us to be successful we are going to have to execute on a high level. We need to in order to win a game like this.
Gates' and San Diego's bid for redemption is a tall order, but crazier things have happened in the NFL postseason.
When: Sunday, Jan. 5, at 1:05 p.m. ET
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Live Stream: CBS Sports
Betting Lines (via Vegas Insider)
- Over/Under: 47 points
- Spread: Cincinnati (-6.5)
Team Injury Reports
Can the Bengals Usher in a New Era?
Cincinnati has made a first-round exit from the postseason in each of the last two years. Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth told the team's website that things in Cincinnati have drastically changed since quarterback Andy Dalton came to town three years ago:
Exactly. That’s kind of when this thing started, with Andy’s regime. What I wanted guys to understand is this is the first time we don’t have an individual locker room. The whole time, we’re not going to watch Chad (Johnson) put on a spectacle of an interview, or T.J. (Houshmandzadeh), or whoever it is. I don’t know if I’ve even heard a guy in here talk about salaries or catches or anything they do.
For things to come full circle, Whitworth and the Bengals must beat San Diego a second time this season.
That task is easier said than done.
San Diego is quietly one of the NFL's hottest teams. In fact, the Chargers have not lost since that Week 13 defeat at the hands of the Bengals. Since then, they have defeated the likes of the 13-3 Denver Broncos and 11-5 Kansas City Chiefs.
While a .500 mark on the road is a concern, as is a trip across the country to one of the NFL's best home-field advantages this season, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has been stellar away from home:
On the road this season, @Chargers QB Philip Rivers ranks 1st in Comp % (71.5) 2nd in Pass yds (2,496) and 3rd in Pass TD (15).— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 3, 2014
For those numbers to translate into a playoff victory, Rivers must improve on his 23-of-37 line in Week 13, which saw him post 252 yards with a touchdown and interception. He must also hope skill players such as Gates can hold on to the football—the Chargers also lost two fumbles in the seven-point loss.
Cincinnati wrote a blueprint on how to upend the Chargers, but it becomes a different task in the postseason.
As if the Bengals needed any motivation, coach Marvin Lewis managed to find a major spark in the form of a Chargers postgame speech by coach Mike McCoy from Week 17, as he told the media, via the team's website:
I showed them the video this morning of Mike's postgame, how they're even pointing to us. There was even some 'Who Dey' chants they had in there and everything. They 'owe Cincy' and all that. We know we've got to be ready. Our guys aren't overconfident ever. That is not the way we operate around here. ... What we did in San Diego doesn't matter now; we don't gain any extra points for that.
The video in question can be found on the Chargers' website. While nothing too out of line, it adds additional motivation for Cincinnati to come out aggressive. The Bengals have been just that as of late, and as NFL.com's Marc Sessler points out, the team is on a streak that almost made history:
Bengals were 6 points shy of becoming the first team in NFL history to score 40+ points in five straight home games. Bring it, Chargers.— Marc Sessler (@MarcSesslerNFL) December 31, 2013
Which team wins?
That Cincinnati offense will be the difference Sunday. The combo of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard on the ground will eventually open up things through the air, where the oft-erratic Dalton will find success against San Diego's No. 29-ranked pass defense.
In rainy conditions, expect Cincinnati's stout defense that ranks in the top five against the pass and rush to once again play at a high level, especially with Rivers being grounded in the wet conditions.
Final Score: Bengals 24, Chargers 20