As a Chargers Beat Writer, you will probably hear my optimistic bias.
The fact that San Diego already played Cincinnati at home, has got to be an advantage.
The Chargers fell 17-10 to Bengals at home back in week 13. Really you could argue they lost 24-10, as the Bengals took a ‘pitty’ knee at the San Diego 1-yard line.
Defense is the Bengals strength. With that said, the Chargers actually played pretty well in week 13. Well, that is as far as yards go. Antonio Gates was the unlikely cause of two turnovers in the redzone. Philip Rivers was driving a majority of the game, but these turnovers cost the Chargers points, and inevitably the game. Keenan Allen also lost a fumble at the end of the game that was eventually ‘made up for’ by a Eric Weddle forced fumble, but this drained crucial minutes off the game clock.
If the Chargers can limit the turnovers, they have a legitimate shot verse one of the best defenses in the NFL.
What this will really come down to is the Chargers defense. They have played better in the second half of the season, but still struggle mightily against the run at times, and in pass coverage. They are not getting enough pressure on the quarterback which does not help their below average cornerbacks in the passing game. San Diego will have to lock down receivers AJ Green, Sanu, Marvin Jones, and Andre Hawkins. All players are explosive big-play receivers.
The key to this game for the San Diego defense is stopping the run. They got dominated in week 13 and will need to limit the number of rushes to give Philip more possessions.
John Pagano needs to keep up with the exotic looks and blitzes to keep Andy Dalton on his heels. The thing that differs in this Wild Card matchup verse week 13 is that the Chargers defense will have some key players back. Melvin Ingram is finally back getting extensive playing time. He will be crucial in the pass rush. Jarrett Johnson was also injured and sat out verse the Bengals in week 13. He is the most tenured player on the defensive front 7 and probably the best run stuffer.
Furthermore, the Chargers will have Eddie Royal who did not play last time. I think the offensive key is to get Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green going. The Bengals one weakness on defense all season has been their ability to guard Elite Tightends. Chargers need to get these guys going and they will have a chance in Cincinnati.
With the momentum and tone of how the season has gone, it could be argued that Chargers have an edge. They have gone into Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Denver to beat playoff teams on the road. Anything is possible.