By Dave Thomas
If you ask many people around the NFL to give you a prediction for this weekend's San Diego-Cincinnati AFC Wild Card game, most folks would lean toward the Bengals.
Marked as a touchdown underdog (the largest of this weekend's four games), the Chargers head into Paul Brown Stadium for Sunday's tilt (10 a.m. Pacific time) with little or no pressure on them.
Making the post-season for the first time in four years, San Diego (9-7) can essentially play loose and free, with most of the anxiety in the hands of a Cincinnati team that has not won a playoff game in some two decades.
After missing out on the playoffs the prior three seasons, the Chargers had to fight and claw their way into the post-season on the final weekend of the regular season, getting a little help along the way.
Now that they have arrived, there is little doubt that the Bolts would like to prove the experts wrong, hanging around for as long as possible. In the event anyone thinks that a team with a marginal record at best can't do any damage in the playoffs, just look back to the most recent examples, the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens, both of which hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after getting hot down the stretch.
Bengals Won First Encounter
In what turned out to be a playoff preview just over a month ago, the Bengals came into San Diego on Dec. 1 and scored a 17-10 win. If the Chargers don't have that memory in the back of their minds, they also need to remember that Cincinnati was a perfect 8-0 at home this season, going 3-5 on the road.
While he threw four interceptions in his team's win over Baltimore last Sunday, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has amassed 4,296 yards passing and 33 TDs this season, certainly numbers to impress San Diego's defense. If the Chargers are to have any shot of winning on Sunday, a pass rush will be mandatory, along with solid play in the secondary, something the Chargers have lacked at different times this season and in past years.
On the offensive side of the ball, Philip Rivers will need to perform his magic as he did in the team's win over Kansas City last Sunday and numerous times during the season. The Chargers will also need a strong dose of running back Ryan Mathews, who set a career high for rushing yards this season with 1,255 yards.
As of Thursday's injury report (see below), Mathews was continuing to nurse a sore ankle. In their meeting back on Dec. 1, Mathews rushed for 61 yards on 14 carries in the loss to Cicinnati.
Lastly, the weather could play a role in determining Sunday's outcome, as it will certainly not be San Diego-like. Forecasters are predicting a chance of snow and temps in the 30s.
While the Chargers and many of their fans are happy this team made the playoffs this season, it is safe to say that the Bolts want more than just a taste of the post-season.
Injury report as of Jan. 2
- Defensive end/Tackle Sean Lissemore (shoulder) limited practice
- Running back Ryan Mathews (ankle) did not practice
- Defensive end Kendall Reyes (ankle) full practice
- Wide receiver/Kick returner Eddie Royal (toe) did not practice
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 aExaminer.com.
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