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NFL playoff preview: Chargers at Bengals

San Diego needs Philip Rivers to keep his hot hand in cold weather.

January 04, 2014|By Sam Farmer
  • Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17), handing off to Ryan Mathews, had his best season, leading the NFL in completion percentage (69.5%) while passing for 4,478 yards with 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17), handing off to Ryan Mathews,… (Joel Auerbach / Getty Images )

The Chargers beat long odds to get into the playoffs, so they aren’t saddled with the weight of expectations. They won their final four games of the regular season, and five of the last six, to reach the postseason for the first time since the 2009 season.

Quarterback Philip Rivers has had his best season, completing a league-leading 69.5% of his passes for 4,478 yards with 32 touchdowns with and 11 interceptions. He has reversed the trend of the previous three seasons, when he had 48 interceptions to go with his 83 touchdowns.

He faces a difficult challenge against a smothering Bengals defense that got the better of four Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in Cincinnati this season, beating teams led by Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Joe Flacco. Those players combined for three touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 56.7. The Bengals were undefeated at Paul Brown Stadium this season, scoring six defensive touchdowns and winning by an average score margin of 34-17.

(Tw)Ice Bowl

Temperature-wise, the coldest NFL game on record was the “Ice Bowl,” when Dallas played at Green Bay in December 1967 and the mercury dipped to minus-13.

But the coldest windchill for a game — minus-59 — came in the 1981 AFC championship game when the San Diego played at Cincinnati in the “Freezer Bowl.”

This year’s San Diego-Cincinnati Chargers-Bengals game doesn’t figure to be that cold, but it won’t be comfortable, either. The Sunday forecast calls for a high of 34 and low of minus-6.

That’s not to say the Chargers will be entirely out of their element. They posted victories this season in cold-weather games at Kansas City and Denver.

Player to watch

San Diego running back Ryan Mathews rushed for 1,255 yards, the franchise’s first player to reach the 1,200-yard mark since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2007. Mathews led the AFC with 534 yards rushing in December, and gained a total of 92 yards against the Bengals (61 yards rushing, 31 receiving).

By the numbers

How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for sacks and turnover differential, which is for the season (league rank in parentheses):

Categroy   |   SD   |          CIN
Points scored  |  24.8 (12)  |  26.9 (6)
Points allowed | 21.8 (11)  |  19.1 (5)
Pass offense  |  270.5 (4)  |  258.5 (8)
Rush offense  |  122.8 (13)  |  109.7 (18)
Pass defense  |  258.7 (29)  |   209.0 (5)
Rush defense  |  107.8 (12)  |  96.5 (5)
Sacks |  35 (23)  |  43 (10)
Penalty yards  |  47.8 (9)  |  62.5 (27)
Turnovers  |  -4 (20)  |  +1 (13)

Farmer’s pick

The Chargers have a tendency to win games they shouldn’t win and lose games they shouldn’t lose. They are capable of pulling off road upsets, as they did against the Eagles, Chiefs and Broncos. Their biggest challenge will be avoiding the explosive plays by Cincinnati, especially with coverage breakdowns. CHARGERS 21, BENGALS 20

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