Joe Burrow, Bengals go for 4-0 vs. KC in AFC title rematch
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The Bengals and Chiefs have become familiar foes.
When the teams face off Sunday in Kansas City to determine the AFC champion, it’ll be their fourth meeting in 393 days and a rematch of last year’s conference title game.
The No. 1 seed Chiefs (15-3) dropped all three games, including a 27-24 loss in Cincinnati on Dec. 4. That was the same score for the Bengals’ overtime victory in Kansas City in this game last season.
The Bengals (14-4) are riding a 10-game winning streak after eliminating the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round.
Both teams are here because of their quarterbacks.
Sure, they have plenty of talented players on both sides of the ball. But these are two pass-happy squads who rely on their QBs to carry the offensive load with their arms.
All-Pro Patrick Mahomes led the NFL with 5,250 yards passing and 41 TDs, helping the Chiefs reach the AFC championship game for the fifth straight season.
Joe Burrow threw for 4,475 yards and 35 TDs and has led the Bengals to a 5-1 record in the playoffs over the past two seasons.
The Chiefs are seeking their third trip to the Super Bowl in four seasons and fifth overall.
The Bengals are aiming for their fourth appearance in the Super Bowl.
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL:
It’s the Joe “Cool” show. With Burrow leading the way, the Bengals had the fifth-ranked passing offense in the league. Burrow has two talented wide receivers in Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. Chase had 87 catches for 1,046 yards and nine TDs. Higgins had 74 for 1,029 and seven scores. Tyler Boyd (58-762-5) and tight end Hayden Hurst (52-414-2) also are integral parts of the passing attack. So are running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, who combined for 98 receptions for 728 yards and six TDs.
The Bengals had the fourth-fewest yards rushing in the NFL, but Mixon and Perine can do their damage. Perine had 106 yards rushing against the Chiefs last month. Mixon ran for 105 in last week’s win over Buffalo.
Cincinnati’s depleted offensive line has a tough task trying to stop All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones and end Frank Clark. Jones had 15 1/2 of Kansas City’s 55 sacks. Clark had six and added another in a win over the Jaguars last week.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is aggressive and isn’t afraid to blitz to bring more pressure. Rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson, who had a pick against Jacksonville, L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie have a difficult challenge against Cincy’s wideouts.
Linebackers Nick Bolton, Willie Gay and safety Justin Reid are always around the ball.
The Chiefs had the 11th-ranked defense, eighth against the run and 18th against the pass.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL:
A high ankle sprain may slow Mahomes down, but the superstar has proven to be superhuman on the football field. Whether it’s off-balance throws, no-look or sidearm passes, or using his legs to escape the pocket, Mahomes is the king of improvising. He lost All-Pro wideout Tyreek Hill to an offseason trade but didn’t miss a beat. All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce had 110 catches in the regular season and 14 more vs. the Jaguars. He’s the go-to guy for Mahomes anytime he needs a first down or big play.
JuJu Smith-Schuster stepped into the No. 1 wide receiver role and caught 78 balls for 933 yards. Marquez Valdes-Scantling had 42 for 687. Running back Jerick McKinnon had 56 catches.
Rookie seventh-round pick Isiah Pacheco led the Chiefs with 830 yards and he had 95 against Jacksonville. Kansas City was 20th in rushing, averaging 115.9 yards per game.
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo came up with an excellent game plan to shut down Josh Allen and the Bills in the divisional round. He only blitzed seven times, but used it creatively and disguised it to confuse Allen.
The Bengals only had 30 sacks, 14 1/2 of those coming from Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. Linebackers Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt and safeties Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates are Cincinnati’s top tacklers.
Cornerbacks Mike Hilton, Eli Apple and Cam Taylor-Britt should expect plenty of action with Mahomes throwing their way.
Nobody can stop Kelce but the Bengals have to figure out a way to limit his production.
Bengals kicker Evan McPherson was clutch in the playoffs as a rookie last season. He missed four extra points this season, including two in the last four games. He’s made 16 of his past 17 field goals. McPherson has a strong leg. He’s 14 for 16 from beyond 50 yards in his career, including all five in 2022.
Cincinnati is bottom third in punting but has improved since Drue Chrisman replaced Kevin Huber. Chrisman has dropped three of his five punts in the playoffs inside the 20.
The Bengals’ return teams are middle of the pack.
Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker battled injuries and had his least accurate season, converting only 75% of his field goals. But he made both tries from 50 yards last week.
Punter Tommy Townsend had an All-Pro season with a net of 45.6 yards.
The Chiefs’ return teams were both in the top seven.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid is a future Hall of Famer. He’s tied with Tom Landry for second place with 20 career playoff wins. Only Bill Belichick (31) has more. This is Reid’s 10th conference championship game, five with the Eagles and five with the Chiefs. He’s 3-6.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor is one of the league’s bright, young minds. Only 39, Taylor has rebounded from winning six games combined his first two seasons to guide the Bengals to consecutive AFC championship games.
It’s revenge time for Mahomes and the Chiefs, who only measure success by winning the Super Bowl. They’ve got the home-field advantage at raucous Arrowhead Stadium.
The Bengals felt disrespected because the league sold 50,000 tickets for a potential neutral-site Bills-Chiefs game this week that isn’t happening. They’ll play that card for as long as they’re playing this season.
Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL