By Will Martin
San Diego Chargers vs Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday – January 5 – 12:05 PM
Paul Brown Stadium – Cincinnati
Today marks 33 years since absolute heartbreak happened in the heart of Cleveland Ohio.
The second of three years in a row Lake Erie was privy to a bunch players dubbed ‘The Kardiac Kids’ would make their way into the playoffs on a day one could only describe as blustery and cold. Wind chill was -36.
The following year in Cincinnati would top -59.
There was an opponent that season who surprised many of the experts with their style of play with a back up quarterback after Dan Pastorini went down with a broken leg. His name was Jim Plunkett. That playoff season was about to get interesting for him and for the Raiders as Cleveland fell at home 14-12. Fans still refuse to talk about that 33 years later.
This weekend the Wild Cards start off the procession of excitement that leads up to the Super Bowl. That being said every once in a while there is a team that manages to catch fire at the right time leading up to the big game.
We saw it in 1975 with the Dallas Cowboys as a Wild Card, Oakland in 1980, most recently the New York Giants twice turned it on in 2007 and 2011 to fend off a New England team that had hopes of one undefeated season. We might have a scenario in place now.
San Diego backed their way into a playoff spot when the Ravens lost on the road at Cincinnati and Miami lost at home to the New York Jets. Neither team could win and get in. All San Diego had to do was win. Paul McCartney was certainly nearby. Why?
With a little luck, a non-call of a field goal gone awry, and an illegal defensive alignment that the refs never called which cost the Steelers a playoff spot, San Diego gets in and they play in one of the four games this weekend in Ohio.
All season long we heard all about Peyton Manning and his 50 TD passes and 5500 yards throwing. All of that good and well deserved. Flying under that radar ever so quietly were the San Diego Chargers and their quarterback Philip Rivers.
4,478 yards passing for 32 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions. Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead each averaging over four yards a carry for 1,700 yards together. There’s also that Four Horsemen quartet of Antonio Gates, Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead, and Eddie Royal with 26 touchdowns between them and 3,164 yards.
This team could become the Giants, Cowboys, and Raiders of Wild Cards past!
To the Bengals credit they too have had a successful season making a return trip to the playoffs and a home game. Andy Dalton had nice numbers for himself. 4,293 yards passing 33 touchdowns and a very high interception ratio of 20. His quarterback rating is a tad under 89 with safety valves in Benjarvis Green-Ellis (756 yards with 3.4 yards a carry), Giovanni Bernard (695 yards on 4.1 yards a carry), and a fine receiver set with A.J. Green touching the ball 98 times for 11 touchdowns and 1,426 yards. Also in the fray you must mention the name Marvin Jones (51 catches and 712 yards).
On paper this looks like a good matchup. Keep in mind that San Diego has a better average in yards per game (393 vs. 368), passing yards (270 vs. 258), rushing yards (122 vs. 110), third down conversions (49% vs. 41%), and time of possession (2015 vs. 1969).
Defensively Cincinnati leads in all categories mentioned if you reverse the sides. Even so Mr. Will is going to run with a crazy theory and some even crazier history.
The theory? That the Bengals will make the mistake of taking San Diego lightly after having knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Mentally that sometimes gets into your psyche. If Andy Dalton gets the pickoff yips early Marvin Lewis will continue to be winless in the postseason. Look for San Diego to play some smart ball control offense in chilly conditions although nothing like 32 years ago when the word ‘Striper Bowl’ was being used.
I’ve talked about this for some time now and will retell this again. The Philadelphia Eagles have been the enablers of Super Bowl winners. Why? Well prior to this year the last three years whoever the opponent was when the Eagles played their home opener-win or lose-that team went on to win the Super Bowl! Green Bay, New York Giants, Baltimore. This year the team that played in Philadelphia’s home opener?
The San Diego Chargers!
For added verification here’s what I said back in September. I will stand by this for now. Denver has already been defeated by the Chargers at home. Who’s to say it can’t happen again? Remember when oddsmakers were giving the Chargers 45-1 odds to make the Super Bowl. Not a bad bet now huh?
Should the Bengals actually win this game I eat crow and we move on. This is supposed to just be a preview to one game. Yet I look ahead to what all the ‘experts’ are going to say when the Chargers advance this second season. You might want to thank the Broncos for allowing them to fly under the radar all season.
Prediction: Chargers 30 Bengals 22 and not without some controversy.