AFC Conference Championship Game Preview & Prediction – Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cincinnati Bengals
By Ha Kung Wong
AFC Conference Championship Game
Sunday, January 29th @ 6:30 PM ET in Kansas City
Chiefs favored by 1
Kansas City Chiefs
- Passing Yards per Game: 279.8 (1st)
- Rushing Yards per Game: 119.9 (20th)
- Points per Game: (29.2) (1st)
- Giveaways (Interceptions Thrown + Fumbles Lost): 23 (Tied 17th)
- Average Time of Possession: 29:59 (12th)
- Patrick Mahomes Time to Throw (among QBs with at least 4 appearances): 2.89 seconds (Tied 27th)
- Sacked: 24
- Interceptions thrown: 12
- Passing Yards Allowed per Game: 220.9 (18th)
- Rushing Yards Allowed per Game: 107.2 (8th)
- Points Allowed per Game: 21.7 (16th)
- Takeaways (Interceptions + Fumble Recoveries): 20 (Tied 20th)
- Field Goal Percentage: 75.0% / 24 of 32 (Tied 30th)
- Kickoff Return Average: 19.2 (29th)
- Punt Return Average: 6.7 (26th)
Keys to the Game for the Chiefs
- Patrick Mahomes Health
The roll up on Patrick Mahomes’ right ankle in the 1st quarter of the game against the Jaguars completely changed the perspective of the game. The line moved from 9.5 in favor of the Chiefs to just 2.5 in one play, and if not for the longest drive in Chiefs postseason history by backup Chad Henne and some stellar defense, this could look like a very different AFC Conference Championship game. The MRI revealed a high ankle sprain, which is typically a 6-week recovery, but Mahomes insists he’ll play. It’ll be interesting to see how this impacts his play, as he was unable to plant and go deep with any velocity in the 2nd half of the game against the Jaguars.
- Wild Card Offense
And by this I don’t mean Wild Card weekend, but who will step up as the wild card on offense outside of Travis Kelce? Kadarius Toney has taken some huge steps forward, so if he can channel his inner “Tyreek Hill“, perhaps the Chiefs can continue to push the ball down the field against an aggressive Bengals defense.
- Conference Championship Experience
This is the fifth consecutive Conference Championship game that the Chiefs have reached. It’s almost the biggest stage of the season and the Chiefs have plenty of experience playing and winning big games (having won 2 of the last 4 Conference Championships). That being said, the Bengals were the team to most recently beat them in the Conference Championship game, so I’m not sure this is much of an advantage.
The real reason the Chiefs won against the Jaguars was the defense. Typically a bend-don’t-break defense that’s bailed out by the offense, they stepped up big in the Divisional Playoffs forcing two turnovers and getting two sacks on their way to limited the Jaguars to 20 points. Will they be able to do that against the Bengals? They’ll have to step up big again if the Chiefs want to give their offense a chance.
- Success Running the Ball
The Chiefs are not a good running team, ranking 20th in the NFL with only 119.9 rush yards per game during the season. But they were much more effective against the Jaguars with 144 total yards primarily on the back of Isiah Pacheco‘s 95 rushing yards. They’ll need to continue that against the Bengals to keep the pressure off Mahomes and win time of possession.
- Passing Yards per Game: 265.0 (5th)
- Rushing Yards per Game: 95.5 (29th)
- Points per Game: 26.1 (7th)
- Giveaways (Interceptions Thrown + Fumbles Lost): 18 (4th)
- Average Time of Possession: 31:36 (3rd)
- Joe Burrow Time to Throw (among QBs with at least 4 appearances): 2.55 seconds (2nd)
- Sacked: 39
- Interceptions thrown: 12
- Passing Yards Allowed per Game: 229.1 (23rd)
- Rushing Yards Allowed per Game: 106.6 (7th)
- Points Allowed per Game: 20.1 (Tied 5th)
- Takeaways (Interceptions + Fumble Recoveries): 24 (Tied 11th)
- Field Goal Percentage: 82.8% / 24 of 29 (21st)
- Kickoff Return Average: 20.6 (27th)
- Punt Return Average: 10.3 (9th)
Keys to the Game for the Bengals
- Bengals Offensive Line Dominance
The Bengals offensive line completely dominated the Bills as they blew defenders off the line and created plenty of running lanes. Part of the problem the Bills had was how quickly Joe Burrow got rid of the ball, which neutralized the pass rush, but it was the o-line line that made all the difference. Whether it was moving the ball down the field quickly or sustaining drives to kill clock (ultimately winning time of possession with 33:54), they completely outmatched the Bills. This led to a Bengals postseason record 30 first downs. The Chiefs defensive line is vulnerable, which can be a problem in this game.
- Joe Cool Rules
Joe Burrow was cool as a cucumber completing 23 of 36 passes for 242 yards and 2 TDs, adding 6 runs for 31 rush yards, leading to 101.9 passer rating. The game was never in doubt with Burrow’s play, and with the 2nd fastest time to throw in the NFL, he got passes out quick and was only sacked once for 2 yards. The Chiefs allowed the 18th most passing yards per game in the regular season, and Burrow will take advantage of that with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Hayden Hurst.
- Running Success
The Bengals completely dominated on the ground with 172 rush yards, mostly on the back of Mixon’s 105 rush yards. This was as much a result of the offensive line dominance as it was on Mixon, but it proved absolutely critical to maintain clock control, something that will be very helpful against a Chiefs whose primary weapon is on offense.
The Bengals have absolutely owned the Chiefs in recent history, beating them 3 games in a row back to last year’s regular season game and including last year’s AFC Conference Championship game and earlier this season. They beat the Chiefs 27-24 in OT earlier this season, but Joe Mixon wasn’t even on the field due to injury, and Samaje Perine piled up 106 rush yards.
What can you say? The Bengals kept Josh Allen in check in Buffalo for just 265 passing yards (most of which came when the game was essentially out of reach in the 4th quarter), 1 rushing TD and an INT, sacking him twice and hitting him 8 times. With a gimpy Mahomes under center, sacks and hits are going to be a problem, particularly with Mahomes unable to extend plays with his feet. Plus the Bengals held the Bills to just 63 total rush yards. I don’t like Pacheco and McKinnon’s chances of doing much better than that.
If Patrick Mahomes was 100% healthy, I’d say this will be a game for the ages. But with a high ankle sprain, which will limit his ability to extend plays and his ability to throw downfield, I’m not feeling confident about the Chiefs’ chances. Travis Kelce can make miracles happen, and he did well with both Chad Henne and an injured Mahomes hitting him for shorter routes, but the Chiefs just aren’t as explosive as they are when Mahomes is healthy. The Bengals are on an absolute heater right now winning 10 games in a row, and they just beat the Bills at home in convincing matter. Perhaps the Chiefs get a little lift from playing at home, but the Bengals have the better offense and defense right now, so unless the Bengals hurt themselves with turnovers, I think the Bengals will move on to the Super Bowl.
Bengals Beat the Chiefs – 27 to 23
Take the Over on 47.5
Pingback: “Pick 'Em or Kick 'Em”™: FGT VS. Urban Sports Scene 2022 Conference Championship NFL Picks - Football Garbage Time
Pingback: "Buy or Bye"™ - Daily Fantasy Football Plays for Conference Championship 2022 Cash Games - Football Garbage Time