The Cincinnati Bengals are in uncharted playoff territory before they even kick off on Jan. 5. In the last two years, the Bengals have gone to the playoffs with Andy Dalton and lost to the Houston Texans. This time around, Dalton will finally play in the postseason at Cincinnati, where he hasn't lost all season -- so he and the Bengals have little excuse to fall to the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers likely have no real right to be here, given how they started 5-7 and only clinched a playoff berth because of missed calls on Dec. 29. They also lost to the Bengals in San Diego on Dec. 1 before their run started, so asking the Chargers to get revenge in Cincinnati may be too much.
The weather will be chilly in Cincinnati, which traditionally doesn't favor San Diego -- although it won't be nearly as cold as it was in the Bengals' 1981 AFC title game win over the Chargers. The Bengals haven't had much postseason success since that day, as they are looking for their first playoff win in 23 years.
No matter what, the winner of this game will get to go on the road against an opponent they've beaten before. Should San Diego win, it will visit the Denver Broncos in the second round, a month after the Chargers got their signature win of the season in Denver. If the Bengals prevail, they will visit a New England Patriots club that they upset in Cincinnati early this year -- yet the rematch would be in New England.
The Chargers took on a team of destiny vibe in December, with all the improbable breaks they needed to get this far. Since the NFL postseason seems to favor teams of destiny these days, San Diego has to believe that it has a shot to do something. But although the Bengals are a No. 3 seed, it would be an upset if it got past the likes of the Broncos and Patriots to reach the Super Bowl, especially with their recent history.
This is Dalton's best chance to answer his January critics, while Philip Rivers and the Chargers can erase the ghosts of their own past January losses. Either way, one of these teams will make a breakthrough starting at 1 p.m. est on CBS.