We’ve finally made it to Conference Championship Week! We’re down to four teams- the Eagles, 49ers, Chiefs, and Bengals. Any one of these teams can make a strong case for winning the Super Bowl, but unfortunately, only two teams are going forward after Sunday. This is the Championship Showdown: Chiefs vs Bengals! The Bengals have won three straight over the Chiefs, including a 27-24 win in Week 13. This is also of course a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship. It should be just as good of a game as the last three have been even with Mahomes at less than 100-percent. Let’s take a deeper look at these teams and this matchup.
Chris Jones: "Take care. See you all at Burrowhead Stadium." 👀
Bengals-Chiefs gonna be one for the ages 🍿 pic.twitter.com/RkTk6oi3XZ
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 27, 2023
How to Watch:
Date: Sunday, January 29
Time: 6:30 EST
Spread: Chiefs -1.5
Money: Bengals +100, Chiefs -120
The Bengals finished the year 12-4, locking down the No. 3 seed in the AFC. Their offense finished the year No. 7 in Points For and No. 8 in Yards. The defense finished No. 6 in Points Allowed and No. 16 in Yards Allowed. They have won 10 straight games and totally dominated the Bills last week to make it to the AFC Championship.
Injuries to Monitor
There are no Questionable players for the Bengals, however, they will be without star offensive linemen just as they were last week. Guard Alex Cappa and tackle Jonah Williams will be out for this game. Burrow was only sacked once last week with these two out, and the sack occurred outside of the pocket.
The Bengals’ offense is of course led by Joe Burrow who’s making a strong case to be the No. 2 best QB in the NFL, and some would even say the best. Burrow finished this year with the No. 5 most Passing Yards and No. 2 most Passing TDs. He was top five in Fantasy Points per Game, Accuracy Rating, Passer Rating, and even Rush TDs. This is now back-to-back years with over 30 TDs and 4,500 Passing Yards. He’s truly elite.
The Bengals have two WRs that could pass as WR1s- one of which is a future hall of famer Ja’Marr Chase. Despite missing four games, Chase led the Bengals in targets, receptions, and yards. He also finished with 1,046 Receiving Yards and nine TDs. Tee Higgins had a solid year as well but has definitely fallen off. He ended the year with over 1,000 yards but hasn’t eclipsed 40 yards in the last three contests. The Bengals will need him to win, so hopefully, he shows up. The No. 3 option is usually Tyler Boyd or Hayden Hurst. However, in the Playoffs, it’s been Hurst. He’s had nine catches, 104 yards, and a TD so far.
The Bengals have been using both Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon in a timeshare since Mixon returned from injury. Especially in the playoffs where both are hovering around 50-percent snap share the past two weeks. However, Mixon is still getting the bulk of opportunities. He had 22 touches last week to Perine’s 12. Look for this to continue, with Perine getting slightly more work in the passing game than Mixon. The RB in this offense is a great role with plenty of upside. Both of these guys will have opportunities to succeed on Sunday.
What’s interesting about this Bengals’ defense is how well they’ve performed without any one player having a standout season. Their leading tackler was Logan Wilson who finished No. 29 with 123 tackles. Their leading sacker was Trey Hendrickson who tied for No. 32 with eight sacks. The team itself ranked No. 29 in sacks per game with only 1.8. However, the defensive line is star-studded with Sam Hubbard and D.J. Reader combining with Hendrickson. It’s a solid front and the secondary is arguably just as solid.
The best thing the Bengals have going for them on defense is turnovers. They finished No. 8 in takeaways per game and total turnovers for the year. Their Safety duo are the ones responsible- both Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates had four interceptions each which ties them for No. 11 in the league. The pass defense has only allowed one game this year with more than 300 passing yards.
So while no one player has really stood out individually- they are stout at all positions and perform well in all aspects of the field. It’s a truly stingy defense that’s of course highlighted by being in the bottom half of the league for Yards Allowed but the No. 6 best defense in Points Allowed.
Prediction: Higgins goes for over 40 yards and scores for the first time since Week 16.
The Chiefs finished the year 14-3, winning the AFC West and finishing No. 1 overall in the AFC. The offense finished No. 1 in both Points For and Yards. The defense finished No. 16 in Points Allowed and No. 11 in Yards Allowed. They have won six games in a row and 11 out of their last 12.
Injuries to Monitor
Patrick Mahomes is playing through a high ankle sprain. He finished the game last week with the injury, but it clearly pained him and affected his play. But a 70-percent Patrick Mahomes is still better than half the QBs in the league. One player’s status to monitor is Mecole Hardman’s who may end up making his first start since Week 9. He has been limited at practice all week with his pelvis injury.
