By Dave Thomas
With the post-season in front of them now, the San Diego Chargers are hoping to stick around for a while as the AFC playoffs kick off this coming weekend.
After going down to the 25th hour to make the playoffs, the Chargers find themselves headed to Cincinnati and a meeting with the AFC North champion Bengals on Sunday. If the Chargers are able to get out of Cincinnati with a victory, they would head to Denver for the following weekend and a third meeting this year with their AFC West rivals.
Getting into the playoffs was quite a chore indeed, with the Chargers needing help along the way. After both Baltimore and Miami lost in early games this past Sunday, the Bolts controlled their own destiny when they met the Kansas City Chiefs.
To their surprise (perhaps not), the Chargers got a handful from what was essentially Kansas City’s reserves. Leading 24-14 in the second half, the fifth-seeded Chiefs would have sent San Diego packing, had it not been Ryan Succop’s missed 41-yard field goal with seconds remaining. The Chargers caught a lucky break, as the NFL came out on Monday and admitted that it had missed a San Diego penalty, a blown call that should have moved the ball five yards ahead, perhaps giving Succop an easier kick.
With a little luck on their side, the Chargers broke their three-year playoff skid, allowing them now to go into Cincinnati as a loose and rather confident underdog.
With that in mind, here are three reasons why the Bolts will win or lose this Sunday:
Why San Diego Could Leave With a Victory
1. Nothing to Lose – San Diego goes into the game with really nothing to lose at this point. Cincinnati has come up short in recent playoff visits, plus the Bengals are the AFC North champs and a higher seed. About a 7.5-point favorite, Cincinnati is expected by many NFL experts to win and move on to the second round.
2. Andy Dalton – Although the TCU product has put up some gaudy passing numbers (more than 4,000 yards through the air, 33 TD’s) this season, he has also thrown 20 interceptions (four in the win over Baltimore last Sunday). If the Chargers can create any kind of pass rush and fluster Dalton, they stand a good chance of getting in his head.
3. Philip Rivers – The man that should be known as Mr. December (30-6 in this month) for all the wins he has accumulated in the year’s final month now gets a chance to continue that into January. Rivers has cut way down on his interception numbers from the last few years, playing with a confidence and swagger that an underdog team needs to stand a chance to win. If Rivers can direct a nice balance of the run and the pass, not get sacked or hurried too much, and avoid the big turnover, you could very well see him playing in Denver the following weekend.
Why San Diego Could Leave With a Loss
1. No rushing attack – Ryan Mathews has had a career-best 1,255 yards rushing in 2013. That said, the Chargers will have little or no chance of winning if they can’t get the Fresno State product on track come Sunday. While Danny Woodhead will likely get a few touches, it all starts and stops with Mathews having a productive day in order to enhance San Diego’s chances.
2. Bengals on a mission – Sporting an all-time mark of 5-11 (including 0-2 in the Super Bowl) in the post-season, the Bengals are not exactly the Patriots or Steelers when it comes to winning in January. After losing to Houston 17-13 a season ago in the first round, look for Marvin Lewis & Co. to be on a mission this January. Cincinnati has dropped five straight playoff games since its last win, a 1990 Wild Card victory over the Houston Oilers.
3. The clock strikes midnight – Lastly, the Chargers have been on an incredible run these last five games, having won four in a row since that Dec. 1 17-10 home loss to Cincinnati. After a hard-fought win over the Chiefs last weekend, could San Diego run out of gas in Ohio? While no one will claim that the Chargers will be happy having just made the playoffs, one also must wonder if the Bolts run out of both physical and mental energy if they fall behind early or are trailing late in the game come Sunday
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.