The No. 3 seed Cincinnati Bengals are set to host the No. 6 seed San Diego Chargers in the final AFC Wild Card Game in what is sure to be another exciting weekend in the NFL.
While from the outset this appears to be headed for a lopsided win for the home team, the Chargers have the feel of a team that has been competing in the playoffs for their last four weeks.
The Bengals have worked hard all season to earn their rightful spot as a home team in the opening weekend of the AFC playoffs, but they are facing a Chargers team that has been fighting for their playoff lives since losing to the Bengals in Week 13.
With a matchup featuring two offenses that can get the job done through the passing game—both teams rank inside the top five in passing yards per game and passing touchdowns—the biggest question in this game is which quarterback will carry their team to the divisional round of the playoffs.
Neither team has the coveted momentum in their favor, but with a win on Dec. 1 against the Chargers it appears the Bengals would have the upper hand at home. Here's a look at everything fans need to know heading into this huge AFC matchup, including betting information and injury reports for both teams.
When: Sunday, Jan. 5, 1:05 PM EST
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Lines (via Sports Book): Over/Under: 47; Spread: Chargers (+7)
Which Quarterback Will Shine Brighter for Their Team?
Philip Rivers is a veteran quarterback who finally returned to form this season and almost single-handedly turned his team's season around. Andy Dalton is a third-year quarterback who has at times been great and during others been viewed as the reason for the Bengals five losses in 2013.
In a showdown between the two quarterbacks, one will undoubtedly lead his team to a much-needed victory, while the other will have to pack it up for a long offseason.
Just a season ago, questions were arising about whether or not Rivers could ever get the job done for the Chargers. The former N.C. State quarterback suffered through two seasons with a passer rating below 90 with 53 total touchdowns and 35 interceptions in 2011 and 2012.
Those questions were answered this season. Rivers went off for 4,478 passing yards with 32 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. His passer rating rose back to 105.5, and his completion percentage sits at 69.5—the highest mark in his 10-year career.
After his team's win against the Kansas City Chiefs to get into the playoffs, Rivers made it clear that he wasn't happy just getting into the postseason, according to the Chargers' official site:
I was emotional after just because we’re in. We got in. That’s not a destination, we want to do more than just get in, but it’s been a long time since we’d gotten in. We had some rough goes to get there and really overcome what we did.
On the other side is Dalton, who in three years has never exceeded a passer rating of 90, with his 2013-14 season being his highest at 88.8. In just a three-year career, Dalton has been a catalyst for the team's success and that didn't change in 2013.
Here's the good part: Dalton threw for the most touchdowns (33), passing yards (4,296) and average yards per pass (7.33) of his career in 2013. As for the bad news: He also threw for the most interceptions (20) of his career and threw nearly half of those (nine) in the Bengals' five losses.
As for the weapons both quarterback's possess, there are veterans and emerging rookies on both sides. Rivers' leading receiver is rookie Keenan Allen (71 receptions, 1,046 yards, eight touchdowns) to go along with veteran tight end Antonio Gates (77 rec, 872 yards, four TDs) and running back Danny Woodhead (76 rec, 605 yards, six TDs).
On Dalton's side is one of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL with A.J. Green (98 rec, 1,426 yards, 11 TDs), second-year receiver Marvin Jones (51 rec, 712 yards, 10 TDs) and another dynamic rookie running back in Giovani Bernard (56 rec, 514 yards, three TDs).
But when looking at who will likely play the better game, it would be foolish not to look at the defense both will be facing. Dalton gets the benefit of playing a porous pass defense against the Chargers, while Rivers will be facing off with the stingiest AFC pass defense among playoff contenders.
The Bengals passing defense has overcome adversity this season to hold opponents to just 209 yards per game. Whether it's the secondary clamping down on wide receivers or linebackers like Vontaze Burfict clogging up the middle for tight ends and running backs, the Bengals pass defense will cause issues for Rivers like they did on Dec. 1 when he threw for just 252 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the loss.
Dalton, on the other hand, faces the worst pass defense in the AFC during the regular season. The Chargers have allowed 259 passing yards per game but have only allowed 23 touchdowns through the air, which ranks third among AFC playoff teams behind only Cincinnati and the Indianapolis Colts.
Which Team Wins?
Cincinnati has not lost a home game all season. Despite losses on the road to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns in their own division, the Bengals defeated both of those teams at home.
Dalton has also proven himself at home this season. In those eight wins, he has thrown for 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while his defense has given up over 20 points in just two of those contests.
Rivers hasn't exactly been a slouch this season on the road. The 10th-year quarterback has been one of the best road quarterbacks this season, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:
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
While his numbers are impressive, here are the opponents he played and their NFL ranking in passing yards this season: Philadelphia Eagles (32nd), Tennessee Titans (11th), Oakland Raiders (28th), Jacksonville Jaguars (t-25th), Washington Redskins (20th), Miami Dolphins (16th), Kansas City (t-25th) and Denver Broncos (27th).
Then there's the extra motivation that the Chargers provided in their post-game antics that were posted in video form on San Diego's official team site. As if the Bengals needed another reason to knock the Chargers out of the postseason, coach Marvin Lewis said the team has seen the video, according to Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego:
I showed them the video this morning of Mike's post-game, 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 Chargers have enjoyed one of the most remarkable comebacks this season to simply make the playoffs, but this is not a matchup that bodes well for them. Whether it's the Bengals stout defense or the home-field advantage, Cincinnati is a team that has everything going in their favor.
Prediction: Bengals 28, Chargers 20