5 things to watch in Chiefs vs. Bengals AFC Championship Game
With their season on the line and their quarterback’s health in question, the Kansas City Chiefs have nothing to lose when they take on the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. They can put it all on the line with their chance to clinch their third Super Bowl berth in the past four seasons.
Cincinnati has proven to be a tough out for Kansas City, and as such, it is expected that the Chiefs will need to play a near-perfect game to get a win over the Bengals in the conference championship.
Here are five things to watch as Kansas City competes for the right to call itself the AFC’s top team this weekend:
Patrick Mahomes' ailing ankle
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The Chiefs’ chances of pulling out a win will be heavily influenced by Mahomes’ ability to make his signature plays outside of the pocket, and if he can’t, Cincinnati could have a huge advantage. After taking an awkward hit on his ankle last week, Mahomes was able to play through an obviously uncomfortable injury to lead Kansas City to a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the Bengals are (literally) a different animal entirely.
It is said that there is more than one way to skin a cat. In his effort to get his second-straight win over a team named after a feline, Mahomes will need to pull out every trick in his book to lift Kansas City over Cincinnati, despite the injury to his ankle.
Chiefs' pass rush vs. Joe Burrow
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Burrow can absolutely decimate opposing secondaries if given time to find open receivers in a comfortable pocket, and will have no problem dicing up the Chiefs’ defense if Kansas City’s pass rush doesn’t dominate.
The Bengals have operated with a patchwork offensive line for the past several weeks, and are likely to be without a few key starters up front on Sunday. Chris Jones and Frank Clark amount for a disproportional amount of the Chiefs’ cap spending, and could justify their sky-high paychecks with a few sacks of Burrow in this matchup.
The play of Kansas City's rookies
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Rarely does a team with so many rookie starters make a deep run in the playoffs, but if Andy Reid has proven anything since joining the Chiefs in 2013, it is that he is willing to break the mold. On both sides of the ball, first-year players will have their fingerprints all over this game, for better or worse at the final whistle.
The contributions of RB Isiah Pacheco, CBS Trent McDuffie and Jaylen Watson, alongside DE George Karlaftis will all come to define this matchup, and if each can play their best game of the season, Kansas City should be able to put together a rock-solid performance against the Bengals.
Andy Reid's clock management
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For all of the accolades that Andy Reid has gained over the years, his clock management has, at times, left something to be desired. As much as the performances of his players must be pitch-perfect to get a win over Cincinnati, so too must Reid’s decision-making, especially relative to controlling and leveraging any advantage the Chiefs might gain in the time-of-possession battle.
Kansas City is undefeated this season when they keep possession longer than their opponents, and Reid would be wise to keep the ball in Patrick Mahomes’ hands as much as possible, and out of Joe Burrow’s whenever he can. If he can manage that, the Chiefs should have a leg up on Cincinnati in all four quarters.
Harrison Butker's field goal attempts
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Butker has faced some criticism this season for taking a step back from the excellent production he has achieved in previous years. Over the course of the Chiefs’ regular season schedule, he looked to have lost some of the consistency that had previously been his brand and struggled to get the ball between the uprights at times.
Now, facing a matchup against a team that Kansas City has struggled so hard to best over the course of the last two seasons, Butker must prove his doubters wrong and be a rock on the Chiefs’ special teams unit. Even one missed opportunity for points could decide this game, so if Butker isn’t at his best, it could spell disaster for Kansas City.