CINCINNATI – Marvin Lewis can end all those comparisons with Susan Lucci’s long run of futility – his in the NFL postseason, hers in the Emmys. The Bengals can break one of the longest playoff droughts in league history.
Or they can ...
Well, they don’t even want to think about the alternative. The Bengals (11-5) will either break free of their playoff past or add another moment to the franchise’s recent history of being a big-game dud.
The AFC North champions will play host to the San Diego Chargers (9-7) with everything in their favor: playing at home, where they’ve been invincible this season; facing a West Coast team playing in the Midwest cold; getting a rematch with a team they pushed around only a month ago.
It has been a long time since they’ve had this good a chance to get their first playoff win since the 1990 season and end the seventh-longest streak of postseason futility in NFL history.
We’re not going to get any of (the media) to shut up about it until we win, said Lewis, who is 0-4 in the playoffs as a head coach. That’s the way it is and I told them that this morning, flatly, OK?
Win and you won’t have to worry about it.
The Chargers had to win four in a row to get into the playoffs and did it with the help of a missed field goal and an officiating error during an overtime win against Kansas City last Sunday.
Here are five things to watch today:
It’s cold outside
It won’t be like the other time the Chargers and Bengals met in the playoffs: below-zero temperatures and a wind chill of minus 59 for Cincinnati’s 27-7 win in the AFC title game at Riverfront Stadium on Jan. 10, 1982. But temperatures in the 30s and snow are expected. Regardless of the weather, the Bengals have been hot at home, going 8-0 for only the second time in franchise history.
All about Dalton
Third-year quarterback Andy Dalton is on the spot. In the Bengals’ playoff losses at Houston each of the last two seasons, he was sacked six times, threw four interceptions without a touchdown, and had a passer rating of 42.8. Dalton set franchise records with 33 touchdown passes and 4,296 yards passing this season, but the statistics that will matter are the ones today. A lot of pressure is on him.
Run for it
The Bengals ran for 164 yards – their second-highest total of the season – during a 17-10 victory in San Diego on Dec. 1, taking much of the pressure off Dalton.
Quarterback Philip Rivers has the Chargers back in the playoffs for the first time in four seasons after one of his best statistical seasons. Rivers completed a team-record, career-best and NFL-leading 69.5 percent of his passes for 4,478 yards, third highest of his career, with 32 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions.
The Chargers have undergone a dramatic roster turnover since their last playoff appearance, a home loss to the New York Jets after the 2009 season, when San Diego went 13-3. Seven players remain. Six of them have playoff experience: Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates, center Nick Hardwick, right guard Jeromey Clary, safety Eric Weddle and punter Mike Scifres. Ten Chargers have playoff experience with other teams. Everyone else is a newbie.