The third playoff game of the season will take place on Sunday as the San Diego Chargers head to Cincinnati to play the Bengals. While the Bengals easily won their division for a playoff spot, the Chargers snuck into the playoffs thanks to a nail-biting win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
While the Chargers certainly feel fortunate to have secured a spot in the postseason, their desire and ambition to reach the Super Bowl is no different than any other playoff team.
As for the Bengals, they have had the Super Bowl in their cross-hairs all season, and now that the playoffs have arrived, they are in great position to demonstrate how dangerous they truly are.
To get a good idea of what type of action will take place on Sunday, it is important to look at the type of journey each team has had to get to this point and what type of things to watch for when they match up against each other on game day.
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When: Sunday, Jan. 5, 11 a.m. MST
Where: Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati
On TV: CBS
The Chargers have done surprisingly well in a division that is one of the toughest in the NFL. With both the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs playing elite football this year, the Chargers have surprisingly held their ground and hung with them.
While losses to the Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders in the first half of the season were discouraging, the Chargers managed to snatch up some impressive wins as well, including against the Philadelphia Eagles, Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and Chiefs, all of which are playoff teams.
With quarterback Philip Rivers under center, the Chargers have a chance in every game because of their ability to move the ball and score. San Diego ended the season on a four-game win streak to finish its season with a 9-7 record.
Cincinnati came into the 2013 season with Super Bowl hopes. With a promising young quarterback in Andy Dalton and play-makers at the wide receiver position in A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, the Bengals' pass offense was set for a good year.
Throughout the season, the Bengals played extremely well and had several impressive wins. Among those victories were wins against the Colts, Patriots and Packers, all of which are current playoff teams.
Their offense, combined with a hard-nosed and physical defense that excelled at stopping the run, made for one of the most well-balanced teams in the NFL. Cincinnati's balance between running the ball and passing down field was a combination that kept defenses on their toes and proved to be near impossible to stop. The Bengals finished with an 11-5 record.
In Week 13 of this season, the Chargers and Bengals faced off in San Diego, a game in which Cincinnati's ability to keep San Diego out of the red zone ended up being the difference-maker as Cincinnati won 17-10. The balanced Bengals offense rushed for 164 yards and passed for 190.
Although the Chargers have an explosive offense, the Bengals' blue-collar style defense really prevented San Diego from getting into the end zone, and forced three turnovers.
It is likely that the Bengals will use the win in Week 13 as a map of how to beat the Chargers again. However, San Diego has been hotter than ever on this win streak, and chances are it won't make the same mistakes this time around.
The past three Super Bowl winners (Ravens, Giants, Packers) were lower seeded teams that got hot at the right time. The Chargers are in a good position to do just that as they are currently riding a four-game win streak.
San Diego has the fourth best passing offense in the NFL, averaging 270.5 yards per game, thanks to Rivers, who led the league in completion percentage at 69.5 percent.
The Bengals have a strong passing attack of their own, averaging 258.7 yards per game, which ranks eighth in the NFL. But what makes the Bengals an elite team in the league is their impressively stout defense, which ranks fifth in the league in both passing and rushing yards allowed per game.
The Bengals were also a perfect 8-0 this season at home, making Cincinnati an incredibly tough place to play. For San Diego to have a chance, it will really have to limit its mistakes.
Even if San Diego plays its best football, it will be extremely difficult to get a win this weekend. The Bengals may be hungrier for a playoff win than any team currently in the playoffs. After all, Cincinnati hasn't won a playoff game in 23 years.
Brad Sorensen (Southern Utah), San Diego quarterback
Eric Weddle (Utah), San Diego safety