“Before you begin to read this, get up and get a cold glass of water, then proceed to throw it in your own face. If you’re not at home, pinch yourself. That’s right – you’re completely awake. This isn’t a dream. The Cincinnati Bengals are playing a football game on Sunday that determines who will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.”
It’s hard to believe now, but this is what I opened my article with in last year’s AFC Championship Game Preview. This football stuff on late January Sundays feels like the new normal in Cincinnati now. The feeling that Joe Burrow and Zac Taylor told us to get used to has arrived.
The players believe it too. And it shows on the field. They just walked in and out of Buffalo like they expected to beat the Super Bowl favorite Bills by 17.
Now, the Bengals travel back to Arrowhead Stadium in hopes of punching their ticket to another Super Bowl.
The entire sports world is talking about the health of Chiefs’ QB Patrick Mahomes, who had his ankle rolled up on last week. Listed with a high ankle sprain, Mahomes has practiced fully this week and finished the game after a brief exit in the divisional round.
Lou Anarumo and his guys are completely aware of the situation with Mahomes. However, I don’t see them doing things too differently than they have in the past. The Chiefs will likely need to have an efficient run game in this one much like they did last week in order to advance. That goes for the Bengals too, though Joe Burrow is playing the best football of his career in the last 3 months.
The Chiefs defense features Chris Jones in the middle and then just a bunch of guys. They’re not bad by any means, but it’ll be the most matchup friendly defense the Bengals have yet to face in these playoffs. But Jones can and will wreck a game. Cincinnati got the best of him in Week 13 but with Alex Cappa and Jonah Williams likely to miss this game for the Bengals, Jones and other guys on the Chiefs defensive front like Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap can be a hindrance to the Bengals’ attack.
The Bengals defense comes into this game blazing out of western New York with their best performance of the season. A relentless pass-rush, elite tackling and sticky coverage were all things that stuck out in the divisional round. And quite honestly, they show no signs of having a hiccup in this one.
X-Factor: Chiefs WRs vs Bengals DBs
I’m anxious for this game. We know Lou Anarumo will hone in on the best tight end on the planet, Travis Kelce. Even with Mahomes at 90% from his ankle injury, I’m confident he’s going to show up and play great. Andy Reid will stay pass happy and almost abandon the run regardless of game script because well, that’s what he does. We also know Joe Burrow is going to play great, meaning the best WR core in the NFL likely plays great too. Like I previously said, I don’t think the Bengals’ defense is showing any signs of a letdown even with the matchup at hand. They’ll take Travis Kelce seriously.
But how will Cam-Taylor Britt and Eli Apple hold up in this one? Taylor-Britt has come on very strong as of late and the up-and-down Apple has the world rooting against him. The Bengals can not lose this game to Juju Smith Schuster, Kadarius Toney and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. If any of these three have big games, my prediction for this game becomes wildly inaccurate because I’m taking the Cincinnati Bengals to win this one 31-23. Joe Burrow and Co. stay efficient on offense and Tee Higgins has over 100 yards and get to 4-0 over the Chiefs in the Burrow era.
MVP: Jessie Bates III