In a rematch of last year’s thrilling AFC championship game, the Kansas City Chiefs will head on the road to Cincinnati to face the Bengals. The Chiefs are coming off of a victory against the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, dispatching them by a final score of 26-10. Cincinnati also had an impressive Week 12 performance, knocking off the Tennessee Titans 20-16 on the road.
Here are three crucial factors we’ll be monitoring in this exciting matchup.
With good reason, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid likes to give quarterback Patrick Mahomes as many opportunities as possible to drive down the field for touchdowns. That aggressive mindset was on full display against Cincinnati in the AFC championship game last year. For most of the first half, Mahomes was sensational, giving the Chiefs a 21-3 lead before the Bengals started to chip away at it.
There were a sequence of plays at the end of the first half of that game that are often overlooked as a reason why Kansas City ended up losing. Sure, the defense could’ve made more plays, but Kansas City’s inability not to come away with any points as the first half expired gave the Bengals a ton of momentum. The Bengals stuffed wide receiver Tyreek Hill in bounds on a second down and goal reception that killed the clock. Had the Chiefs thrown something into the endzone, or settled for a field goal there, they would’ve come out in better shape. It’ll be interesting to see if that factors into the Chiefs’ thinking on Sunday.
The Chase Is On
The Bengals have some of the best wide receiver depth in the NFL, but there’s no denying that the best player of the bunch is budding superstar Ja’Marr Chase. He had a phenomenal finish to last season, emerging as one of the league’s most explosive playmakers. Chase was off to a solid start this year as well, but has missed the last few games due to a hip injury.
By all accounts, the Bengals seemed like they could’ve allowed Chase to return last week against Tennessee, but decided against it out of an abundance of caution. That would make it seem like Chase’s return is imminent, and he’d give the Bengals a major boost in their quest to keep up with the Chiefs’ high powered offense.
While the stakes are pretty high for Sunday’s AFC clash, it won’t compare to the opportunity that both teams played for last season to go to the Super Bowl. However, it might go a long way in determining which team will have home-field advantage on the path to making a Super Bowl run this year.
Cincinnati won three road games in the AFC playoffs last year, so they may not be too phased by being away from home. However, a win in front of their fans on Sunday might change the landscape of the conference, and allow the Bengals to host the AFC title game for the first time since 1981.