TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
One week after beating the Dolphins in overtime in that epic playoff game in humid Miami Beach, they fell to the Bengals in the Freezer Bowl in the 1981 AFC title game. The wind-chill was 59-below and the Bolts lost, 27-7.
2006 rankings: Chargers: offense 3rd (2nd rush, 14th pass); defense 2nd (4th rush, 8th pass). Bengals: offense 18th (25th rush, 11th pass); defense 24th (24th rush, 21st pass)
PREDICTION: Chargers 24-23
KEYS TO THE GAME:
The Chargers shouldn't out-think themselves here, what with RB LaDainian Tomlinson on a rushing tear the last two weeks and the Bengals having issues stopping the run, where they are ranked No. 24 by coughing up nearly 130 ground yards a game.
But the Bengals will probably think the Chargers will come out running -- instead, look for them to establish the pass earlier than expected. The Chargers often picked on CB Deltha O'Neal back when he played for the Broncos, so look for them to target him, as well as try to get the hard-charging Justin Smith on a couple of screens his direction. Then, stick the ball in Tomlinson's gut and watch him go.
The Bengals have to improve in two key areas: third-down offense and rushing defense. They are converting just 31.7 percent on third downs while giving up 129.2 rushing yards per game, which has led to an average disparity of 5:12 in time of possession.
The Chargers will attempt to exploit that with RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who has rushed for 355 yards on 8.3 yards per carry with five touchdowns in his past two games. That includes nine runs of 10 yards or longer, so the Bengals have to find a way to eliminate the big plays on the ground.
The Bengals will go no-huddle during the course of the game, but QB Carson Palmer must keep RB Rudi Johnson involved in the game plan. It's in his own best interest to do so against the Chargers, who have 20 sacks in their past five games.
The Chargers' pass rush, which could get a boost from the return of Shaun Phillips, against a Bengals pass protection that has been uneven could prove to be the difference.
The Chargers are on a roll getting to the quarterback, despite their numerous injuries and suspensions. Phillips might come back in time to pester Carson Palmer. The Bengals will be missing LT Levi Jones and C Rich Braham, which could play in the Chargers' favor. The key will be succeeding on the early downs to Palmer up into obvious passing downs so the Chargers can get their pass-rushers on the field.
Chargers: Have a seven-game winning streak in November. Offense has scored on 30 of 31 red-zone possessions (18 TDs, 12 FGs).
Bengals: Past three losses have been by a combined nine points. Johnson needs one rushing touchdown to join Pete Johnson (64) and Corey Dillon (45) as only Bengals with 40.
--FS Marlon McCree (calf) was able to practice Thursday and looks to be a go for Sunday.
--OLB Marques Harris would resume his backup role if Shaun Phillips (calf) is fit.
--OL Roman Oben, who is back practicing after a season-opening stint on the physically unable to perform list prompted by a foot injury, has been working at both tackle spots with the second units.
--S Bhawoh Jue (knee) returned to practice and will be available Sunday.
--RB Rudi Johnson (thigh) was added to the injury report Thursday and did not practice.
--DT Sam Adams (knee) practiced Thursday and is probable for the Chargers game Sunday.
--LB Brian Simmons (neck) remained doubtful Thursday and did not practice.
--S Kevin Kaesviharn (knee) remains doubtful and has not practiced this week.
--C Rich Braham has begun working out on the sideline with trainers. Out since suffering a deep knee bruise Sept. 17 against the Browns, he is off crutches and planning to come back this season. "I want to be on the field as soon as I can," said Braham, a 13th-year pro who has remained on the 53-man roster. "You know my temperament by now. As soon as I can be out there, I'll be out there."
--LB Ahmad Brooks is his toughest critic. Though he has 40 total tackles, one sack and two passes broken up in four starts and six games, Brooks expects more of himself than the six tackles he delivered in Baltimore.
"You've got to come ready to play every day because it is a job and everyone is doing this," Brooks said. "Over the past couple of weeks, I feel more confident and (am) not worrying about the coaches trusting me. I think I've proven them I can go compete on Sunday. I think I am learning things, but hopefully I can make more spectacular plays and plays that are needed."