When the San Diego Chargers hosted the Cincinnati Bengals on December 1, the visitors used a balanced offense and stout defense that forced three turnovers to earn a 17-10 win. Now the Bengals are the hosts, as these teams meet again in the Wild Card Round.
While the Bengals come into this game as the favorites, the Chargers are no pushovers. So which advantages does each team have in this game? Who will have to step up for both teams to lead them to a victory? What strengths does each team have that the other side must account for?
Let's break it down.
Advantage Cincinnati: Balance
Everywhere you look on the Bengals, you find balance. Fifth in passing yards, rushing yards and points allowed per game. Sixth in points scored per game. Eighth in passing yards and 18th in rushing yards. It isn't easy to spot a weakness on this team.
Sure, the running game may look like the outlier here, but the brawn and burst combination of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard gives Cincy a nice rushing attack when it decides to pound the rock.
With a plus-one turnover differential, the Bengals are even balanced in that department, though surely they would have liked to turn the ball over less than 30 times this season. If you were looking for a weakness on this team that would be it—the Bengals can be a bit cavalier holding onto the rock.
But other than that, focusing on a weakness and exploiting it when playing the Bengals is difficult to do. Focus on the run, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will burn you. Do the opposite and Bernard has a big afternoon. And even without Geno Atkins and Leon Hall, the Bengals have proven to have enough depth on defense to remain stout on that side of the ball.
Advantage Cincinnati: Paul Brown Stadium
It's pretty simple—while the Bengals are 8-0 at home this season, the Chargers are just 4-4 on the road. Not only that, but the forecast calls for a high of 38 degrees with a chance of snow, hardly weather a team from San Diego will be thrilled with.
There's more. At home this year, Dalton has thrown for 2,067 yards, 20 touchdowns, nine interceptions and has a 63.5 completion percentage. On the road, he's thrown for 2,229 yards, 13 touchdowns, 11 picks and a 60.6 completion percentage.
There might not be a better home-field advantage in football outside of New Orleans this year. Going into Cincy and winning is a huge task for the Chargers.
Advantage San Diego: Philip Rivers
Perhaps we should call him Revitalized Rivers, because that's what he's been this year. After two pretty mediocre seasons, Rivers lit up the NFL once again in 2013, passing for 4,478 yards, 32 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and completing an impressive 69.5 percent of his passes.
Rivers also has something his counterpart, Dalton, does not—a playoff win. Three of them, in fact, as he is 3-4 lifetime in the postseason, opposed to Dalton's 0-2 mark.
Rivers didn't play poorly when these teams met on December 1, throwing for 252 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception. But he didn't do enough to help the Chargers earn a win, either.
Still, if the Chargers are going to win this game, it's because Rivers leads them to a victory. He's been excellent all season long—now, can he perform in the clutch when it really counts?
Advantage San Diego: Offensive Weapons
San Diego doesn't have a skill-position player as talented as Green, but it does have a collection of players on offense who make defending them a pick-your-poison proposition. Here's a look at what Rivers has at his disposal in this game:
|Player||Position||Yards From Scrimmage||Touchdowns|
There may not be any stars there—though Gates was a star in the past, and Allen seems well on the way to being one in the future—but Rivers has enough options on offense to give any defense trouble. Remember, this offense was fourth in passing yards and 13th in rushing yards per game.
With a versatile offense, San Diego can identify a matchup they like and exploit it. Cincy did well stifling them when the teams met in the regular season—can it repeat that performance?