CINCINNATI (WCMH) — For the second straight year, the Cincinnati Bengals will be playing for an AFC championship against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
Kansas City is eager for revenge and to avoid a fourth straight loss to Cincinnati, which is looking to make back-to-back Super Bowls for the first time. In the last three meetings, Cincinnati showed its composure under pressure with three 3-point wins, all in comeback fashion.
This time, the Bengals will look to execute their successful game plan against the Chiefs again and replicate the surprising performance in last week’s win over the Buffalo Bills. Kansas City can make its third Super Bowl in five seasons with a win, but fans are fixed on its quarterback’s ankle injury.
Here are three things to know for Sunday’s AFC Championship game:
Patrick Mahomes’ injury
During the second quarter of the Chiefs’ divisional round matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, quarterback Patrick Mahomes limped off the field with an ankle injury that caused him to miss part of the game.
Despite the injury, Mahomes hopped on one leg to lead Kansas City to the AFC title game. But the lingering question NFL fans had Monday morning: Would Mahomes play against the Bengals?
In a Monday update, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Mahomes’ MRI results showed he suffered a high right ankle sprain and that he will play against the Bengals.
Mahomes has playoff experience with an injury. In 2020, he left a playoff game against the Cleveland Browns in the third quarter because of a concussion but was healthy for the AFC title game against the Bills, which the Chiefs won.
Bengals’ success against Chiefs
Sunday will be the fourth game in two seasons between Cincinnati and Kansas City. Despite being looked at as the underdogs each time, the Bengals have won all three previous matchups.
In all three, quarterback Joe Burrow led the Bengals on double-digit comebacks, including a 21-3 deficit in last year’s AFC Championship before a 27-24 overtime win. While consistent offensive drives has been instrumental to those wins, beating Kansas City with Mahomes always takes a monumental defensive performance.
This season’s 27-24 regular-season win in Cincinnati was a good example of the Bengals neutralizing the Chiefs offense. Cincinnati limited Mahomes to one touchdown pass and tight end Travis Kelce to four catches, all before a fourth-quarter shutout. .
“We’ve got to beat them one time in a row,” Bengals coach Zach Taylor said. “Obviously, there’s more familiarity personnel-wise amongst both teams now. We understand the environment we’re walking into. That doesn’t hurt. But at the end of the day, it feels like we played them a really long time ago.”
A Bengals win would make them just the fourth team to make back-to-back Super Bowls since the league expanded to 32 teams in 2002. Burrow could join Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, and Patrick Mahomes as the only quarterbacks to accomplish that feat in the last 20 seasons.
Offensive line status
The Bengals’ red-zone defense and passing game have been great all season and was the highlight of the win in the snow over Buffalo. Questions arose entering that game on the effectiveness on the rushing game and how a backup offensive line could protect Burrow.
Against the Bills, Cincinnati had 172 rushing yards for its second-best total this season. Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine combined for 138 of those yards, and Burrow added some key first down runs to help open up the passing game.
In front of that rushing performance was an offensive line missing three starters. Tackles La’el Collins and Jonah Williams, alongside guard Alex Cappa, were injured, opening the door for Max Scharping, Hakeem Adeniji and Jackson Carman to start. Against the Bills, they allowed one sack, eight fewer than the offensive line allowed in last year’s divisional round win over the Tennessee Titans.
“To rush for over 170 yards in this environment, to handle the noise the way they did, to protect Joe the way that they did, I thought our offensive line was outstanding,” Taylor said.
Collins will still be out because of a torn knee ligament, but Williams and Cappa are being revaluated and could return. Taylor said both are “improving each day,” but their status is likely unknown until this weekend.