The San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals have a combined two losses in their last 12 games played. One of those losses came when the Chargers fell to the Bengals, 17-10, in Week 13. Both teams are playing excellent football at the moment, and have the likes of Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard to thank.
Beyond the names most likely to wind up on a marquee are a bevy of supporting players who are playing to their peak at just the right time. Below are a few players you should become well-acquainted with before Sunday's Wild Card bout.
Eddie Royal, WR
Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt have seemingly done wonders for everyone on the Chargers' offense, though Eddie Royal's improvement has been perhaps the most pronounced. After tallying a combined 389 receiving yards over his previous two seasons, Royal had 47 receptions for 631 yards and eight touchdowns this year. After notching at least three receptions in five straight games to end the regular season, he finished as San Diego's third-leading receiver. With Terence Newman potentially out another week, he'll have a chance to exploit Dre Kirkpatrick underneath while Keenan Allen works over top.
King Dunlap, LT
The Chargers' offensive line has also undergone massive improvement since McCoy took over as head coach. The unit allowed just 30 sacks on Philip Rivers, and paved the way for a career year by Ryan Mathews. King Dunlap was the key to the Chargers' success on the ground, grading out as the best run blocking tackle in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. If he begins blasting big holes for Mathews on Sunday, the Chargers will be difficult to stop.
Melvin Ingram, OLB
Melvin Ingram hasn't put up big numbers this season. In just four games played, he has eight tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. His return from a torn ACL has coincided with a late-season defensive rejuvenation for the Chargers, however. San Diego is 4-0 since Ingram's Week 14 return, giving up just 17.75 points per game over that span after giving up 23.08 PPG over the first 12 games of the season. Ingram was a first-round pick in 2012, so there's no question that opposing offenses are aware of his presence. He may be exactly what the Chargers need to avenge their Week 13 loss to the Bengals.
Marvin Jones, WR
Marvin Jones has had big performances throughout the season for the Bengals, but the last four weeks have seen him become a consistent weapon. He has had at least 48 yards receiving in every game over that span, with three total touchdown receptions and a high of 85 yards on six receptions against the Minnesota Vikings. If Jones can continue to make the most of his targets, he will take a lot of pressure off of A.J. Green and make the Bengals' passing game nigh impossible to stop ... assuming Andy Dalton is on point.
As with the Chargers, the entire Bengals offensive line deserves mention here. Andy Dalton has been sacked just 29 times this season, and Giovani Bernard is among the favorites to win Rookie of the Year honors for good reason. Zeitler deserves special attention for becoming a stalwart run blocker in just his second year in the NFL. Josh Kirkendall at Cincy Jungle did a great job explaining how Zeitler has teamed up with Andre Smith in the "Power O" for great success against 3-4 defenses like San Diego's this season.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB
The Bengals' secondary is entering Sunday's game shorthanded. Nevermind Leon Hall's season-ending injury, Terence Newman may be on the sideline for a fourth straight game due to a knee injury. Even if Newman is active, Dre Kirkpatrick may be placed in the starting lineup once again. The former first-round pick has yet to play like it through two seasons. Expect Kirkpatrick to be tested often if Newman is out.