The Cincinnati Bengals again find themselves staring down a matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs for a chance to advance to the Super Bowl.
Sunday’s AFC title game is a repeat of last year’s affair at the same Arrowhead Stadium featuring the same key players.
This time, though, the Bengals don’t enter as longshot underdogs — they’re riding a 10-game winning streak, among other notables. And things are a little more complex than expected from the Kansas City side with quarterback Patrick Mahomes nursing an ankle injury and tight end Travis Kelce a surprise late addition to the injury report.
With so much intrigue, we sought out Chiefs expert Charles Goldman of Chiefs Wire for a Q&A session on some of the game’s most notable talking points.
Bengals Wire: What do Bengals fans need to know about the Chiefs since the Week 13 encounter?
Chiefs Wire: Well, first of all, they haven’t lost since that game. They’ve won the last six straight, albeit only two of those opponents were playoff teams. This week, they’re going to have some pieces they didn’t have in that game such as LG Joe Thuney, CB Jaylen Watson, WR Kadarius Toney and DT Brandon Williams. All of them have the potential to make a big difference this time around in their respective roles. I think a big thing on defense is that Steve Spagnuolo has been able to get a bit more advanced with his coverage looks down the stretch because the team is healthier and executing at a higher level. That might not matter so much against a quarterback as quality as Joe Burrow, but it at least gives them some options they didn’t have in Week 13.
BW: Do you think there’s a budding mental aspect to the rivalry at this point with it one-sided over the last two seasons?
CW: I’m not sure the Chiefs are truly going to consider it a “rivalry” until they actually manage to get a win. Chris Jones basically said as much on Friday. The fact that it has been so one-sided is clearly a huge point of frustration for this Chiefs team, especially when they’ve had opportunities. I’m not so sure there’s much of a mental aspect to it, but they’re a prideful bunch and they’re going to keep working at it until they get a win.
BW: What’s your take on the Patrick Mahomes injury and how will the Chiefs game plan around it?
CW: I think people have short memories. Two seasons ago Patrick Mahomes was playing through the entire postseason on a turf toe injury that needed surgery and he did it playing behind a backup offensive line. He’s been in worse scenarios than this before and I won’t be surprised if he looks very close to 100% for Sunday. When he had a high ankle sprain in Week 1 of 2019, he came back the next week and threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns. Is he going to have the longest rush of his career this week? Probably not. But I won’t be shocked to see him looking mostly like himself.
BW: What’s the verdict on how the Chiefs will approach stopping this Joe Burrow-led offense?
CW: I don’t think they’re going to play as passively as they did in Week 13. They didn’t have their full group of secondary players and resorted to soft zone coverages. This time around, they’re going to have their best trio of corners out there and I think they’re going to be a bit more aggressive. I won’t be shocked to see them press outside receivers to try and buy the pass rush a second longer to get to Burrow. The linebackers and D-Line know they’ve got to be better against the run this time around after getting bludgeoned by Samaje Perine in Week 13. They have some new pieces like veteran DT Brandon Williams (of Ravens fame), who can really be the difference-maker there.
BW: Who wins the AFC title game rematch and advances to the Super Bowl?
CW: I know I told you that I picked the Bengals in USA TODAY Sports Weekly and I rarely like to flip-flop on my picks. That said, I’m feeling a lot more confident in the Chiefs than I did just a few days ago. This team has made it clear that they’re sick of losing to Cincinnati and I think this week is just the perfect storm for them to be able to get that monkey off of their back. Mahomes obviously won’t be running any marathons, but after the practice week, I have no concerns about his ability to operate the offense. The defensive line has done nothing but miss opportunities against the Bengals, but this week they’ve got a shot to change that narrative against a unit that is starting several backups. I think it’s a close game, but luck swings Kansas City’s way this time around. Chiefs 31, Bengals 27.