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Chargers LB Manti Te’o getting the hang of it

Chargers rookie linebacker Manti Te’o got off slow start but is making strides. | John Cordes/AP

Chargers rookie linebacker Manti Te’o got off to a slow start but is making strides. | John Cordes/AP

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Sunday, 12:05 p.m., CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson.

The line: Bengals by 7

Streaking: The Bengals are 8-0 at home and have beaten their last five opponents at Paul Brown Stadium by an average score of 41.6-17.6. ... The Chargers have won four consecutive games -- the second-longest current streak in the NFL -- scoring at least 26 points in each.

Workhorse: San Diego’s winning streak has coincided with RB Ryan Mathews becoming the centerpiece of the offense. Mathews has averaged just fewer than 27 carries a game over the past month and a 99-yard effort against the Oakland Raiders in Week 16 was the only sub-100-yard game in his past four.

The result has been that QB Philip Rivers’ workload has gone down, but the team’s third-down efficiency has jumped higher. The Chargers converted 57.4(PERCENT) of the time in their last four games and are an NFL-best 49.0 percent for the season.

Mathews has lost one fumble this season and will need to hold on tight again with a 100(PERCENT) chance of rain or snow in the forecast.

Home sweet home: The Bengals got one of their three road wins in San Diego on Dec.1 despite going three-and-out on four of their 10 drives.

QB Andy Dalton is far more comfortable at home, where his passer rating is nearly 18 points higher than on the road (98.4-80.8.)

Cincinnati’s third-ranked defense is formidable anywhere but does a much better job getting its hands on the ball in front of the hometown fans. Twenty-one of the team’s 31 takeaways have come at home.

Need to know: Chargers WR Keenan Allen led all rookies in receptions (71), receiving yards (1,046) and TD receptions (eight). ... The Bengals have reached the postseason in three consecutive years for the first time. ... Bengals CB Terence Newman is doubtful with a knee injury.

Updated: February 6, 2014 6:28AM

SAN DIEGO — Manti Te’o is ready for his first NFL playoff appearance.

He talks about not freezing, and it has nothing to do with the weather the Chargers could face Sunday in Cincinnati.

He says he’s becoming the player he knows he can be.

The rookie linebacker had a season-high 11 tackles against the Chiefs in the victory that ended the Chargers’ three-year playoff drought and propelled them into the wild-card game against the Bengals, the last team to beat San Diego.

It was a strong finish to a year that started slowly because of a foot injury that sidelined the former Notre Dame star for the last three exhibition games and the first three regular-season games.

“It’s starting to get better,” Te’o said. “I’m starting to play my brand of football. I’ve still got a long way to go. I’m still not there. As you can see, I’m growing. I’m not as hesitant. I’m reacting more the way I want to. I’m more decisive. It all has to do with me understanding where I’ve got to be.”

Te’o had a lot to deal with when he came into the NFL. An All-America linebacker at Notre Dame, his draft stock fell after his poor showing in the BCS championship-game loss to Alabama, followed by the revelation that he’d gotten fooled by a hoax involving a fake girlfriend.

The Chargers drafted him in the second round, but then he spent several weeks with his right foot in a walking boot after injuring it in the first exhibition game.

He didn’t make his debut until the fourth regular-season game, a victory against the Cowboys. As the season progressed, he sometimes played well and sometimes looked lost.

Te’o said he learned to keep things in perspective after Notre Dame was routed by Alabama.

“It’s easy to come into this game and get too anxious to the point where you freeze,” Te’o said. “What you want to do is accept it for what it is. It’s a playoff game. The winner moves on, and the loser goes home. But you’ve got to line up, know your keys, know your reads, study the offense and play ball.”


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