The Chargers will win their playoff game against the Bengals

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Each week, we give fans of the San Diego Chargers three reasons to be optimistic about the team's chances in their upcoming game. This week, we'll tell you how the Chargers offense can win a playoff game in Cincinnati against the Bengals.

Keenan Allen

Because I may not get a chance to do this again....

Keenan Allen finished the season ranked 8th in DYAR and 5th in DVOA. In a nutshell, this means that he's been the 8th best receiver over the course of the year (recall that he didn't play the first few weeks) and the 5th most efficient receiver in the league.

Keenan Allen is good. Really good. Against the tough Cincinnati Bengals defense last month, he caught 8 of the 10 passes thrown to him for 106 receiving yards. Despite having a giant bulls-eye on his back ever since, he scored five touchdowns in San Diego's final four regular season games.

Not only is he really good, he's getting better. Not only is he getting better, but he loves the stage. In three nationally-televised games this season...

  • at OAK: 6 catches, 115 rec yds, 1 rec TD
  • vs. IND: 9 catches, 107 rec yds, 1 rec TD
  • at DEN: 2 catches, 29 rec yds, 2 rec TDs

If I were the Cincinnati Bengals, I would be terrified of Keenan Allen in this game. However, we've seen defensive coordinators use everything but the kitchen sink to try and stop Allen over the second half of the season and he just keeps getting stronger.

Philip Rivers

One thing that we haven't mentioned nearly enough on this blog is the transformation of Philip Rivers' game outside of throwing the ball. Sure, he's the most accurate passer in the league. Great, he's the second best overall QB in the league behind Peyton Manning.

I remember sitting at those open training camp practices, watching Mike McCoy instructing Rivers to "RUN!" after a few seconds of pressure, and thinking that this was going to end horribly. Did Rivers look athletic in a pair of gym shorts? Sure did, but he still runs like a duck on game day.

However, McCoy (or Frank Reich or Ken Whisenhunt or all three of them) knew what he was doing. Not only has Rivers avoided negative plays by running more often, he's actually picked up big first downs in key situations by using his legs. In addition, the coaching staff somehow taught him how to hold the ball so that he no longer fumbles every single time he's hit. That can't really be overstated. In fact, I'll do this....

If you hadn't seen the numbers, your first assumption would be that Rivers threw a ton of interceptions last season but a lot less this year, right? Well, he actually threw almost the same number of picks this year (11) as he did last year (15). The big difference has been the fumbling and the sacks. 49 sacks last year has dropped to 30 this year, and 15 fumbles last year to 3 this year.

Sure, the offensive line has been better and the offensive gameplan has helped that, but I'll go on record as saying that the biggest improvement Rivers and the offense have made this season is ridding themselves of their fumbling problems.

Which brings me to....

Ryan Mathews

"Every single year. Every single year I get excited, and think he's going to have a great year, and every year he disappoints me. Not this year! I don't care how good he looks, Mathews is going to be terrible!"

That was me in the preseason of this season.

I wasn't tired of Ryan Mathews. In fact, I thought he was at least an average running back in the NFL, even with all of his flaws. However, I was tired of getting my hopes up. I was tired of watching him truck guys in preseason only to break in half when the season began. I was tired of watching him juke guys and having to think about the impending fumble.

I had given up on Mathews having a great season. And yet, here we are, sitting in the playoffs because Ryan Mathews dragged the Chargers there on his back through the final quarter of the season. The fumble problems seem like they were ages ago. The cries of "He never breaks a big run" are foolish at this point. He's played in 16 games and would surely play in 4 more if he gets the opportunity.

It's one thing to root for Rivers and Allen and the rest of the Chargers offense to put up points. The offense can succeed and the team can still lose the game. However, Mathews has been able to win a few games by himself this year.

It's a thing of beauty when Mathews gets in a groove, turning 1 yard gains into 5 yard gains and 5 yard gains into 10. The defense can't stop him, even when they're throwing everything at him, and they can't stop the clock either. It ticks and tocks as their offense sits on the sidelines, knowing that they can't score points from the bench.

Rivers and Allen may be the ones putting up the highlights, but this game will be won on the legs of Ryan Mathews. He'll pick up yards, he'll score points, and he'll keep the Bengals offense off the field for much of the game. Much the same way he's been doing it to other teams for most of this season.

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