Eddie Royal Could Be X-Factor Today for San Diego Chargers

Jason MarcumCorrespondent IIIJanuary 5, 2014

Oct 20, 2013; Jacksonville, FL, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal (11) dives for a touchdown in the second quarter of their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals are getting set to host the San Diego Chargers in their first home playoff game since 2009, but they will likely be without starting cornerback Terence Newman as he battles an MCL sprain, according to NFL.com's Marc Sessler.

Sessler also reports the Chargers will likely have wide receiver Eddie Royal today, though he didn't practice this week as he deals with a toe injury. 

Royal, who is the team's fourth-leading receiver and caught a career-high eight touchdowns this year, will likely be matched up against Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. This could be the matchup that ultimately decides the game.

While much of the focus will be on star rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen, who did well against the Bengals in their first matchup to the tune of 106 receiving yards, Royal will have the more favorable matchup. 

In that Week 13 contest, which ultimately saw the Bengals win in San Diego, no other Chargers receiver accounted for more than 45 yards, while the only other Chargers receiver to generate anything was Vincent Brown, who caught one pass for 16 yards. 

Phillip Rivers needs more of his receivers to step up today if San Diego is to win in Cincinnati, and the Bengals need Kirkpatrick to play well in place of Newman to prevent this.

Dec 29, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (27) celebrates with fans after defeating the Baltimore Ravens 34-17 at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The second-year cornerback is essentially a rookie after missing most of his rookie season with a knee injury. He has played okay in the three games he's started in place of Newman, but today may be his biggest test yet.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Kirkpatrick finished the 2013 season with a minus-8.4 grade, the worst of any Bengals defensive back, and the Chargers will likely target him early and often, meaning Royal should have ample opportunity to make an impact today. 

If he defends Royal well today, the Bengals have a great shot at winning their first playoff game since 1991.

But if he allows the Chargers to take advantage of him, it could be a long day as the Bengals are once again ousted from the NFL playoffs in the first round.