The Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals will once again meet in the AFC Championship Game, with a trip to Super Bowl LVII on the line.
Well, fancy seeing you here.
The Kansas City Chiefs are hosting the AFC Championship Game for the fifth straight year. And for the second consecutive time, it’s the Cincinnati Bengals coming out of the opponent’s tunnel.
Last season, we got a classic. Kansas City led 21-3 before the Bengals stormed back, winning 27-24 in overtime. It was the worst moment of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ career, as he went 8-of-17 for 55 yards in the second half and overtime with two interceptions. That’s a 1.4 QBR.
Now, a rematch. For one, a chance to prove they’re the true kings of the AFC. For the other, a shot at redemption, 364 days later.
But for the Bengals, this is also a matter of continued ownership.
Joe Burrow is 3-0 against Mahomes over his career, winning both regular-season tilts in Cincinnati over the past two years. No other quarterback who has played Mahomes at least twice has a winning record against him.
In those games, Burrow has thrown for 982 yards and eight touchdowns against one interception.
But the story of Burrow’s dominance over Mahomes and Kansas City isn’t his tale alone. It’s also the story of his much-maligned offensive line.
Last year, the Bengals allowed only one sack in the AFC title game. In Week 13 of this season, the Chiefs only managed a single trap once more, despite ranking second in the NFL with 55 sacks.
If there’s an identifiable matchup to watch, it’s this. If Kansas City can’t harass Burrow with four rushers, it’s going to lose. Nobody has a secondary built to play man coverage against the Bengals’ receivers in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. And if the Chiefs sit in zone and give Burrow time, he’ll pick them apart as one of the NFL’s most accurate passers.
Much of the talk this week will be about Mahomes’ right ankle and whether he can function. Rightfully so. But none of it matters if the Chiefs can’t turn up the heat on Burrow without having to commit extra rushers.
Conversely, Cincinnati must continue forcing mistakes. Few teams have been better over the last two years at coming up with the critical turnover. The Bengals have shown that trait repeatedly against Kansas City.
In those aforementioned three wins over the Chiefs, Kansas City has lost the turnover battle by a combined -2 ratio. More damaging has been the penalties. In their losses to Cincinnati, the Chiefs have only twice gained a first down via infraction. They’ve allowed 10.
The Bengals have been excellent about creating miscues with clever scheming from defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. They also find ways to create pressure off the edges with an underrated tandem in Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson, winning with speed and power against the tackles.
If Cincinnati can win the turnover battle, Kansas City will be forced to win almost everywhere else. But if the Chiefs play to a neutral ratio or better, they put themselves in position to trade blows, something they have more than enough talent to successfully do.
On Sunday evening, the Bengals and Chiefs will meet at Arrowhead Stadium with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake.
What else is new?