This Sunday at 1:05 PM the 11-5 Cincinnati Bengals will host the 9-7 San Diego Chargers in the Wild Card round of the AFC Playoffs, and the winner of the Chargers vs. Bengals matchup will make Super Bowl XLVIII even closer to a reality for them. Although these two teams squared off earlier in the year, a lot has changed since then for both teams.
As always, the pinnacle position for each football team is the quarterback position, and that has never been more obvious for the San Diego Chargers than today. Phillip Rivers has certainly received more than his fair share in criticism, especially since the team’s playoff drought over the pas few years. However, Rivers has silenced all of them this year, compiling a season worthy of his Pro Bowl Selection. Phillip Rivers is one of only two quarterbacks to be ranked in the top 5 in passing yards (5th), touchdowns (4th), completion percentage (1st), and passer rating (4th). The only other quarterback to be in the top 5 for all those quarterbacks is Peyton Manning, so Rivers is with some good company.
Even more impressive for San Diego is how they ended the season. After a Week 13 loss to none other than the Cincinnati Bengals, all playoff hopes seemed out of reach for the Chargers. However, the Chargers showed their resiliency by winning all of their final four games thanks to stellar performances by RB Ryan Matthews. In Matthews first 12 games this season, he averaged an embarrassing 65.1 rushing yards per game and totaled just 3 touchdowns. Many believed that it would be yet another disappointing season for the halfback, although he bounced back for his team when the playoffs were on the line. In his final 4 games, Matthews averaged 134.25 total yards per game and doubled his season touchdown total with three more touchdowns. The defense has also stepped up, and have only allowed an average of 17.75 points per game in the last four.
While there is no doubt the Chargers are currently the hot team, one has to respect the Bengals talent. The Cincinnati roster is stacked with talent at pretty much every position, and are one of the most well-rounded teams in the NFL. The Bengals are one of only two teams that are in the top 10 in both total offense and total defense, and they are also in the top 6 for both scoring defense and scoring offense.
Despite the Bengals impeccable appearance on paper, they still have plenty of flaws. The two major weak points that stick out are turnovers and inconsistency. The Bengals have turned the ball over a whopping 30 times this year, which is 4 more than the next highest playoff team. Andy Dalton has been responsible for 20 of those turnovers via interceptions, and he has the 5th highest amount of interceptions in the NFL (1st among all playoff quarterbacks). Also, inconsistency has been a major problem for the Bengals. While their ‘A-Game’ is almost unstoppable, their ability to continue to play at their highest level is lacking. The Bengals this year have lost to the Browns 17-6, only to beat the New England Patriots the next week 13-6. The Bengals completely obliterated the New York Jets 49-9, only to lose to Miami and Baltimore in the following weeks. The Bengals have to make sure they play to their fullest potential on Sunday, or otherwise they could be making an early exit from the 2014 postseason.
The injury report also does not bode well for the Bengals. Cincinnati may be without TE Tyler Eifert, TE Jermaine Gresham, CB Terrance Newman, and others, who are all key components to their team. The only players worse than probable on the Chargers are DE Sean Lissemore and WR/KR Eddie Royal, who are both questionable.
Fortunately for the Bengals, they have a major advantage over the Chargers when the Cincinnati is on offense and defense. The Bengals’ 10th ranked offense will go against the Chargers’ 23rd ranked defense, and the Bengals’ 3rd ranked defense will face off against the Chargers’ 5th ranked offense. Although statistically the Bengals have the advantage, it is not quite that simple.
The key to the game for the San Diego Chargers is to eliminate the Bengals’ two major playmakers: A.J. Green and Giovanni Bernard. The two of them have combined for 2,635 yards on offense, which is almost 45% of the Bengals total offense. If the Chargers can silence these two dynamic players, they should have a good chance to win.
The key to the game for the Cincinnati Bengals is to exploit the Chargers’ weak defense. While the San Diego offense vs. the Cincinnati matchup is relatively even, the Bengals offense vs. Chargers defense matchup is lopsided in the Bengals favor. They cannot let the Chargers defense get a few stops and then build momentum, because that will seriously hurt the Bengals chances of winning. However, if they play smart, productive, and efficient offense and limit the turnovers, they should be in a good position to win the game. The final prediction is:
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: 16 CINCINNATI BENGALS: 20
Tags: Super Bowl XLVIII