The Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs will meet for the second straight year in the AFC championship game. Last season, the Bengals (12-4) came back from an 18-point deficit to deny Kansas City (14-3) its third straight Super Bowl appearance.
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes has dominated the NFL since becoming a starter in 2018, winning the Most Valuable Player award that season and a Super Bowl the next. But Cincinnati has been a persistent stumbling block for Mahomes and Kansas City; the Bengals have prevailed in the last three matchups.
Sunday’s game will kick off at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS. The betting lines suggest a tight match, with Kansas City being a 1-point favorite. Here are the textures to look at:
Patrick Mahomes’ ankle
Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Arden Key landed on Mahomes’ ankle as he tried to take him down during the first quarter in Kansas City’s win over the Jaguars in the Divisional Round last weekend. Mahomes limped back onto the pitch and then was forced to go to the locker room by his team’s medical staff, which prompted a frustrated outburst from him on the sideline. He returned to the game in the second quarter with his right shoe wrapped in athletic tape, moving without the grabbing and scrambling that make him one of the most talented players in the NFL.
The team called Mahomes’ injury a high ankle sprain, and Mahomes practiced throughout the week and said he planned to play on Sunday. But if he’s unable to do that, or if he re-injures his ankle, Kansas City should be in good hands with backup quarterback Chad Henne. While Mahomes sat out against Jacksonville, Henne led a 98-yard drive for a touchdown to extend Kansas City’s lead to 10. And in 2021, when Mahomes suffered a concussion in a divisional round game against Cleveland Browns, Henne led the team to a win.
The War of Words
The matchup between these two teams evolved into a rivalry filled with trash talk. The war of words began last year between Bengal defensive back Eli Apple and Kansas City wide receivers Mecole Hardman and Tyreek Hill, who now plays for the Miami Dolphins. After the Bengals won the AFC championship last year, Apple said on Twitter that he would buy Hardman and Hill Super bowl tickets. When the Bengals lost the Super Bowl, Hardman posted a photo of his Super Bowl ring and told Apple he “might have one someday.” (That tweet appears to have been recently deleted.)
After Cincinnati beat the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round last weekend, Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton Said he’d see Kansas City in “Burrowhead,” altering Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium to showcase how the Bengals recently dominated Kansas City behind quarterback Joe Burrow.
So expect a lot of spice on the pitch on Sunday and then take to social media to see what is said after the game.
The parade and the celebrations
This game features two of the highest scoring offenses in the league: Kansas City finished first in the league in points per game and Cincinnati finished eighth, despite playing only 16 games. So expect plenty of scoring and touchdown celebrations, which players on both teams are known for. Cincinnati catcher Ja’Marr Chase is famous for dancing the Griddy after scoring. Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, who has 12 touchdowns this season, changes his celebrations with every score: He’s done everything from high pitching into the end zone to choreographing stealth potato sack contests with teammates team.
There is also the pre-match parade, otherwise known as the walk from the bus to the changing rooms after arriving at the stadium. Burrow was celebrated for his pre-game looks, which featured fur coats and designer eyewear. Mahomes wears large, brightly colored Oakley glasses. And Kelce has been praised for his style, once named to Sports Illustrated’s “Fashionable 50” list for “not being afraid to mix models and take risks with his fashion,” along with his “perfectly trimmed beard.”