COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Bengals and Chiefs will square off for a second time this season when the two teams meet in Kansas City Sunday, Jan. 30, at 3:05 p.m. in the AFC Championship.
In their first game, Cincinnati won 34-31 on a game-winning 20-yard field goal as time expired to seal the AFC North title. The win was arguably the biggest in Paul Brown Stadium history before the Bengals beat the Raiders at home two weeks later to secure their first playoff win in 31 years.
Here’s a look back at what went well, and what went wrong, in Cincinnati’s first meeting with the Chiefs.
Pro: Bengals blanket coverage
Kansas City’s receiving threats are among the best in the NFL. Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Bryon Pringle, and Mecole Hardman have torched opposing defenses all season, but all four had rather pedestrian performances against the Bengals the first time around.
Here’s a breakdown of all four players’ games in Week 17:
- Tyreek Hill – 9 targets, 6 catches, 40 yards
- Travis Kelce – 7 targets, 5 catches, 25 yards
- Mecole Hardman – 1 target, 1 catch, 53 yards
- Bryon Pringle – 4 targets, 3 catches 35 yards
The Bengals can’t be expected to hold the Chiefs to those kinds of numbers again, especially after Patrick Mahomes’ memorizing 378-yard, three-touchdown performance over the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round. Perhaps most concerning is the fact that Cincinnati held Kansas City to those kinds of numbers, but the game still came down to a game-winning field goal.
Cincinnati did drop two easy interceptions in the win over Kansas City and the Bengals showed what kind of difference that makes after picking off Titans’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times, including Logan Wilson’s interception with 20 seconds left to set up the game-winning drive.
Pro and Con: Burrow had time (kind of)
The Bengals gave up four sacks against the Chiefs on Jan. 2, but four is a far cry from the nine sacks they allowed against Tennessee, which tied a playoff record.
Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones had a pass-rush win rate of 10.5%, per Pro Football Focus. That’s pretty good but could be better against one of the league’s worst pass-blocking offensive lines. No other Chief had a win rate above 6.5% and if the Bengals can manage to do that again, they’ll give Burrow another chance to torch the secondary.
Pro: Baller Burrow
Joe Burrow embarrassed the Kansas City defense to the tune of 446 yards passing and four touchdowns. Three of those scores went to rookie Ja’Marr Chase who racked up 266 yards on 11 catches. That can no longer be considered an anomaly for the Chiefs who just gave up four touchdowns and 201 yards to Buffalo receiver Gabriel Davis.
The Chiefs have the sixth-worst pass defense in the NFL and Kansas City may be even worse off if safety Tyrann Mathieu isn’t available after suffering a concussion on the first drive of the game against the Bills.
Con: Run game struggled
The Bengals have struggled to get their rushing attack going the last few weeks and that includes the win over Kansas City. Bengals running back Joe Mixon ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards but was held to 46 yards on 12 rushes against the Chiefs. Mixon is still incredibly useful in the pass game and the Bengals will likely stray away from the run to keep up with Kansas City’s high-powered offense.
Con: No pressure on Mahomes
Kansas City was depleted on the offensive line but the Bengals didn’t really take advantage of that. Right tackle Lucas Niang filled in for starting left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. who did not play, but Niang suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and did not return. Niang’s injury forced left guard Joe Thuney to shift to left tackle while backup Nick Allegretti took over for Thuney at left guard.
Cincinnati didn’t get much pressure despite the advantage and now Kansas City returns a fully healthy offensive line, which ranks No. 5 in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.
Cincinnati’s inability to pressure the quarterback has been apparent during the first two rounds of the playoffs and if that doesn’t change, the Bengals defense is in for a long day because Mahomes will not make the mistakes Ryan Tannehill made last week.