San Diego Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals (-7)
The Bengals put the Chargers playoff hopes out of reach with a 17-10 win at San Diego in early December. Thanks to a 4-game win streak and a lot of help, the Chargers find themselves with a chance at vengeance in Cincinnati on Sunday. With eyes on the Super Bowl, Andy Dalton and company look to put their recent playoff woes behind them in what could be a down-to-the-wire affair.
San Diego Chargers Game Plan
Philip Rivers has adapted seamlessly into Mike McCoy’s system. The no-huddle, quick-release offense has given Rivers control and kept him off the grass. As a result, he’s seen a significant decrease in turnovers and kept the Chargers in contention every week. But it wasn’t until Ryan Mathews began to breakout that San Diego’s run of bad luck began to turn. The Chargers won four straight to nab the last playoff spot, as Mathews ran for 99 yards or more in every game during that stretch. They’ll need him to provide balance on offense if they have any shot at pulling off the upset on Sunday.
Keys to Success:
- Maintain balance on offense – Ryan Mathews needs to be a factor in this game. A one-dimensional effort against this Bengals defense is a recipe for disaster.
- Veteran Support – The Bengals will undoubtedly try to neutralize offensive rookie of the year candidate, Keenan Allen. In postseason games, veterans typically need to shoulder the load. Royal and Gates need to stay involved in the offense and exploit the holes injuries have left in the Bengals secondary.
- Contain A.J. Green – Dalton has a wealth of weapons on offense this year with the emergence of Marvin Jones and rookie sensation Gio Bernard. But when the going gets tough, Dalton puts his trust in All-Pro receiver A.J. Green. The 6’4” wide-out is a walking momentum swing. His big-play ability helps Cincinnati mask a lot of its offensive ineptitude. If the Chargers can contain him, and prevent the back-breaking deep balls, they’ve got a real shot in this game.
Prop Bets I Like:
Total Rushing Yards – Ryan Mathews Over 82.5 yards (-115). While I do believe the Bengals will key on the run, I also believe the Chargers will stick with it. Over the last 4 games, Mathews has carried the ball 29, 29, 25 and 24 times. As I said before, Mathews was the spark that really kick-started this Chargers winning streak. Expect Mathews to get at least 25 carries, meaning he’ll only need to average a measly 3.3 yards per carry to hit the over. Very doable in my eyes.
In seven career postseason starts, Philip Rivers is 3-4, with a completion percentage of 59% (down six points from his career regular season average of 65%). He’s also thrown just 8 touchdowns to 9 interceptions, posting a QBR below 50 in 5 of his 7 playoff contests.
Cincinnati Bengals Game Plan:
The Bengals need to find the balanced attack they exhibited in their last meeting with the Chargers. In the last three weeks, Cincy has really struggled to run the ball, relying on Dalton’s arm – an arm that has been wildly inconsistent over the years. If the Bengals can control the clock with Bernard and Green-Ellis and capitalize on red zone opportunities, it’ll be tough for Rivers and company to keep up against the vaunted Bengal defense.
Keys to Success:
- Ground and Pound – Control the clock with Bernard and Green-Ellis. Force San Diego to respect the run, opening up big play potential with the play-action to A.J. Green.
- Pressure Rivers – Rivers climbed to third in the NFL in total QBR this year, largely driven by his ability to get the ball out quickly to his receivers and running backs. The Bengals need to dial up unique ways to get pressure on Rivers. He has clearly struggled with pressure in the past.
- Eliminate the Woodhead factor – Rivers looks to Woodhead a lot on third downs and in the red zone. If the Bengals can take that option away from Rivers, it’ll disrupt a lot of the things the Chargers like to do on key downs and situations.
Prop Bets I Like:
Total Receiving Yards – A.J. Green Over 87.5 (-115). Green has been pretty hot or cold this season. In fact, he went under 87.5 yards just as much as he went over it in 2013 (8 times). But this week, I see Green eclipsing that plateau. Frankly, he’s due. In two career playoff games he’s been targeted 11 and 12 times. Dalton looks to him early and often when the stakes are highest. As explosive as Green is, he could knock off 75% of that total with one deep ball. I think he does. Look for Green to go for 115+ and a TD in his best playoff performance to date.
Andy Dalton’s postseason resume is even more unimpressive than Rivers’. In two starts (both at Houston), Dalton averaged less than 200 yards passing, throwing 0 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, with total QBRs of 15.1 and 25.1. On the other hand, the Bengals are home for the first time in Dalton’s career, where they finished 8-0 this year. More importantly, the Bengals were 8-0 against the spread at Paul Brown Stadium.
Prediction: Bengals 31 Chargers 20
While I do believe the Chargers keep it close, it’s tough to bet against the home dog with a top-5 defense. As good as Rivers has been, the Chargers have been shaky without balance from the run. It will be difficult to get Mathews going against the NFL’s fifth best run stoppers. Expect Dalton to put forth a much improved effort in the confines of his home stadium, and Cincy’s defense to force a turnover or two to help them cover the spread. As far as I’m concerned, the AFC is up for grabs. Don’t be surprised to see the Bengals make a run at it.
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