Two teams hoping to end long playoff losing streaks clash as the Cincinnati Bengals host the San Diego Chargers in Sunday’s AFC wild card game at Paul Brown Stadium.
Riding a four-game winning streak, a lot had to fall into place last week for the Chargers (9-7) to make the playoffs. They needed a 27-24 overtime victory over Kansas City along with losses by Baltimore and Miami for their first playoff appearance since 2009.
The Chargers haven't pulled out a playoff victory since 2008, while the Bengals (11-5) haven’t moved beyond the wild card round since 1990. The Bengals made the postseason for the third straight year, the first time in franchise history, and winning the AFC North afforded them a more favorable home playoff game. The Bengals were 8-0 at home during the regular season, and the Chargers were 4-4 on the road.
Despite long playoff droughts for both clubs, they have met before in the postseason. Thanks to four Charger turnovers, Cincinnati pulled out a 27-7 victory in the 1981 conference title game.
Quarterback Andy Dalton broke two Bengals passing records last week with 33 passing touchdowns and 4,296 yards this season, but also threw four interceptions in the 34-17 victory over Baltimore, eliminating the defending champions.
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Dalton has also thrown 20 interceptions this season, a concern for the Bengals ahead of Sunday’s game. In two playoff games, Dalton has tossed four interceptions, while completing 57 percent of his passes for a 48.6 rating.
The Bengals third-ranked defense helped Dalton by forcing three interceptions, including one returned 21 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in the fourth quarter that clinched the victory. Cincinnati also stymied Baltimore to a 4-for-15 third down rate, and 47 yards rushing.
The Chargers needed a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback to tie the rival Chiefs reserves last week, capped by two clutch field goals by kicker Nick Novak. Quarterback Philip Rivers, who was tops in the regular season with a 69.5 completion percentage, fired off three touchdowns with one interception and running back Ryan Matthews gained a career-high 144 yards.
It was the sixth time this season Matthews broke the century mark, but the fourth-year back is currently questionable with an injured ankle. He missed practice for a second straight day on Thursday, according to the team’s official site.
Same goes for receiver and returner Eddie Royal due his nagging toe injury. Royal is tied with rookie receiver Keenan Allen for the team lead with eight receiving touchdowns. As of now, it appears the Chargers are exercising caution with both Royal and Matthews.
The Bengals also limiting some of their top defensive players ahead of facing the Chargers fifth-ranked offense. Kirkpatrick (illness) and and corner Terence Newman have sat out practice all week, and linebacker Vincent Rey (ankle) has been limited.
Betting Odds: Cincinnati favored by 7
Over/Under: 47 points
Time: Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET
Prediction: Cincinnati 30, San Diego 20