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NFL playoffs 2014, Chargers vs. Bengals: Keys to the game

San Diego and Cincinnati meet for the second time in the 2013 season, but now everything is on the line.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA
SB Nation 2014 NFL Playoff Coverage

The San Diego Chargers found a back door into the playoffs with a renewed Philip Rivers who is thriving under first-year head coach Mike McCoy. Cincinnati has been solid all season long, but here are five things to watch for on Sunday.

No.1: Chargers need to, well, charge

Rivers has been sensational in 2013, but while he's required to win games it's the work of the team's running backs that defines whether they lose.

The Chargers have a 9-3 record when they run for over 100 yards, and finished 0-4 when they didn't. Ryan Mathews bounced back in 2013, but needs to have a big game to get over the top in Cincinnati.

There's some bad news for San Diego, however. The Bengals allowed 100 rushing yards in only six games.

No. 2: Cincinnati needs a solid first half lead

Much is made of Andy Dalton's inconsistency, and the Bengals need to mitigate this problem by establishing an early lead. It takes pressure off the third-year quarterback and ensures he doesn't need to be a key playmaker late in the game.

The team went 8-1 when scoring at least 14 points by halftime, regardless of what their opponent scored. They went 2-4 when failing to score 14 points at the half.

No. 3: San Diego can't look past its opponent

No team is looking past its competition in the playoffs, but it's interesting to see how much the Chargers struggled against sub-par competition in 2013.

The team lost to Houston, Washington, Oakland and Tennessee -- all of whom will be drafting in the top-12 come May. It's a sign of larger mental lapses which can sink a team if it's not careful.

San Diego beat the best and lost to the worst, making it hard to project them in an emotionally-charged playoff setting.

No. 4: Bengals need to run to help Dalton

Just as the Chargers need to run, so too does the opposition.The Bengals are 4-3 when they fail to rush for 100 yards and 7-2 when they do. This is a narrow margin, but these small changes are magnified in the playoffs.

Giovani Bernard is a dual-threat back, and he needs to be fed also. Cincinnati is 6-0 on the year when he finishes with 40+ yards receiving through the use of a screen passing game.

No. 5: Good luck at Paul Brown Stadium

Every angle melts away from this matchup if you believe in the power of home field advantage. The Bengals are unbeaten at Paul Brown Stadium this season, allowing an average of 289 yards on defense.

Moreover, these sides have already faced off and the Bengals won by seven points. There's inconsistency from both sides which makes it a wild card, but the power of playing in Cincinnati is very real.

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