In last year’s AFC Championship, the Cincinnati Bengals slipped past the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in a thrilling overtime finish. In this year’s AFC Championship, the Chiefs have a shot for revenge. The Bengals head to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Chiefs in the conference championship rematch Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Last week, Joe Burrow’s Bengals topped the seemingly unstoppable Buffalo Bills, and Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs nudged out the Jacksonville Jaguars. Now, the two teams face off for a spot in the Super Bowl, with the victor facing the winner of the San Fransisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Working towards Championship Sundey. pic.twitter.com/R56HVBVAOK
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 26, 2023
Patrick Mahomes’ Injury
Everybody is watching the status of the Chiefs’ superstar quarterback’s ankle. Mahomes’ suffered a high ankle sprain in his right leg last week against Jacksonville, which sidelined him for parts of the game. However, Mahomes returned to field at the start of the second half and ultimately led his squad to victory. Despite Mahomes playing relatively well on his bum ankle, suspicions arose about how he would feel come Sunday. During this week’s practices, Mahomes ankle wasn’t an issue, as he was a full participant in both Wednesday and Thursday’s practices. Likely, Mahomes will not have complete mobility against the Bengals, however, Andy Reid loves to get creative and will likely draw up schemes that will adhere to Mahomes’ injury. If this were the regular season, the Chiefs would probably rest Mahomes and let him heal. But this is the AFC Championship against the team that knocked them out last season — Mahomes wouldn’t miss this for anything.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 25, 2023
Other notable injuries to watch include Chiefs’ receiver Mecole Hardman, who was a limited participant in practice due to a pelvis injury, and Bengals’ tight end Hayden Hurst, who was a limited participant in practice due to a calf injury. Kansas City has a lot of solid wideouts, so Hardman’s absence wouldn’t be too significant. However, Hurst was a big part of Cincinnati’s offense last week, grabbing five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. Hurst brings diversity in the Bengals’ offense, as he becomes another element in a standout receiving core. His health is definitely an important thing to track this week.
Burrow and the Bengals keep balling
Joe Burrow has never lost to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. He posts a 3-0 record against KC, including last year’s AFC Championship win and a 27-24 victory in week 13. In their meeting this season, Burrow threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover. He also ran for 46 yards and another touchdown. If Kansas City is going to finally beat Joe Burrow, they need to make him uncomfortable, something they’ve failed to do in the past. The Chiefs’ sacked Burrow only once in their week 13 matchup, which allowed Burrow and the Bengals offense to be effective.
Kansas City will need to dial up more defensive schemes to keep up with the Bengals pass-heavy scheme. Even though Burrow is in his third year, he’s got more experience than most quarterbacks. Last year’s victory in Arrowhead Stadium and his subsequent Super Bowl visit makes him a confident quarterback. Burrow knows how to step up in big games and deliver; and he’s hungry. The Bengals are dying to avenge last year’s Super Bowl loss to the Rams, so expect Burrow to have a big game.
"I'M HIM." – @JoeyB
— NFL (@NFL) January 25, 2023
Both of these teams have phenomenal weapons, it’s why they’re the final AFC teams left. This game is going to come down to who can limit the other more successfully. The Bengals have to stop Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce. Kelce put up astounding statistics this season, collecting over 1,300 yards and twelve touchdowns. However, against the Bengals in week 13, Kelce only had four receptions for 56 yards and coughed up a fumble. Hindering Kelce is a huge reason why the Bengals won in the regular season, and they’ll try to repeat that as best they can. A limited Mahomes and a concealed Kelce is a recipe for success if the Bengals are able to execute.
Kansas City’s defense has to have one of their best games of the season to pull out a win. Pressuring Burrow is only one aspect of the Chiefs’ defense. Kansas City’s defensive backfield, which features four rookies, will have their hands full against the Bengals’ wideouts. Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and even Hayden Hurst, are all threats. If Kansas City can reduce some of Cincinnati’s air offense and get Mahomes on the field often, they may finally snap their skid against the Bengals.
The game is set to kick off at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City is favorited by a point. Interestingly, the past three matchups between the teams have all been decided by three points.