COMMENTARY | First of all, congratulations are in order for the San Diego Chargers and their fans for finishing the season 9-7 and making the playoffs. And kudos to the six of you out there who thought that scenario was even remotely possible.
Second, I feel like I owe an apology here for being so wrong in my predictions for the team all season. It takes a big man to admit that he's wrong and I am definitely a big man -- especially after all that holiday binge eating.
Maybe it was all the Norv Turner years of terribleness or maybe it was the fact that Chargers' defense had been playing so poorly, but it seemed like the team had no chance of even making it to 8-8.
Their defense is actually the big story over the last five weeks. Looking back as far as the game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the defense has actually been one of the best in the league -- most notably being very stingy about allowing big passing plays.
I wrote before that Phillip Rivers deserved some serious MVP consideration, but the offense as a whole has been above-average for the last few weeks -- controlling the time of possession and scoring the points that need to be scored.
A rematch this week with the Bengals is a very winnable game. The Chargers have proved they can keep the score close with anyone. On a neutral field, I'd give the edge to the Bengals, but the game is supposed to have some kind of wintery snow-rain-ice weather that makes it anyone's game.
Here's a look at the Chargers in some of this week's NFL power rankings for the playoffs. (I've adjusted the numbers to count only the playoff teams -- removing the hard-luck Arizona Cardinals.)
Yahoo -- Frank Schwab -- No. 12
"Before moving on to their playoff opener, it needs to be asked … how on earth did they almost lose at home to the Chiefs' backups?"
Heading into last weekend, the Chargers were "not mathematically eliminated." We've all heard that phrase before but it's usually just a way to prolong the inevitable. Then Miami and Baltimore lost (both for the second week in a row) and suddenly they went from "not mathematically eliminated" to "highly favored."
This was a position the Chargers weren't used to being in and it clearly affected their play -- giving up 14 easy points in the first 10 minutes. But they made the adjustments needed to keep them in the game.
Fox Sports -- Brian Billick -- No. 11
"Shouldn't this be the Steelers, anyway?"
Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop helped make the Chargers' dream come true by missing a somewhat easy field goal at the end of regulation. We've all seen kickers choke to lose a game for their team, but I don't think I can ever recall a missed field goal ruining someone else's playoff hopes. Ryan Succop Travel Tip: Stay out of Pittsburgh for the next few years until the heat dies down.
CBSSports.com -- Pete Prisco -- No. 12
"With Philip Rivers they are always dangerous. Their pass defense is a major concern."
Again, in a normal environment, the questionable (though performing better of late) pass defense would be a question mark. But that snow-rain-ice should work as an extra defender or two for the Chargers. Sure, it'll also help the Bengals to deal with Rivers, but with the way the running game has been clicking for San Diego, it's worthwhile tradeoff.
NFL.com -- Elliot Harrison -- No. 12
"Look, everyone knows the Chargers got lucky Sunday. Now that they're in, they just need to ball out like they did in Denver in Week 15. That starts with pounding the Bengals on the ground, which means Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead should have 30 carries combined. On the road and against that pass rush, San Diego should not put the game on Philip Rivers."
The Mathews/Woodhead running back combo has been very good the last month or so and the team will be forced to lean on them this week in adverse weather conditions. A lot of the teams they've faced recently have been weak against the run, but this combo has done well through most of the year.
ESPN.com -- No. 12
"Who are the Chargers? San Diego went 5-2 against teams that finished with a winning record, and 4-5 against teams that finished .500 or worse."
The Chargers certainly have been playing to the level of their competition all season -- winning and losing by mostly single-digit point margins regardless of how good or bad the opponent was. As weak as their defense has been all year, they keep the games close enough for their high-powered offense to have a chance.
Regardless of whether the Chargers win or lose this game against the Bengals, the team and fans should be delighted in having found a coach who clearly knows how to get the most out of every little bit that he has.
And with a few more key acquisitions to both sides of the ball, San Diego won't have to worry much about being "mathematically eliminated" in the years to come.
Jed Rigney is a Los Angeles-based award-winning filmmaker who also fancies himself a sportswriter. You can find him on Twitter @JedRigney.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- San Diego Chargers
- San Diego
- Phillip Rivers