Why is Patrick Mahomes barely moving on all of these practice videos we’ve seen? 🤔
Probably because he has a high-ankle sprain, but that’s just a guess 🤷♂️
— PlayerProfiler NFL (@Profiler_NFL) January 27, 2023
The offense is led by superstar QB Patrick Mahomes. He led the NFL in Passing Yards, Passing TDs, True Passer Rating, QBR, and Expected Points Added. It’s obviously no secret that he’s the best quarterback in the league. Mahomes has essentially carried this entire offense to being one of the best in the league all by himself.
His targets are led by tight end Travis Kelce with other WRs serving as complementary pieces. Kelce in particular led all tight ends in Receptions, Receiving Yards, Yards After Catch, TDs, Points per Game, and more. He clearly dominated in all aspects and is the heart and soul of the Chiefs’ receiving room. Mecole Hardman, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Justin Watson have all stepped up in their own regard. Smith-Schuster had 933 receiving yards and three TDs on the season. The WR to watch is Kadarius Toney, who when healthy, has been an exciting player.
The running back corps has much improved since Clyde Edwards-Helaire went on IR. Veteran Jerick McKinnon has been lighting the world on fire, and Isiah Pacheco is the perfect slasher RB. Pacheco has ten straight games with at least 80 yards or a TD. The Chiefs are No. 4 in Game Script, and this plays in Pacheco’s favor. If the Chiefs find themselves ahead, Pacheco will likely reach that mark again. McKinnon finished the year No. 5 in Receiving Yards (512), No. 9 in Receptions (56), and No. 10 in TDs (10).
The defense is led by perhaps the best DT in the league, Chris Jones. He finished the year with 15.5 sacks (tied for No. 4 in the league), two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Their other pass rushers are good too. Rookie George Karlaftis finished with six sacks, and Frank Clark finished with five. The Chiefs as a whole finished No. 2 in the NFL in sacks per game with 3.2. The linebacker corps is more than decent as well with both Willie Gay and Nick Bolton breaking out this season. And the cornerbacks are no slouches either. L’Jarius Sneed finished with three interceptions, and rookie Trent McDuffie ended the year impressively. This defense can be very dangerous.
Prediction: Kadarius Toney scores two TDs.
How I Think the Game Will Go
Score Prediction: Bengals 27 Chiefs 21
It’s unfortunate that Mahomes isn’t at 100-percent as that is probably what it would take to beat this Bengals team. The Bengals just held Josh Allen and the Bills to 10 points. If they show up the way they did against Buffalo, then this game is there’s. However, it’s difficult to play the perfect football game in back-to-back games, so I do expect the Chiefs to put up a better fight.
The Chiefs’ game plan will be to rely on their playmakers more than they did against the Jaguars. It’s unlikely Kelce gets 14 receptions again. I think it’s much more likely we see Jerick McKinnon involved more as he had 0 targets last week. Also, Kadarius Toney was ramped up and received seven targets. He should get similar usage again and maybe even more. His playmaking ability is up there with the best in the league, and the Chiefs will need that. I also expect Mahomes to take a few more designed deep shots to either Mecole Hardman or Marquez Valdes-Scantling since he won’t be able to rely on his play-extending abilities.
Because of that, I see this game starting out a bit slow as the Chiefs try to work themselves into a bit of a groove. They should rely on short passes and hope they break one or two early. They will want to control this game as much as possible.
Where I see that biting them in the rear is Ja’Marr Chase. The Chiefs are No. 31 against No. 1 WRs. Chase has 417 yards and four TDs in his three games against Kansas City. They will not be able to control Ja’Marr Chase. And if they somehow do, then they won’t be able to control Tee Higgins. The Chiefs will likely be playing on the back of their heels for most of this game. However, they should have a slow enough pace that they remain close throughout.
I also do think the Bengals’ offensive line issues will be more apparent than it was last week. This Chiefs’ defense can generate pressure with the best of them. However, Joe Burrow should rise above it.
Essentially, I believe the Bengals will slowly but surely build their lead throughout this game. I would be very surprised if at any point this game becomes a two-score game.
DFS Value Play
Justin Watson $2200
Watson has had a reception in three straight games and averaged nearly 40 air yards a game over the season. I’m not gonna lie, $2200 isn’t the biggest value in the world. But, as I mentioned earlier, I do expect there the be some more designed deep shots, and there’s a decent chance Justin Watson gets one of them. If he takes it, it’s worth the price. And if it’s a TD- you’re likely in the money.
Joe Burrow OVER 1.5 Pass TDs
Joe Burrow has had two or more TDs in 12 games this year. And in an AFC Championship game, it’s hard to believe he doesn’t hit that mark. Burrow has also had at least two pass TDs in all three meetings against the Chiefs.