Wild Card Weekend Preview: San Diego @ Cincinnati

A.J Green poses defenses problems with his speed/size combination and excellent hands

Yesterday saw two thrilling wild card games played in Indianapolis and Philadelphia, so hopefully tonight brings similar entertainment as we find out who joins the Colts and Saints in the divisional round of the post-season. The first game up is between the Chargers, who just about backed into the play-offs as the sixth seed, and the AFC north champion Bengals.

The Match-up

San Diego Chargers (9-7) @ Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)

Paul Brown Stadium

1.05 (ET) Kick Off

When San Diego has the ball..

Phillip Rivers is at the controls of a Chargers offense which ranked fifth in the league in yards per game during the regular season. Rivers had a nice bounce back year after a below par campaign a year ago, throwing for 4,478 yards and posting a 3:1 touchdown to interception ratio. Tight end Antonio Gates remains Rivers favourite target and the former college basketball star caught 77 passes for 872 yards, although somewhat surprisingly Gates only hit pay-dirt four times. Wide receivers Keenan Allen and Eddie Royal both totaled eight touchdowns however, so the Bengals will have to keep their eyes on that pair down in the red zone as well as the dangerous Gates.

Ryan Matthews was again solid in the run game for San Diego, racking up 1,255 yards and six touchdowns during the season to offer a change of pace to the offense. Off-season addition Danny Woodhead also excelled on the west coast albeit primarily as a receiving option out of the backfield, catching 76 balls and offering Rivers a reliable safety net in the passing game.

A key figure on the Cincy defense is middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict who amassed a thousand 171 tackles on the season and is a powerful run stopper. Ray Maualuga is another Bengals linebacker who specialises in stopping the run. Neither offer a pass rushing threat and as a result that’s often one area where Cincinnati can be found wanting on defense. No one on the team recorded more than 7.5 sacks this season and the teams total of 35 represents mediocrity in that area, although the Bengals did return four interceptions for touchdowns in 2013 so Rivers will want to be careful with the football as this Cincy defense has shown an ability to capitalise on opposing quarterbacks mistakes.

When Cincinnati has the ball..

In a similar mould to San Diego the Bengals offense is predominantly based on moving the ball through the air, with quarterback Andy Dalton able to call on weapons including receivers A.J Green and Marvin Jones. Green caught an astounding 98 balls for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns, firmly establishing him as one of the top three receivers in football. Jones also had an excellent season and although he recorded just 51 catches 10 of those went for touchdowns and he averaged a dynamic 14 yards per reception.

BenJarvus Green Ellis and Giovani Bernard tend to split the load in the running game although Green Ellis averages a paltry 3.4 yards per carry so Bernard could see more action than usual during this play-off run. Defensively the Chargers will try to stop the Bengals with standout players such as safety Eric Weddle and linebacker Manti Te’o. Weddle led the team in tackles and also tied for the team lead in interceptions with two so you can bet Dalton will try and throw to whichever side of the field that Weddle isn’t occupying.

Special Teams

Chargers kicker Nick Novak had a superb season, nailing nine of nine attempts from over 40 yards and offering a reliable option for first year coach Mike McCoy. Mike Nugent was also a steady presence for Cincinnati, although neither kicker possesses an elite leg.

Don’t expect to see any fireworks in the return game tonight as neither side returned a punt or kick off for a touchdown this year. Each side also performed well when covering punts and kick offs so any theatrics in that department would come as a surprise.

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