Meeting for just the second time ever in the postseason, the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers aim for the next round in Sunday afternoon’s AFC Wild Card game at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals beat the Chargers 27-7 in the 1981 AFC title game, advancing to the first of the franchise’s two Super Bowl appearances. That success aside, Cincinnati is seeking its first playoff victory since 1990.
The Chargers earned their first postseason berth since 2009, just barely claiming the final wild card slot. They’re last playoff win came in Wild Card round in 2008.
Due to re-seeding, should No. 3 seed and AFC North champ Cincinnati win they’ll face New England in the Divisional round, but if the No. 6 Chargers prevail they’ll take on AFC West rival Denver.
A seven-point underdog, San Diego’s chances for an upset were bolstered when leading running back Ryan Matthews was elevated to probable after Friday’s practice. Gaining a career-high 1,255 yards and six touchdowns, Matthews was bothered by an ankle injury before the regular season finale and rushed for 144 yards in the postseason-clinching game.
The Chargers still have some concerns over receiver Eddie Royal (toe) and defensive end/tackle Sean Lissemore (shoulder), as both are still listed as questionable for Sunday.
Along with rookie Keenan Allen, Royal is tied for the team-lead with eight receiving touchdowns, and both were big targets for quarterback Philip Rivers in the Chargers fourth ranked pass offense.
Rivers is 3-4 in seven career postseason starts, with eight touchdown passes to nine interceptions, and a 58.5 completion percentage for a 79.2 passer rating.
Rivers will take on a Bengals defense that was ranked third overall in the regular season, and fifth against the pass, but could once again miss corner back Terence Newman. Tied for the team lead with 14 passes defended and second with two interceptions, Newman hasn’t played since Week 14’s blowout win over Indianapolis due to an injured knee.
Second-year corner Dre Kirkpatrick has stepped up in Newman’s absence, especially last week with three passes defended, and two interceptions with one returned 21 yards for a touchdown.
Tight ends Jermaine Grisham (hamstring) and Tyler Eifert (neck), defensive end Wallace Gilberry (concussion), and center Kyle Cook (foot) also are listed as questionable.
The Chargers 23rd ranked defense could have their hands full with Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green. Dalton set new franchise records for passing yardage and touchdowns this season, and though Green was slowed by a knee injury in the second half of the season he still managed new career-highs of 98 receptions and 1,426 yards for 11 touchdowns.
Seventh-year safety Eric Weddle headlines the Chargers secondary with a team-high 115 tackles and 10 passes defended, and serves as San Diego’s best chance of slowing Green and Dalton.
Betting Odds: Cincinnati -7
Over/Under: 46.5 points
Time: Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Live Online Info: NFL Sunday Ticket
Prediction: Cincinnati 30, San Diego 24