By Dave Thomas
With a wild 41-38 victory at Kansas City in their hip pockets, the San Diego Chargers now turn their attention to this Sunday’s home game with the AFC North leading Cincinnati Bengals.
Going into the Kansas City game with three straight losses, the Bolts won what amounted to a playoff game, handing the Chiefs their second straight setback. In doing so, the Bolts climbed back into the AFC Wild Card race, finding themselves tied with five other teams at 5-6. Given the different playoff tie breakers, the Chargers would not qualify for the post-season if it began today (Tennessee would be the 5-6 qualifier).
Cincinnati Looking for AFC North Crown
Despite that bit of bad news, the Chargers still have a shot at making their first playoff appearance in four seasons, but it all goes back to the old cliché of one game at a time, starting with the Bengals.
The Bengals return to action versus the Chargers following a bye week. With both Pittsburgh and Baltimore (5-6) closing in on Cincinnati, the Bengals are far from having clinched their division. With a win over San Diego, they could put some more distance between themselves and both the Steelers and the Ravens, especially given the fact that those two play one another Thanksgiving night in Baltimore.
Cincinnati will present several problems for the Chargers, beginning on the offensive side of the ball.
The Bengals are led by quarterback Andy Dalton, who has thrown for 2,954 yards and 21 touchdowns to date this season. Although Dalton is not a long-serving QB by any means, he has matured rather quickly since joining the club following the 2011 Draft (second round) out of TCU.
Among Dalton’s top go-to receivers is A.J. Green (1,020 receiving yards, six TD’s). On the ground, the Bengals look to BenJarvus Green-Ellis (522 yards rushing, three touchdowns).
Defensively, expect Philip Rivers and Co. to have to deal with the likes of linebacker Vontaze Burfict (118 total tackles, 77 solo) and defensive end Carlos Dunlap (seven sacks).
For Cincinnati, the game with San Diego kicks off a tough December schedule, which also includes dates with Indianapolis (Dec. 8) at home, at rival Pittsburgh (Dec. 15), and back home to Baltimore on the last weekend (Dec. 29) of the regular season.
In the all-time series between the Chargers and Bengals, San Diego holds a 19-12 advantage.
The most famous game between the two clubs is of course the 1981 AFC Championship game, won by the Bengals 27-7.
On that day (Jan. 10, 1982) at now demolished Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati prevented the Bolts from getting to the Super Bowl versus San Francisco, a game in which the wind chill made the air temperature feel like -37 degrees.
Although the Chargers will not have to worry about anything remotely close to that this Sunday, getting a win over the Bengals would certainly enhance their wild card chances.
AFC Wild Card Standings as of Nov. 25
*Tennessee 5-6 (would qualify for playoffs as the sixth seed if they began today)
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 Examiner.com.