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Chiefs vs Bengals Game Preview: We're on to Week 4

The Bengals arguably have their toughest match-up of the young season with an up-and-down Kansas City squad. Will Cincinnati keep riding high or will the Chiefs get their team back on track with a big win?

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

"We're on to Cincinnati."

What is it about the phrase that brings chills to one's spine? Oh yes, now I remember: last season, a reeling New England Patriots team was set to host a 3-0 Bengals team and their standoffish head coach uttered the sentence. One year later, a more affable head man in Kansas City tersely said the same thing with his team in a very similar situation to Bill Belichick's 2014 squad.

Week 4 is a true litmus test for both the Chiefs and the Bengals. After Cincinnati began the season 2-0, the national pundits still coined them as "pretenders" or "jokers", still pointing to their primetime and postseason struggles. However, after a yo-yo-like win last week against the Ravens, heaps of praise have been laid at the feet of the orange and black crew, with true talks of Super Bowl contention.

Concurrently, Kansas City is coming off a two-week tailspin. After a nice opening week road win against the Houston Texans, the Chiefs literally fumbled away what would have been another impressive victory against their AFC West rivals in the Denver Broncos. They then trudged away from Arrowhead Stadium to the unfriendly confines of Lambeau Field and were torn to shreds by Aaron Rodgers.

The past two weeks beg the question of if it's a weaker Chiefs team than most surmised, or if it is a simple case of a tough schedule filled with a buzzsaw of elite quarterbacks. And, while the Bengals' Andy Dalton isn't in the class of Rodgers or Peyton Manning, he sure is playing up to par with them in 2015. Hence the big test for Kansas City this Sunday.

For a 1-2 team, the Chiefs have exciting players on both sides of the ball. Pressuring the quarterback is one of their specialties on defense, with grizzled edge player Tamba Hali manning the right side and the havoc-wreaking Justin Houston on the left. Dontari Poe is a freak athlete for his size (6'3", 343 pounds) who mans the middle and Derrick Johnson is the veteran glue holding the unit together.

There are many parallels between the two teams, at least for franchises not placed in the same division. Perhaps the most prominent similarity lies in the quarterbacks for the respective teams. While Dalton's arrow has pointed up this year in his fifth season, Alex Smith's has been rather horizontal for a signal-caller in his 11th year as a pro. It's his play that has the Chiefs faithful letting out the exasperated sighs that Who Dey Nation knows all too well.

Even so, Smith and Co. bring matchup nightmares for other squads, so the Bengals will need to be on high alert this week. Even in games where Jamaal Charles looks pedestrian, he still seems to manage at least one big play per game. With the Bengals looking as if they might not have emerging star safety George Iloka available, it could serve up as a feeding frenzy for tight end Travis Kelce.

The storyline of the game likely will be in what the Chiefs like to do on offense and what the Bengals' defense has done well in 2015. Smith and the Kansas City offense thrive on yards-after-the-catch plays as well as big runs from Charles, while the Bengals' defensive line is solid at stifling the run and keeping passing plays in front of them to limit gains.

Last week, Steve Smith, Sr. gashed Cincinnati's defense because of shoddy tackling in the secondary. The same cannot be repeated this week if the Bengals hope to get to 4-0. If Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones, and Reggie Nelson haven't shored it up this week, Kelce, Charles and Jeremy Maclin will put up points fast. Don't believe me? Have a look at the 21 points scored in just a little more than the final 15 minutes of play against Green Bay.

Last year, the Bengals were rolling through teams in the first three weeks, but injuries and an inspired Patriots team sent them crashing back to reality--really for the rest of the season. Still, even though the situations are very similar, this Cincinnati team might have had a genetic change in just one year.

Dalton is off to the best start of his career, the defense is allowing just an average of 77 rushing yards per game, and the club has once again locked up two huge offseason priorities with extensions to Andrew Whitworth and A.J. Green. All of that said, the Chiefs just might be the most talented team the Bengals have faced in the first four games of the season.

A win for the Chiefs gets them back on track in the AFC West race behind the Broncos, while also keeping pace with the Chargers (who face the Cincinnati foe Cleveland Browns this week) and the surprising Raiders. A loss with a 1-3 start and the chorus calling for Smith's head might begin before Halloween even hits the calendar. Are the Chiefs going to play as desperate as the Patriots did 364 days prior?

A win for the Bengals and the rest of the AFC North fades into the rearview even further. The quarterback-replacement tune that Bengaldom initially wrote will officially be passed to the Chiefs' faithful, while the Super Bowl whispers will become truly audible sentences. And a Bengals loss? It probably puts them out of the national spotlight once again while the scoffs that have prevailed throughout the Marvin Lewis era will continue.

At the risk of sounding exaggeratory, Sunday is gigantic for both teams. "It's on to Week 4."

Bengals 38, Chiefs 31

AC -- Waiting for the Twitter blue check to come my way.