CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals just a week ago beat one of their playoff opponents from last season. Now they have a chance to do it again when they host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in a rematch of the AFC Championship.
Kansas City (9-2) enters as the top team in the AFC but let go of leads in two matchups last season with the Bengals, once in a Week 17 game that clinched the AFC North title for Cincinnati and again in that conference championship.
The Bengals (7-4) are coming off a victory at Tennessee in a rematch of their divisional round playoff game and seeking a fourth straight win. The hype surrounding the game should bring another playoff atmosphere to Paycor Stadium.
Here are five things to know about the game:
1. “Brady vs. Manning” game
Joe Burrow says he is focused on beating Kansas City’s defense and not how he can outdo Patrick Mahomes, but it’s impossible to avoid this game being billed as an exciting quarterback battle.
Wide receiver Tyler Boyd called it a “Brady and Manning game” because of the expectations for the two young quarterbacks to reach that same level as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the latter whom already is in the Hall of Fame.
Mahomes leads the league with 3,585 yards and 29 touchdowns, and Burrow isn’t far behind as the quarterback with the third most passing yards at 3,160 yards and 23 touchdowns after a slow start to the season. They are both among the fastest to reach 10,000 career passing yards, Mahomes doing it in a record 34 games and Burrow in 36.
“That’s how the media likes to spin it and it creates energy for the game and anticipation,” Burrow said. “Each quarterback is going against the defense, and when you have two quarterbacks like that it’s great for the game and great for fans to watch high level quarterback play.”
Alter High School graduate Joe Thuney is the Chiefs’ starting left guard.
2. Returning weapons
This week would be a great time for wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase to make his return after missing four games because of a hip injury. He was available to play last week at Tennessee but asked for another week as a precaution, and by Friday of this week he was a full participant in practice. Chase was listed as questionable on the status report, but Zac Taylor told reporters Friday he was trending optimistic toward playing on Sunday.
Chase racked up a career-high 266 yards and two touchdowns against Kansas City in the regular-season matchup last year, as Burrow threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns in a comeback win. The Chiefs limited him to 54 yards and one touchdown in the AFC Championship, but he was playing some of his best football this season when he suffered the hip injury.
“You just always have to pay attention to him,” Burrow said.
The Bengals also could be getting back Joe Mixon, but Taylor said he remained in concussion protocol Friday and was listed as questionable after a third straight day as a limited participant in practice. The only other player that is questionable for Cincinnati is Logan Wilson, who missed practice Friday because of illness. DJ Reader missed practice Thursday for personal reasons and was limited Friday and Vonn Bell showed up on the injury report Friday with a hamstring issue but both are good to go Sunday.
Kansas City backup safety Deon Bush is doubtful with an elbow injury, and backup wide receiver Kadarius Toney is out with a hamstring injury.
3. New personnel, same problems
The Chiefs general manager Brett Veach spoke during the offseason about wanting to get faster and more athletic on defense, and Burrow and Bengals coach Zac Taylor said they can see how the team improved in that regard since last year.
Kansas City has some new defensive backs this season, including safety Justin Reid and rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie, but the biggest problem on their defense remains defensive tackle Chris Jones. Jones leads the team with 10 sacks and had two on Burrow in the Week 17 matchup last season.
“He’s up there (among the best) because he’s quick, he’s smart, he’s physical, he finishes at the quarterback,” Taylor said. “He’s really good in the run game. He can turn it on and be a big force. It’s a tough task.”
The Chiefs have the fifth best run defense in the league, allowing just 102.0 rushing yards per game.
4. Taylor-Britt expecting more work
As a rookie cornerback, Cam Taylor-Britt likely will see more action if the Chiefs decide to target the least experienced player in the Bengals’ secondary. He is expected to make his fifth start, fourth since Chidobe Awuzie tore his ACL in the Week 8 loss at Cleveland. Taylor-Britt had only made his debut the week prior against Atlanta when he was thrown into the starting lineup against the Browns, opposite Awuzie, because of an injury to Eli Apple.
Taylor-Britt seems to be settling in nicely, though. He posted a season-best defensive grade of 79.7 last week against Tennessee, according to Pro Football Focus. He allowed four receptions on six targets, but it was the first time he prevented more than one pass from being completed and he also chased down Derrick Henry on a big catch and forced a fumble, which the Titans were fortunate to recover in the end zone.
“You just can’t get flustered,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said of his message this week to the rookie. “They’re going to complete balls. They’re the best offense in the league for a reason. He’s (Mahomes) one of the best quarterbacks in the league for a reason. Yards don’t equal points this week. Get the points off the board.”
It won’t just be the outside cornerbacks getting tested, though. Tight end Travis Kelce, the team’s top receiver, is a big part of why the Chiefs have the highest scoring offense in the league and Mahomes leads in passing yards.
5. Past is the past
Evan McPherson had game-winning field goals in both of the matchups against the Chiefs during the 2021 season, one as time experienced in regulation and the other in overtime. This game very well could come down to his leg again, but the Bengals aren’t looking back much on those results.
The saying it’s difficult to beat a team three times doesn’t apply, Taylor said, because even though the Bengals played the Chiefs twice already in this calendar year, the previous two matchups in 2022 were part of the 2021 season. Personnel has changed, and what happened in those games doesn’t apply much aside from understanding concepts and some of the tendencies of returning players.
“We feel like it’s just two good football teams,” Taylor said. “We’ve got a lot of respect for Patrick Mahomes. He’s a great quarterback and everything that comes with that. But again, we just see it as we’ve got a really good football team that we’ve got to prepare for on all phases. They’ve done a good job this year. They’ve got a great history in November and December and have won a lot of football games. Our guys are up for the challenge and we’re excited for the opportunity.”
Chiefs at Bengals, 4:25 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7
About the Author