The Chargers only made the playoffs after a blown call by the officials in their final regular season game against a Kansas City team who rested most of their starters safe in the knowledge they had already secured a Wildcard spot. The Chargers do however have the longest winning streak of any AFC team but they have played 3 of the 4 games of that streak at home and this week they travel to Ohio to face a Bengals team who were the last team to beat them and who haven’t lost a game at Paul Brown Stadium all season. Despite their recent run of successful results the Chargers haven’t really dominated an opponent since beat the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars by 18 points way back in week 7, their average winning margin in their 9 victories this season has been 9 points and overall they have scored on average 24.8 points per game. The Bengals on the other hand have scored an impressive 430 points this season at an average of 26.9 points per game whilst their defence has conceded on average just 19.1 points per game, the fewest in the AFC.
There’s really not much to say about this game, other than it seems to be one of the most straightforward Wildcard games in recent history, San Diego’s place in the playoffs should have been taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers and an officiating mistake which should have seen Ryan Succop have a field goal attempt from 36 yards to win the game for the Chiefs now results in a team from California going to play in temperatures that aren’t forecast to rise above 1 degree Celsius all day. Of course it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the Bengals could suffer from the same playoff anxiety that saw them lose their first post season game last year in Reliant Stadium when they totally clammed up in Houston and only managed to score 13 points but with this being the Chargers first playoff game since 2009 (it’s 2008 since they won a playoff game & 2007 since they won 1 outside San Diego) and the first playoff experience of a post season as a Head Coach for Mike McCoy it would need some sort of major meltdown for the Chargers to progress. It will be difficult for a team who rely on their Quarterback to get the ball into the end zone as much the Chargers rely on Rivers to generate any sort of momentum on a day when the ball will most likely be frozen and the fingers will be numb, that said the Bengals will face their own challenges at the weekend with injury worries over 2 Tight Ends in Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham and their stud Wide Receiver A.J Green Andy Dalton could be without 3 players who are responsible for 51% of the Bengals touchdown receptions and 54% of their receiving yards this season but with the Chargers leaky red zone defence, they concede a touchdown on 62% of opponents visits to their red zone the Bengals should overcome any possible omissions.
The Bengals are favourites to win by between 7 and 12 points, although you can get shorter odds on the Bengals winning by 18 points than on the Chargers winning and I think that demonstrates how much of an uphill battle Phillip Rivers faces as the Chargers head for the north bank of the Ohio river. The Bengals home advantage should be key to the result, but points could be hard come by with such harsh temperatures to do battle with, so the Bengals by less than 6 would seem a wise selection.