AFC Championship Game: Previewing the Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs matchup


Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes as an underdog in the NFL playoffs? In this economy?!

There is a good chance that the presumptive NFL MVP will be an underdog for the first time in 13 career postseason starts as the line shifted from Kansas City as the early favorite to Cincinnati as the favorite in the middle of the week. Mahomes has a career 30-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the playoffs, but his high ankle sprain is the talk of the NFL world. He’s going to play, but how effective he will be remains to be seen. He was 22-for-30 for 195 yards with two touchdowns in the 27-20 win over Jacksonville in the divisional round but was hurt in the first half and clearly not himself after that.


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Meanwhile, the Bengals managed to keep Joe Burrow healthy and mostly upright behind a patchwork offensive line in a 27-10 win over the Bills. Cincinnati has not lost by more than three points in 22 straight games with Ja’Marr Chase in the lineup and the only teams to beat the Bengals by more than three points over the last two seasons are the Browns (three times!!) and the Chargers.



In that two-year span, the Bengals are 3-0 against the Chiefs, winning all three games by a field goal, including last year’s AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City had far and away the best offense this season by EPA per play, but the Bengals were fifth and also bring a stouter defense into Sunday’s game. Cincinnati was eighth in EPA per play on defense for the season, while the Chiefs were 15th, but both teams rank in the top 10 from Week 12 through the divisional round.

The Chiefs did rank in the top five in pressure percentage per Pro Football Reference during the regular season and had 55 sacks to rank second in the NFL. It would behoove the Bengals to get pressure on a hobbled Mahomes, but they ranked in the middle of the pack in pressure percentage and 29th in sacks.

The other key matchup to watch is Travis Kelce against the Cincinnati back seven. The Bengals allowed the eighth most receptions to tight ends but kept him in check during the regular-season meeting. Kelce had four catches on six targets for 56 yards and Mahomes was only 16-for-27 for 223 yards with a touchdown. If that happens again, we’re talking about a Bengals win.

Keep an eye on the injury and practice reports for both sides. The Mahomes injury was already built into the line, but positive reports about Bengals right guard Alex Cappa and left tackle Jonah Williams are likely big contributing factors into the line move we saw toward Cincinnati on Monday.

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