Pregame Updates: Bengals-Chiefs in AFC Championship Game
Game thread | Full Bengals coverage
CINCINNATI (WXIX) - The Bengals take on the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City for a spot in Super Bowl LVII. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m.
The Chiefs are 1.5-point favorites in the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook. The over/under is set at 47.5 points.
The winner will face the Philadelphia Eagles, who defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game Sunday evening. The Eagles win eliminated the potential chance for a Cincinnati revenge game against the 49ers in Super Bowl LVII. The Bengals lost to the 49ers in Super Bowls XVI and XXIII.
The Bengals are riding a 10-game winning streak, the longest in franchise history, and are oozing confidence coming into Sunday’s game.
Cincinnati has won its last three games against the Chiefs, including a come-from-behind 24-21 overtime win in last year’s AFC Championship game, also at Arrowhead Stadium.
[D.J. Reader to Bengals fans: ‘We see you having our backs. We got your back too’]
WhoDey Nation appears to have traveled well again. Last week, defensive tackle D.J. Reader said away Bengals fans were so loud, he had trouble hearing the play calls from linebacker Logan Wilson. Some estimates put 10,000 Bengals fans in Buffalo; many at the game said that figure was low, perhaps by as much as half.
It’s a gusty day in Kansas City. Game-time temperature is expected to be around 23 degrees. Temps will drop into the teens throughout the game.
Joe Burrow is the only NFL quarterback undefeated in cold-weather games since 2020. He’s now 5-1 in the postseason after a near-perfect game against the Bills last week and hasn’t thrown an interception in a month.
[Chiefs DC wowed by Burrow: ‘It feels like he’s got six eyeballs around his head’]
Injuries to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce could factor in the game’s outcome. Mahomes is hobbled with a high-ankle sprain to his plant leg and is expected to play. Kelce is active but is dealing with a back injury he reportedly tweaked on Friday.
No surprises in the Bengals injury report. Cincinnati continues to be without three starters on the offensive line, including left tackle Jonah Williams and right guard Alex Cappa, who could be back for a potential Super Bowl.
The Bengals have thrived on perceived disrespect from pundits and even the league itself, using slights (real or imagined) as bulletin-board material on their way to a 10-game unbeaten streak capped by last Sunday’s drubbing of the Buffalo Bills. Now that so many are taking notice of what’s going on in Cincinnati, does the team risk losing focus? Not according to Burrow.
“Nobody in that locker room needs any more motivation than what’s inside of them, and that’s why we’re so good,” Burrow said on Monday.
[Kansas City players unimpressed by Bengals offense: ‘We’re gonna handle them’]
Cincinnati’s defensive gameplan against Mahomes has included simulating pressure looks and then dropping out of them. Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo often drops the strong-side defensive end into coverage upon the release of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and then rolls a safety to the other side of the formation. Anarumo also uses both ends in spy roles targeting Mahomes’ scrambling ability—Mahomes led the league this year in touchdowns out of the pocket. (See Kurt Warner’s Bengals-Chiefs film breakdown)
With Mahomes nursing that sprain, Anarumo could be tempted to bring more designed pressures to force Mahomes into awkward back-footed throws. He did just that against the Bills, blitzing nickel cornerback Mike Hilton from depth. Anarumo on Thursday described the 5′9″ Hilton, who pestered Josh Allen all second half, as “the best nickel back in the league.”
The Bengals defense is giving up the fewest EPA per play in the NFL this season after halftime, according to Pro Football Focus.
On the other side of the ball, Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuoloknows it’s dangerous to pressure Burrow. But like all other defensive coordinators in football, he also knows it’s dangerous not to.
“We’re gonna pick our spots,” he said of blitzing. “I don’t think we’re going to go completely away from it, but we gotta be careful, because we know what and his three running-mates can do if they do protect it—and they’ve found ways to protect it.”
Kansas City’s best defensive player is undoubtedly defensive tackle Chris Jones, who is one of the best at his position (if not the best) in the league. He recorded 15.5 sacks as a three-tech in 2022. He often comes on stunts and plays at the edge in some packages. The Bengals have been effective in scheming him out of plays, however, and Jones’ worst game of 2022 was against Cincinnati.
Bengals running back Joe Mixon broke out against Buffalo with 105 yards on the ground and more than five yards per rush, but it was backup Samaje Perrine who gashed Kansas City during the teams’ regular-season meeting eight weeks ago. Perrine’s bruising downhill style could give the Bengals what they need against a talented Chiefs defensive line.
The Bengals trio of star wide receivers could go against a pair of rookie defensive backs in Trent McDuffie and Jaylen Watson with starter L’Jarius Sneed expected to play the slot/nickel cornerback role.
Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase needs 175 yards this game or this game and the Super Bowl to eclipse Randy Moss’ record for most yards by a wideout in his first two NFL seasons, according to NFL Research. Moss had 3,189 yards in 32 regular-season games and four playoff games. Chase has 3,014 yards in 29 regular season games and six playoff games.
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