It seems as if the Cincinnati Bengals just keep playing in games with higher and higher stakes. Few may be as high in their franchise history as the AFC Championship Game taking place at Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday evening.
To get a read on things for the second rematch in as many seasons, we tapped the knowledge of Tom Childs over at SB Nation’s Arrowhead Pride.
1.) AC: So, give me a read on things, if you can, please? There is an embedded rivalry narrative with the Buffalo Bills and AFC West teams (obviously), but where is Chiefs Kingdom at with these new Bengals? Has Cincinnati leapfrogged a number of past KC rivals with what’s transpired in the last year-plus alone?
TC: “Right, I’ll level with you... The last time I was here having this conversation with you I may have made a comment along the lines of calling the Bengals ‘another annoying little brother that the Chiefs have to deal with’. And yes, I know what happened a few days after that comment. Trust me, I read all of the comments on that particular post.
So now, I sit here with a conundrum. Do I go with option A? To admit that the Bengals have now replaced the Bills as the Chiefs’ biggest non-divisional rival and admit that previous comments were foolish? Or, do I go for option B? I double down on my comments from a couple of months ago and hope that the Chiefs do enough on Sunday to vindicate me.
However, to answer this question, the answer ultimately stems from a sense of insecurity that I didn’t think would happen so soon in the Mahomes era. It’s not that I don’t think the Chiefs are great — they’re exceptional. I just wasn’t ready for another AFC team to come in and spoil the precession through the AFC that I was expecting. Kudos to the Bengals for playing the role of disruptor.
After all that, I’ve decided to keep the answer to myself. I don’t want the smoke.”
2.) AC: In the last three games, Kansas City has tried a number of tactics, and while they’ve been effective, they’ve still gone 0-3. What’s going to be the key difference, game-plan-wise, that the Chiefs are looking to employ the fourth time around?
TC: “The fact that the first 3 games were all close has me thinking that the Chiefs won’t change too much this time around. In their regular season clash from this year, the Chiefs had an opportunity to make the game a two-score lead but then Travis Kelce fumbled and the rest as they say was history.
With that being said, I am hoping for some adjustments from Chiefs defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo. Too often, Joe Burrow picked on the Chiefs’ linebackers in the passing game so something has to change. If the Chiefs’ defensive line can hold then perhaps the Chiefs can afford to replace Willie Gay with the impressive rookie safety Bryan Cook or the veteran Justin Reid to fill the voids in the middle of the field.”
3.) AC: Being located in Southern California, I’ve been a big fan of Trent McDuffie. Still, the past couple of seasons, Kansas City hasn’t had a ton of answers for the Bengals’ pass-catchers. Is the focus this week to take away the short/intermediate passes to Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, or sell out to take away the deep ball and take their chances with Joe Mixon and the battered offensive line?
TC: “The Chiefs’ cornerback room is getting better and better by the week. Is it perfect? No. Good enough? Absolutely. Before I continue, please don’t get my love for the Chiefs’ cornerback room as disregard for the Bengals’ wide receiver room. It’s not an either/or kinda deal. I just hold slightly more hope with the likes of Jaylen Watson in man coverage against Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd or Ja’Marr Chase than I did putting Charvarius Ward or Rashard Fenton against them.
How much the Chiefs can hold up in the first two or three seconds of money downs (third and longs in case you were wondering) will go a long way to deciding this matchup. The Bengals’ three receivers pose a truly daunting task. I am more hoping and not thinking that the Chiefs’ defensive backs are up to the task.”
4.) AC: The Chiefs’ defensive front (Frank Clark, Chris Jones, Carlos Dunlap, etc.) is impressive and they do a number of things well. What do you believe the plan of attack up front will be (blitzing, contain, or other) their attack will be to counter the Bengals’ offense and attrition on the offensive line?
TC: “There is no point in asking the corners to hold up in coverage if the Chiefs cannot disrupt Joe Burrow. Watching the Chiefs’ defensive line clamber after Joe Burrow unsuccessfully for three straight games has made me realize how frustrating it must be to support teams that go up against Patrick Mahomes.
Both Burrow and Mahomes are masters of extending plays and destroying defensive morale. However, the Chiefs rank second in sacks, pressures and hits in 2022.
Some, but not all of it, has come in the way of blitzing — so I can imagine that Spagnuolo will want to continue that trend on Sunday. My concern is that if a blitz doesn’t pay off, then Burrow will make the Chiefs pay.
In my opinion, the Bengals’ offensive line vs the Chiefs’ pass rush will be the most important battle of the day.”
5.) AC: Be it because of the Chiefs’ high-flying offense and/or his time with the Steelers, JuJu Smith-Schuster will be in focus in this one. He gushed publicly about this week’s game plan, but what kind of effect and how important is he this week?
TC: “JuJu has performed well this year. He has presented another set of reliable hands who isn’t afraid to get involved in the rough stuff where the scary linebackers play. He isn’t a like-for-like replacement for Tyreek but nor was he ever expected to be so.
I am intrigued to see how the Chiefs deploy him on Sunday. I’ve got a sneaky feeling that the Chiefs could commit heavily to the run and that JuJu’s sheer mass on the outside could be a part of it.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that JuJu isn’t on your Christmas card list every year. While there will obviously be some added motivation for JuJu to beat this particular team, I want to believe that the motivation of reaching his first Super Bowl will be enough. Beating the Bengals will simply be the cherry on top.”
Bonus! AC: This line has been all over the place. The Chiefs were initially favored, but after Vegas learned of Patrick Mahomes’ ankle injury and the Bengals’ recent history against Kansas City, the line has flipped to the Bengals being the favorites by 1-1.5 points. How do you see this one going and how surprised are you that this is the line in Arrowhead this Sunday?
TC: “Honestly, I have no idea. I’m too nervous for logical thought right now.
I don’t think losing will result in the Chiefs rebuilding their team to beat the Bengals — nor do I believe that a Chiefs win will make them kings of the conference from now until Mahomes’ retirement. This will not be the last time these two teams see each other in the AFC Championship Game.
You asked for a prediction, but I’m going to sit on the fence. Actually no, I’m going to let the law of averages influence my decision and predict a Chiefs win as surely — SURELY — the Bengals can’t get the Chiefs for a fourth time in 14 months, right?
Thanks for having me. I hope I haven’t annoyed you all as much as the last time I was here.”
Our thanks to Tom Childs over at Arrowhead Pride for the chat. Be sure to see our side of the conversation over there, too!