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Kansas City Chiefs vs Cincinnati Bengals: Preview, odds, predictions, more

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Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Bengals
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

The winner of the AFC comes down to just one game as Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs will play host to last year’s AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals. We break down the game and give our prediction. 

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Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) @ Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)

Game Details:

  • Location: GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO
  • Time: Sunday, January 29th at 6:30 p.m. ET
  • Channel: CBS

Betting Stats

  • Spread: KC -1.5
  • Moneyline: KC (-120), CIN (+100)
  • Over/Under: 48

 

Preview:

Despite almost all of the pre-game conversation being about Joe Burrow and the Bengals, the Chiefs will be playing in their fifth straight home AFC Championship Game, which is pretty damn impressive. Yet, these two teams arrived at this point in drastically different manners.

Kansas City labored past Jacksonville, escaping with a seven-point win despite their star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, suffering a high ankle sprain. Meanwhile, Cincinnati rode their “nobody believes in us” energy to a 27-10 demolition of the Bills on the road. All of that has the momentum and public consensus clearly in Cincinnati’s favor, but is that misguided?

We know this game is going to come down to a battle of elite offenses. Since Week 9, Kansas City is first in the NFL in Expected Points Added (EPA) per play while Cincinnati ranks fourth. These are also the number two and three ranked teams, respectively, in Offensive DVOA at Football Outsiders in that same span. 

Can either defense step up and get enough stops to win this game?

For Kansas City, it will mean putting pressure on Joe Burrow. In his first five playoff games, Burrow has been sacked 23 times and now this Bengals offensive line will be down three starters. That could be a major issue against a Kansas City team that was 4th in the NFL in pressure rate and 2nd in the NFL in sacks. 

Chris Jones is their stud, leading the Chiefs with 15.5 sacks this season, but they have a deep rotation of pass-rushers, including George Karlaftis, Khalen Saunders, and Frank Clark. While Buffalo was unable to get much pressure on Burrow due to Cincinnati using a quick-hitting passing attack, the Ravens sacked him four times in the Wild Card round, which the Bengals barely escaped. 

Another way for Cincinnati to keep pressure off of Burrow is by utilizing the run game. The Bengals ran for 5.1 yards per carry against a Buffalo defense that ranks No. 3 in Run Defense DVOA and will now face a Chiefs defense that was dead last in ESPN‘s run-stop win rate. 

Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine combined for 27 carries and 138 yards against the Bills, and Mixon looked good, gaining 105 yards on 20 carries. In their first meeting this year, Cincinnati exploited the Chiefs with the run, even with Mixon sidelined with a concussion, as Perine carried the ball 21 times for 106 yards. Given the fact that Perine is a better pass blocker and the Bengals are down linemen, I expect to see a decent amount of Perine this game. 

The Chiefs will also have their hands full with the Bengals receiving trio of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd; although, I think it might be Boyd who can come up biggest in this game. The Chiefs allow the second-most touchdowns to slot in NFL, and Boyd lines up exclusively in the slot.

Kansas City’s issues over the middle of the field could also mean a big game for Cincinnati tight end Hayden Hurst, who could be a bit hampered by a calf injury. However, he had five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown last week against the Bills and could be in for a solid showing in this likely high-scoring affair. 

When Kansas City has the ball, the biggest question mark will be Mahomes’ mobility. There is a reasonable expectation that he may not scramble and improvise much this week, but that’s also dependent on the Bengals getting pressure on him. The Bengals had the 4th-fewest sacks in the NFL this year, and Kansas City gives up the 3rd-fewest sacks, so this is a matchup of strength versus weakness. If Cincinnati can’t pressure Mahomes, will the ankle injury matter that much?

We also can’t forget that Mahomes still ranks first in the NFL in QBR on passes thrown while in the pocket and in 20-plus yard throws. This is a Chiefs passing offense that led the NFL in yards and passing touchdowns, so even though people think it’s just Travis Kelce, Andy Reid and Mahomes always find a way to move the ball. 

Kelce will be a major part of the passing game, but JuJu Smith-Schuster also had 933 yards on 78 catches this year and Jerick McKinnon can be a real threat as a receiver if Mahomes turns to more dump-offs and short passes. 

If Kansas City wants to break its losing streak against Cincinnati, they are likely going to have to step up right from the start. Cincinnati has dominated opponents in the first quarter, outscoring them 46-0 over the last five games. The Cincinnati defense has also not allowed a single touchdown in the first quarter in their last 12 games, so Mahomes will need to get some magic going early. 

For all of the talk about Cincinnati owning this rivalry, it should be pointed out that Joe Burrow is just 1-0 at Arrowhead Stadium, so it’s not a massive track record of success. The Chiefs also had the Bengals on the ropes in last year’s AFC Championship game, leading 21-10 with the ball on the Cincinnati 1-yard line before a poor Mahomes pass to Tyreek Hill caused him to be tackled short of the end zone and the clock ran out. 

Kansas City will be out to prove a point, and I still believe Andy Reid and company are the class of the AFC. 

 

Prediction and Betting Pick:

I think the dismissal of the Chiefs has gone a bit too far, and I also like the OVER here. 

Kansas City 31 | Cincinnati 27

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The Bengals and Joe Burrow take on the Chiefs
Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow throws a pass during the first half of the team’s NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)