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Bengals-Chiefs AFC Championship Preview: Can Joe Burrow Escape Kansas City Again?

The Kansas City Chiefs will face the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Kansas City is favorite to win. Please welcome Anthony Cosenza of Cincy Jungle – our SBNation sister site covering the Bengals – to Five questions with the enemy.

1. Sunday’s game decides who is now the king of the AFC?

It might be more of a “king of the hill” moment, where the winner is temporarily the conference class. The triumvirate of the Chiefs, Bengals and Buffalo Bills will always appear to be chasing the AFC crown, as long as Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow and Josh Allen are healthy and running their respective franchises. Those three will always fight for conference supremacy.

You also have the Justin Herbert-led Los Angeles Chargers and the Tua Tagovailoa-led Miami Dolphins who are both tasting the postseason now and will continue to charge to attempt to keep up. And, since I cover the Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens are in the mix every single year, so the seven teams in the conference bracket appear to be essentially cast for the foreseeable future. They will all want a piece of what the Bengals and Chiefs have had in recent years.

That said, as of right now, the Chiefs and Bengals are the current class of the conference given what they’ve done over the past two seasons. But if Cincinnati beats Kansas City four straight — two apiece at each venue, both AFC Championship Games being hosted at Arrowhead — it would be hard for anyone to unseat the Bengals from that throne in the foreseeable future. But I suppose it also depends on the opinion you take.

2. Bengalis love their “us against the world” attitude. Are you personally a fan of it?

I’m kind of a sports purist in many ways. I love the old Paul Brown quote: “When you win, say nothing; when you lose, say less. I’m not a big “talker”, for the most part. I like the approach of “We won and everybody saw what we did. So why talk about it?

However, for Bengalis and this attitude, I love it for a couple of reasons. Primarily it seems to feed them to big wins. They’ve taken national media talking points spitting doubts and/or biting players from rival teams and twisted them into a narrative along the lines of, “They’re disrespecting us, so we’re going to show them.” And for the most part, it worked. Chad Johnson did some of this back in the day with guarantees, dispatching Pepto-Bismol opposing defenders and flamboyant celebrations – and that worked for a while – but this is different.

The second reason I love it is because these are the Cincinnati Bengals. Even this year, whether it’s preseason predictions and/or their 0-2 start, they wouldn’t go far because “it’s the Bengals.” Traditionally, they had choked on big moments, couldn’t sustain long-term success, and the organization couldn’t get out of the way.

This is a script that has been completely turned upside down – and yet, they were still underdogs. This group wants to prove that last year was no fluke and that they are at the beginning of a dynasty under construction. If they’re going to use talking points for fuel – even if they feel like they’re holding onto themes that aren’t really there – I say leave them after the rough history this franchise and its fan base has endured.

3. The Chiefs haven’t taken much care of Joe Burrow in recent matchups. Why do you think this is so?

In last year’s AFC Championship, Kansas City sacked Burrow four times, hit him five total, and pressured him a handful of other times. He just climbed out of those to do footwork. The December matchup was just when the rebuilt offensive line got the hang of him. He was playing some of his-his best balls and it showed.

But Cincinnati leaned into a robust running game last time out, even without Joe Mixon, while also using a mix of quick passing and intermediate runs in lieu of big dropbacks and a deep run string that takes a long time to develop. They’ve been a little more selective with the big shots on the pitch this year, using a little more of a “move the chains” mentality instead of “we need to pop the big game here and now.” It was effective, and Cincinnati has significantly improved its red zone conversion percentage from last postseason.

Burrow is also a whiz in the pocket, so he escapes many plays where other quarterbacks would be fired. The slammed offensive line held up very well in Buffalo last week, but I think the Chiefs’ pass rush is a little more formidable than the Von Miller-less pack they faced last week. This will surely be an important key in this game.

4. How will the Bengals defense try to stop the Chiefs offense? Do you think there are different game plans based on how Mahomes’ ankle looks?

No. I think they’ll do a lot of similar things to what they’ve done the last three times, with a few new wrinkles here and there. That plan is to play contain with edges, have a spy in the middle of the field, and drop a bunch of players into cover.

Now, big credit goes to Andy Reid and Eric Bienemy for the last time. They stuck to the clay game and it worked out quite well for them. It will be interesting to see if they do so well again with Mahomes’ ankle issue and where his mobility will be. Mahomes will get his stats and points out of him, no question. It’s all about frustrating him by limiting his “backyard football” style and resisting the supernatural plays he makes.

5. Do you have a prop bet on your favorite player for Sunday’s match??

Not necessarily a “prop bet” — but if there’s a number of Samaje Perine’s yards or receptions out there that aren’t overly outrageous, I’d take it. He’s quietly a very important player for this offense – and a nice outlet in the passing game for a big guy when things break down. Perine topped 100 yards rushing when Mixon was out of the lineup in December — and he’s a bit more of a “north-south” runner on Mixon, sometimes waiting for things to develop.

A couple others to watch: The Bengals are fifth in DVOA against tight ends this year and reports have them (rightfully) hyper-focused on Travis Kelce this week. And as of Friday morning, the line is at -1 Chiefs, but the Bengals are 13-5 against the spread.

BONUS – How will this game play? Score prediction.

Tossing a coin. Based on recent history, I think if these two teams played this game, probably regardless of venue, you’d get a pretty even win/loss split. These two teams are the class of the conference and I’m sure we will once again get some nail biting here.

While a big talking point is that the Bengals are 3-0 in their last three matchups, they’ve all been decided by one field goal apiece — either with a last-second field goal during overtime, or a very late drive for kill time . It’s also ironic that two of the scores were 27-24 – and that’s only about 3.5 or 4 points above over/under in this one.

I think it’s another game decided by field goal, maybe even in overtime. I’ll say Cincinnati 27-24 (again) to avoid the heat from my Bengals readers, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the scores flipped.

Be sure to check out the answers I gave to their questions by clicking here.

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