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 cementing moment to the franchise’s recent history of being a big-game dud.
The AFC North champions will host 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’s 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 are just relieved to have the chance. They 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.
“So we’ve kind of been in that playoff mode for a few weeks,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “It’s important for us not to change anything as far as how we approach this game. If we win, we’ll move on and if not, we’re done — that’s kind of what it’s been like, at least from my standpoint, for the last few weeks.”
They’ve got a streak of their own to break. Their last playoff victory on the road in an open-air stadium? At Pittsburgh for the AFC title during the 1994 season.
Five things to watch on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:
BABY 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. They’ve scored 49, 41, 42, 42 and 34 points in their last five games at Paul Brown. Of all the playoff teams, the Bengals have the second-biggest point differential between their home and road games. Only New Orleans has a bigger discrepancy.
ALL ABOUT ANDY DALTON — The third-year quarterback is on the spot. In the Bengals’ playoff losses at Houston each of the last two seasons, he has been sacked six times, thrown four interceptions without a touchdown, and has a passer rating of 42.8. Dalton set franchise records with 33 touchdown passes and 4,296 yards passing this season, but the stats that will matter are the ones on Sunday. 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. They averaged 4.3 yards per carry, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis running for 92 and Giovani Bernard adding 57 yards. Most impressively, they got the ball back with 4:43 left and ran it eight plays in a row, converting a pair of third downs to run out the clock.
RIVERS ROLLS — 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. His passer rating of 105.5 was a career best and tied the team record. Rivers also set a team mark for single-season completions with 378.
REVAMPED BOLTS — The Chargers have undergone a dramatic roster turnover since their last playoff appearance, a home loss to the New York Jets following the 2009 season, when San Diego went 13-3. Only 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.
First positive case of COVID-19 confirmed in Barton County