For the second consecutive season, the road to the Super Bowl will go through Kansas City in the AFC. And for the second season in a row, the Bengals will be the ones looking to keep the Chiefs from making another big game appearance. A year after edging out Patrick Mahomes and Co. to face the Rams in Super Bowl LVI, Cincinnati enters this year’s AFC Championship game with plenty of momentum. With Mahomes nursing an ankle injury after outscoring the Jaguars, Joe Burrow and his team are fresh off a rout of the high-powered Bills, making Sunday’s scheduled rematch a real hit for bettors.
We already know that both teams are talented, given that they are the last two standing in the AFC. But which has the advantage on paper? Here is a job-by-job evaluation:
Bengals: Joe Terrier
Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes
Talk about a game! Mahomes has the advantage of experience, with five straight AFC title bids and two Super Bowl appearances under his belt. He’s also better suited to off-script acrobatics, setting the standard as a big-game performer both inside and outside of the structure. But his high ankle sprain poses a big question mark over his mobility. Burrow, meanwhile, isn’t just a proven winner against KC’s firepower, boasting a 3-0 record against Mahomes. He quickly cements himself as this generation’s Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, exhibiting near-perfect vision and touch in record time. Call it a tie game.
Bengals: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine
Chiefs: Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon
Mixon is the best traditional running back in the group, and his explosive turn against the Bills helped offset worries of a quiet end to the year. But the Chiefs’ punch of Pacheco and McKinnon is probably just as dangerous, if not more so, in space. At his best, the latter has been a legitimate safety valve for Mahomes this year. As unsexy as that may be, that’s another tie.
Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd
Chiefs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kadarius Toney, Marquez Valdes-Scantling
KC’s group has been better than expected: Smith-Schuster has been a strong possession target on the outside, and Toney is a quick alternative. But there’s no denying Cincy’s star power: Chase is such a fluid threat in the field when healthy, and Higgins remains hugely underrated for the athleticism he offers his size (6-4 , 220).
Bengals: Hayden Hurst
Chiefs: Travis Kelce
Hurst may have posted career marks as a reliable short-term target for Burrow if not for injury, but that one isn’t even a question: Kelce, 33, is still in his prime. Fresh off a 14-take showcase against the Jaguars, he has a legitimate case to be called the Chiefs’ co-MVP alongside Mahomes. Few players find ways to be so constantly open in space.
Bengals: Jackson Carman, Cordell Volson, Ted Karras, Max Scharping, Hakeem Adeniji
Chiefs: Orlando Brown Jr., Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, Andrew Wylie
Unless left tackle Jonah Williams returns from a kneecap injury, Cincy will likely be without three regular starters for a second straight game, with Alex Cappa and La’el Collins also bumped. The reserves certainly stepped up in Snowy Buffalo to pave the way for a big rushing offense, but overall KC still has the most formidable front. At their best, Brown, Thuney and Humphrey are all Pro Bowl-level blockers.
Bengals: DJ player, BJ Hill
Chiefs: Chris Jones, Khalen Saunders
The defensive fronts of both contenders are anchored by massive but athletic anchors in Reader (6-3, 335) and Jones (6-6, 310). Hill and Saunders have been strong running mates for the Bengals and Chiefs, respectively, but it’s these big boys who get the most attention. Reader overcame injuries to remain a force against the run. But Jones’ advantage collapsing in the pocket, with 15.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss and a whopping 29 QB hits, gives KC the slight advantage here.
Bengals: Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard, Joseph Ossai, Cameron Sample
Chiefs: Frank Clark, George Karlaftis, Carlos Dunlap, Mike Danna
After another relatively quiet regular season, Clark appears to be coming at the right time for the Chiefs, following Trevor Lawrence alongside Chris Jones in KC’s playoff kickoff. And Dunlap, the ex-Bengal, has playoff experience. But Cincy, despite having fewer sacks than all but three NFL teams this year, has two more consistent and relentless edge rushers in Hendrickson and Hubbard, who combined for 48 QB hits, including the playoffs, to give Lou Anarumo’s defense some teeth up front. .
Bengals: Logan Wilson, Germaine Pratt
Chiefs: Nick Bolton, Willie Gay Jr.
Bolton, 22, looks like a real find as KC’s unofficial “D” QB, recording 180 tackles to go with two picks and two sacks this year. But the duo of Wilson and Pratt was paramount in the Bengals’ physical push to another AFC title game; they combined more than 130 solo tackles, 14 pass deflections and nine tackles for loss as multi-level warriors.
Bengals: Eli Apple, Cam Taylor-Britt, Mike Hilton
Chiefs: L’Jarius Sneed, Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson
Cincy’s cover unit is often buoyed by the versatility and physicality of Hilton, who acts more like a defensive Swiss army knife than a traditional corner. Their secondary also gets more of the background. In KC, meanwhile, Sneed gradually elevated his game like a shadow on No. 1 wides, staying around the ball (11 pass deflections, three INTs, 3.5 sacks); and youngsters like McDuffie and Watson generally stood their ground when asked.
Bengals: Vonn Bell, Jessie Bates
Chiefs: Justin Reid, Juan Thornhill
Swap out any of these starters and you’ll likely get similar results. True to form, Bates has partnered with Bell to remain a constant take-out threat, combining eight picks at Cincy, while Reid and Thornhill have emerged more recently in the Chiefs’ secondary takeover, doing a little more work. up front with a total of 150.+ tackles, six tackles for loss and six QB hits.
Bengals: Evan McPherson (K), Drue Chrisman (P)
Chiefs: Harrison Butker (K), Tommy Townsend (P)
McPherson was a little more erratic than on his 2021 debut, especially on extra runs, but he was perfect for over 50 yards. Butker, meanwhile, had a more dramatic decline from years past as he battled injuries, entering with a career-low 75% field goal conversion rate. But he hit a pair of 50 yards against the Jaguars, and his teammate, Townsend, is one of the best scorers in the game, averaging over 50 yards per kick. Chrisman was also solid, pinning his opponents in their own 20 on almost half (48.5%) of his kicks.
Bengals: Zac Taylor (HC), Brian Callahan (OC), Lou Anarumo (DC)
Chiefs: Andy Reid (HC), Eric Bieniemy (OC), Steve Spagnuolo (DC)
Despite all the criticism he received for his Joe Burrow forward record and predictable play calls in Super Bowl LVI, Taylor successfully led another Bengals offense. Best of all, Anarumo got the best of Cincy’s “D”, resisting injury to confuse even the best of them. Still, Reid’s contingent is there, been doing this for longer. Spagnuolo often knows when to turn up the pressure, as he did to keep the Chiefs afloat despite Mahomes’ injury against Jacksonville. And Big Red himself, even with time management issues, remains as creative and playful as ever when his team has the ball.
Advantages of Bengal: 3
Advantages of Chefs: 5
Here is. With a quartet of even decisions, you can easily see how it would tip the Bengals way. For now, we like the Chiefs when you consider every position on both sides of the ball. And yet, what’s particularly intriguing about the breakdown is the fact that one of the even-numbered decisions comes in the most important place, where a real case can be made that Cincy deserves the edge, with Burrow undefeated against Chiefs and Mahomes injury limitations. unknown. Overall this one is tight, as expected. And that should make for another hard-fought showdown on Sunday.