Super Bowl 2014: Chargers-Bengals & 49ers-Packers Cap Off First Weekend of Playoff Action
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The AFC North champions Cincinnati Bengals host the AFC wild-card San Diego Chargers in Sunday's National Football League (NFL) Playoff action while the NFC wild-card, and last year's Super Bowl runner-up, San Francisco 49ers travel to the frigid Midwest, which is being punished with sub-zero degree weather, to battle the Green Bay Packers, in a rematch from last year's NFL Division Playoffs game.
San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
(Credits: USA TODAY Sports/Kirby Lee (R) & Mark Zerof (L))
Rain and snow is the forecast for Sunday afternoon, according to Weather.com, giving the Bengals a distinct advantage over the team based out of Southern California. The Bengals roll into the playoffs winning five out of their six last games, including knocking out the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens out of playoff contention in the last week of the season, defeating them 34-17 in Week 17.
Bengals QB Andy Dalton had a solid year completing 61.9 percent of his passes and throwing for 4,296 yards during the season, with 33 touchdowns (third in the NFL) and 20 interceptions. Dalton is making his third consecutive appearance, having lost to the Houston Texans in his last two postseason games and hopes to shed past disappointments after throwing four interceptions, no touchdowns, and taking six sacks in both games against the Texans. Dalton will look to get the ball into WR A.J. Green's hands, who has 11 touchdowns for the year, catching 98 passes for 1,426 yards for the year.
The Bengals defense has been the strength of the team that has propelled them to 11 victories despite losing DT Geno Atkins and CB Leon Hall to season-ending injuries early in the year. Second year LB Vontaze Burfict led the team with 171 tackles and Wallace Gilberry had a career-high 7.5 sacks for unit that allowed an AFC-best 305.6 yards per game and allowed only 19.1 points per game.
The Chargers, who are on a four-game winning streak, got into the playoffs after the referees botched a call in San Diego's Week 17 overtime win against the Kansas City Chiefs that allowed them to earn the victory and get past the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC wild-card standings. Chargers QB Philip Rivers had an excellent year, who finished the year fourth in the league in touchdowns (32), completing 69.5 percent of his passes for 4,478 yards this season.
The Chargers defense will have their hands full against the Bengals potent offense, having allowed 366.5 yards per game this season, ranked 23rd in sacks (35 sacks), 26th in interceptions (11 interceptions), and lacking dynamic play-makers on the defensive side of the ball that can create turnovers.
Predictions: The Bengals have shown they can beat San Diego, beating the Chargers at Quaalcom Stadium in Week 13 of the season, with A.J. Green catching for 83 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers defense. Green and WR Marvin Jones should give Dalton the necessary weapons to pick apart a Chargers' secondary has not improved despite a four-game winning streak, which should allow for the Bengals win their first playoff game since 1991.
TV: 1:05 p.m. on CBS
San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
(Credits: USA TODAY Sports/Mark J. Rebilas (L) & Mike DiNovo (R))
Weather.com expects temperatures to drop to three degrees with a potential wind chill of -25F degrees and possible snow showers by kick-off time at Lambeau Field, where the 49ers will face the Packers in the last game of the first week of the NFL Playoffs.
Aaron Rodgers returned to the starting lineup last weekend, after suffering a broken clavicle that kept him out for seven weeks, helping the Packers get into the playoffs by defeating the Chicago Bears in Week 17 in a winner-take-all game in which Green Bay won the NFC North division and a playoff berth. Despite some early rustiness, going 14 of 22 for 145 yards with two interceptions in the first half, Rodgers rebounded and went 11 of 17 for 173 yards in the second half, including two touchdowns and an 87-yard game-winning drive, converting three times on fourth down.
The Packers defense has struggled, ending the season ranked 25th in the defense, without LB Clay Matthews - who has been in and out of the lineup with various injuries including a thumb injury that prevented him from playing against the Bears in Week 17. Green Bay's defense does still possess a knack to get to opposing quarterbacks, with 44 sacks this season, including career-highs in the category for LBs A.J. Hawk (5), Mike Neal (5), Nick Perry (5) as well as DT Mike Daniels (6.5).
Green Bay's defense will have its hands full against 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, who threw for 412 passing yards and three touchdowns against the Packers opening week. Kaepernick has led the team to a six-game win streak, completing 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,395 yards with 10 touchdowns and only one interception during that stretch.
San Francisco's defense has been excellent, allowing only 95.9 rushing yards per game - ranked third in the league, while allowing 316.9 yards per game (fifth best in the league), and ranked third in scoring defense.
Predictions: Kaepernick has had great success against the Packers defense in the postseason, rushing for an NFL record 181 yards last year - including two touchdowns, but the below-zero weather may effect how well he plays against Green Bay. While 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh points out that Kaepernick has experience playing in the cold from his days at Reno with the University of Nevada, it is not the same as playing in Wisconsin with such intense wind chill. Expect Kaepernick to freeze up against the Packers in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.
TV: 4:40 p.m. on Fox
Live Stream (online)
Live stream coverage can be seen on NFL RedZone.
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