By Dave Thomas
What seemed only like a pipe dream a few weeks ago became reality this past Sunday for the San Diego Chargers and their fans.
With their dramatic 27-24 overtime win over the AFC West rival Kansas Chiefs at home, the Bolts snatched the last AFC playoff spot, giving them a trip to Cincinnati next Sunday and a meeting with the AFC North champion Bengals.
The two teams are no strangers to each other, having met the first Sunday in December in San Diego. In that contest, the Bengals handed the Chargers their only loss of the month, a 17-10 setback. Since then, the Chargers reeled off wins over the New York Giants, Denver, Oakland and, of course, the Chiefs, a team that essentially played its second string (The Chiefs had already locked up their playoff position going into the game).
Bengals Look To Dalton And Green
When they take the field at Paul Brown Stadium this Sunday, the Chargers will meet a team that has several offensive weapons.
Quarterback Andy Dalton has turned in a solid season despite throwing four interceptions in the team's 34-17 win at home this past Sunday over the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. The loss eliminated the Ravens from playoff contention, giving San Diego the opportunity it then cashed in with its win over Kansas City.
To date, Dalton has passed for 4,296 yards and 33 touchdowns/20 interceptions. His top receiver bar none has been A.J. Green (1,426 yards, 11 touchdowns). On the ground, the Bengals turn to BenJarvus Green-Ellis (756 yards rushing).
Defensively, the Chargers will have to deal with the likes of Wallace Gilberry (7.5 sacks), Vontaze Burfict (171 total tackles) and Adam Jones (three interceptions).
Chargers Left For Dead
It was only a month ago that odds makers had San Diego sitting home for the fourth straight January, especially after disheartening losses at Washington and Miami.
With their backs to the wall, the Bolts turned things around in less than a week, pummeling Eli Manning and the New York Giants at home, then riding into Denver on a Thursday night and surprising most of the nation with an upset victory over older brother Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
Looking to avoid a letdown against the terrible Raiders, the Chargers took care of business on the Sunday before Christmas, scoring a 26-13 win over their hated rivals from the north. That led to this past Sunday's encounter with the Chiefs, a game that was preceded by losses from both Miami and Baltimore, allowing San Diego to make the last playoff spot.
Heading into this weekend's contest, the Bengals came out as early 7.5-point favorites.
In the all-time series between the two teams, the Chargers hold a 19-13 advantage, though the Bengals won the infamous AFC Championship game back in 1982 at the old Riverfront Stadium. In the "Freezer Bowl," which gets its name from the chilling weather conditions (-37 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind chill), Cincinnati won 27-7, sending the team to the Super Bowl and a loss to Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers.
For the 2013 Chargers, they're hoping that this trip to Cincinnati proves a little more warming.
For more Chargers news and updates, visit Chargers Central.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on
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