After starting the season 0-2, many people wrote off the Cincinnati Bengals, but being the always calm and steady quarterback, Joe Burrow reminded fans not to panic. He said, “There’s a lot of football to be played. We moved on from those games and made the corrections we needed to make.”
Now, the (12-4) Bengals advance to their second straight AFC Championship Game against a team they know all so well, the (14-3) Kansas City Chiefs. The Stripes got here by dominating the Buffalo Bills last week 27-10, while the Chiefs defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-10.
This game will be the fourth time Burrow and Patrick Mahomes have matched up against each other, with Burrow winning the previous three. The Bengals are on a ten-game winning streak heading into Arrowhead Stadium as they defend their AFC title.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference
Mahomes suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter of Kansas City’s Divisional Round victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mahomes spoke to the media this week and said he planned on playing in this game.
It will be interesting to see what approach Bengals’ defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo takes this time to stop Mahomes. In the past, he has rushed three and dropped eight back into coverage to confuse Mahomes, which has worked. However, you may see more blitz packages if Mahomes cannot leave the pocket because of mobility issues.
Bengals’ slot corner Mike Hilton has been playing fearless football, and I am sure his number will be called to dial up pressure on Mahomes.
Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco was held to just 44 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown the last time these two teams met up. With the unknown of Mahomes’ full injury, he will likely rely on his running game.
Pacheco is a very explosive runner who has the speed to get outside. Gaining 95 yards last week against the Jaguars, it is essential to stop him on first contact. Like Bengal’s running back Joe Mixon, Pacheco can catch out of the backfield, so look for Mahomes to check down to him if he feels pressure.
Bengal’s defensive tackle D.J. Reader is the rock in the middle along with B.J. Hill and Zach Carter; they force running backs to run to the outside. The Chiefs also have Jerrick McKinnon, who can be just as much of a threat. Thankfully, the Bengals have two of the best linebackers in the business, Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt.
When you talk about the chiefs, the first two names that come to mind are Patrick Mahomes and all-pro tight end Travis Kelce. He is undoubtedly one of the top tight ends in the game. As soon as Mahomes finds himself in trouble, he looks for Kelce as his go-to target.
Kelce had 14 receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns against the Jaguars, so stopping him is a priority. The great news is that Tre Flowers is back from injury for the Bengals. He is a tall cornerback that uses his length to his advantage. Flowers has done a fantastic job of staying with Kelce, even limiting him to 56 yards and no touchdowns in their last outing.
I am sure Anarumo would like nothing better than to keep Kelce from impacting the game, so look for rookie Dax Hill to come in from time to time to help out with Kelce.
Until I see it with my own eyes, I like the Bengals’ coaching staff will assume Mahomes will be a hundred percent ready to go for this game which means he will be taking shots down the field to receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Kadarius Toney.
In the postseason so far, the Ravens and Bills have targeted rookie cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, and he has proven time and time again he is up for the challenge, even coming up with his first interception to close out the game against the Bills.
If Mahomes is limited, the Chiefs’ offense will need to hit more plays over the middle and fewer big shots down the field. Taylor-Britt and Eli Apple have come up big, and I see them doing again on Sunday. Add in two of the best Safety duos in, Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates, and Mahomes will find it challenging to find open receivers as he has in the past.
Joe Burrow is one of the five finalists for the NFL MVP award. He has been outstanding in the postseason, going 5-1 with a 98.4 passer rating, including road victories against Josh Allen and Mahome. Last week against the Bills, he went nine for nine and two touchdowns in his first two drives.
Now consider how Burrow has diced up the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense every time they have met, scoring eight touchdowns to one interception in three games. Burrow will once again need to be on top of his game.
A scholar at processing and manipulating coverages, Burrow can score quickly using all of his receivers, often beating the defense before the ball is snapped, which is a nightmare for Spagnuolo. If Burrow gets off to a fast start once again, it could be a long day for the Chiefs.
It is no surprise that the Bengals have one of the best receiving trios in all football. Ja’Marr Chase has big play abilities and can be moved around, making him a versatile threat. Tee Higgins could also be considered a number one wideout who makes clutch plays in significant moments of games. Let’s not forget Tyler Boyd, who is regarded as one of the best slot receivers in the game, and wow, does Burrow have weapons?
The Chiefs have a very solid secondary, even though they are young. If the Chiefs cannot get pressure on Burrow, he will have a field day with this Chiefs secondary especially knowing the Bengals receivers do most of their damage once they catch the ball.
Last week, the Bengals’ running game showed what they are capable of, with Joe Mixon grinding out 105 yards. If the line can once again dominate the trenches and create holes, Mixon could have another big day allowing Burrow to have more options in the playcalling.
Cincinnati tends to run the ball well against the Chiefs. The last time these two teams competed, Mixon missed the game due to injury, and Samaje Perine was incredible, with 106 yards on just 21 carries. If the running game gets going early, it may give the Bengals the upper hand in this matchup.
The talk of the town last week was how the three new offensive linemen, left tackle Jackson Carman, right guard Max Scharping and right tackle Hakeem Adeniji would hold up. To everyone’s surprise, they did an exceptional job.
However, this week the Chiefs will be bringing a much better defensive line than the Bills. All-pro defensive tackle Chris Jones leads them. He must be contained if the Bengals want to make big plays. In the last matchup, Bengals’ superb guard Alex Cappa did a great job with Jones, but he is not playing in this game, so it will be up to the Bengals coaching staff on how to stop this impact player.
The Chiefs also have Frank Clark and rookie end George Karlaftis, who can forget ex-Bengal Carlos Dunlap. The Bengals’ line will have its work cut out for them but remember; it has one of the best quarterbacks at getting the ball out fast, which helps his line out.
Tight end Hayden Hurst was also picked up in the free agency as a safety valve for Burrow when he feels pressure. He had ten catches for 104 yards and a touchdown in the first two playoff games this year and 52 catches for 414 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season.
The Bengals beat the Chiefs last year on an Evan “Money Mac” McPherson field goal sending Coach Taylor and his team to the Super Bowl.
This season hasn’t gone as well for him, as he went 24-of-29 in the regular season and missed four extra points. The Bengals will need McPherson to regain his magic touch, for it could be the difference in the game.
Make no mistakes. This will be another close game between two great teams. The quarterback with fewer turnovers and who can make more impact plays will win the game. Even though both quarterbacks are excellent, I am giving the edge to Burrow, making it his fourth win over the Chiefs and another run at the Super Bowl.
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