The Cincinnati Bengals have their first home playoff game since winning the AFC North in 2009. The Bengals square off against the sixth seed, the San Diego Chargers. Both teams had met earlier in the season and the Bengals won 17-10, although the score made it seem closer than it really was.
Strangely enough, the Bengals were away at the game, being one of their three wins on the road. The Bengals are looking for their first playoff win in over 20 years, the longest active drought in the NFL.
Here are six aspects to the Bengals-Chargers game that will be extremely critical for the Bengals to come away with their much awaited playoff victory.
Dec 29, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) celebrates after throwing a pass for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
1. Andy Dalton
The biggest factor for how far the Bengals go will be Andy Dalton. He doesn’t have to make many huge plays, but rather cut back on the turnovers in the playoffs. Dalton set franchise records this year and brought the Bengals to the playoffs three years in a row, the first time in franchise history.
Dalton has the skill set and accuracy to make the throws, but he has to maintain the mentality. With the Bengals wanting to beat the Chargers, the passing game may have to be a huge part because of the Chargers being able to score.
If Dalton limits his mistakes and continues to play clutch in key situations, he may finally get the playoff drought monkey not only off of his back, but the Bengals back as well. Expect the Chargers to blitz numerous times, but Dalton’s quick read and sneaky athleticism will allow him to make plays.
The Bengals did not really attack the Chargers deep in the first game, so this week they may finally do so; as Dalton is second in the NFL in completions when the ball travels 20+ yards through the air.
Dalton was a young quarterback his first two seasons, expected to make mistakes in the playoffs; but now this team is his, and they will go where he leads. This is the first path that Dalton must lead his team through.