American Football: San Diego Chargers gather pace at right time for title tilt

Momentum, if not logic, favour Mike McCoy's men in Super Bowl race

If you believe in omens, the San Diego Chargers can win this season's Super Bowl. For the past four seasons, the first team to play away to the Philadelphia Eagles have gone on to become Super Bowl champions. This season it was the Chargers, who beat the Eagles 33-30.

Should you favour logic, the Bolts' chances of even getting past the first play-off hurdle today, away to the Cincinnati Bengals, do not look good. They have the most inexperienced squad of any team in the post-season, while the head coach, Mike McCoy, and general manager, Tom Telesco, are in the first year of their roles.

Thirty-seven of their 53 players have no play-off pedigree, while only seven Chargers remain from the 2009 season, when they won the AFC West division with a 13-3 record, only to lose at home to the New York Jets in the second play-off round.

Six weeks ago, they had won only four of their 10 games, and seven teams were better placed to claim the final wild-card berth. The victory that kept their season alive last weekend, their fourth in succession, came in overtime against a Kansas City Chiefs team already in the play-offs and resting their stars.

The Chargers finished third in their division and needed help from elsewhere – including the Bengals – to become the last team to make the play-offs. "Our big thing was, just get in," McCoy said. "That's the most important thing. Get in and anything can happen once you get into the tournament."

On the plus side, the knowledge that they could not afford to lose another game means that, in effect, they were playing knockout football for most of December.

"We have been in that play-off mentality of win to stay alive or lose and go home," Philip Rivers, their Pro Bowl quarterback, said. "We have to have the same mindset we have had all month."

Rivers and his offense are more likely to deliver victory than a defense regarded as a work in progress. He has had an excellent season, passing for over 4,000 yards and 32 touchdowns, and will have left-tackle King Dunlap fit again to protect him from Michael Johnson, the Bengals' defensive end.

Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals won all eight of their regular-season games, will be freezing and inhospitable, but their fans have not had a play-off win to cheer for 24 years, and booed their own quarterback, Andy Dalton, earlier this season, prompting Johnson to tell them to "leave" rather than jeer.

The Bengals have failed at this stage in three of the past four seasons, and the doubts have resurfaced to judge by the thousands of tickets unsold on Friday. Yet they won their division, and their defeat of the Baltimore Ravens, the defending Super Bowl champions, last weekend was one of the results that the Chargers needed to advance.

Dalton has better passing and touchdown numbers than Rivers, but also threw 20 interceptions in the regular season. Yet he believes the home fans will be cheering, not jeering. "We're playing with a lot of confidence right now," he said. "It'll be a great environment."

Today's second game also features a team who only just made the play-offs. However, the Green Bay Packers' prospects have been transformed by the return last weekend of quarterback Aaron Rodgers after two months out with a broken collarbone.

He threw a late touchdown pass that snatched the NFC North division title from the Pack's great rivals, the Chicago Bears, and the combination of Rodgers and temperatures of -20C at kick-off could make it an uncomfortable evening for the visiting San Francisco 49ers.

Bengals v Chargers, kick-off 6.05pm, 49ers v Packers, kick-off 9.40pm, both on Sky Sports 3

Suggested Topics
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Arts and Entertainment
books New York Times slammed over summer reading list
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine