The Chiefs will be hosting their fourth consecutive AFC championship game against a fourth opponent when they face the Bengals (3 p.m. ET, CBS) on Sunday. Kansas City opens as a 7-point favorite (over/under of 54.5 points), according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
The game is a rematch of Week 17 matchup in Cincinnati, won by the Bengals in comeback fashion, 34-31. There should be another shootout in store when elite young quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow duel for a second time.
Here’s a complete breakdown of Bengals vs. Chiefs in the 2022 AFC championship game, including our pick to win and reach Super Bowl 56.
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3 reasons Chiefs, 49ers, Rams, Bengals will (and won’t) win Super Bowl 56
Bengals vs. Chiefs picks, predictions
- Bengals’ offense vs. Chiefs’ defense
Burrow is red-hot over his past five starts, developing into a late MVP candidate on top of Comeback Player of the Year front-runner. He has big-time rushing help from Joe Mixon, coming off his best season as the Bengals’ feature back. They also have a great trio of wide receivers in dynamic go-to rookie Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgns and Tyler Boyd.
The Bengals’ bugaboo has been pass protection. Burrow was sacked 51 times in the regular season and 9 times last week vs. the Titans. But when Burrow has time to throw in an aggressive, frequent passing game, he can pick apart back seven coverage. Mixon faced a tough spot against the Titans last week and still looked great running. The Chiefs are not stout in that area in the front seven and also developed a lot fo secondary concerns with injuries mounting against the Bills.
Kansas City will blitz by nature but also don’t get want to get burned by big plays from Burrow to Chase. The problem is, Chase is also dangerous after the catch and Higgins can also stretch the field outside. Boyd in the slot, Mixon out of the backfield and tight end C.J. Uzomah down the seam are comfortable alternatives for Burrow in getting the ball out quickly, too. The Chiefs have Chris Jones and other impact players, but they couldn’t slow down Josh Allen throwing all over the field last week. Burrow will have more big-time success after throwing for 446 yards against the Chiefs the first time.
- Chiefs’ offense vs. Bengals’ defense
The Bengals have a good pass rush led by ends Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. They can stop the run rather well with D.J. Reader as the linchpin of their interior defensive line. They have active young linebackers in Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt. Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple have exceeded expectations as their outside cornerbacks, while safety Jessie Bates III and slot back Mike Hilton have been outstanding inside.
All that being said, they have plenty enough issues in pass coverage and can be inconsistent against the run, stuffing some but also giving up chunk plays. There’s enough there for Mahomes to exploit. The Bengals will protect against the big play with zone looks but also mix it up with heavy blitzes. Mahomes has evolved where either will work for him, either to be patient with handoffs and shorter throws or letting it rip downfield vs. a one-on-one.
The Bengals struggle to cover tight ends so Travis Kelce can be tough for them. Tyreek Hill’s speed in stretching the field and quickness after the catch also is a concern. They were held to a combined 11 catches for 65 yards and a TD on 17 targets in Week 17. That won’t happen again. The Chiefs also should feel confident they can reel off more long runs.
Boyd and Uzomah are good places to start for the Bengals. Chase destroyed the Chiefs everywhere in Week 17 for 11 catches, 266 yards and 3 TDs. The Bengals can anticipate major attention on him (like the Chiefs gave Stefon Diggs) and Burrow will like his matchups developing elsewhere.
The Chiefs have their own key complementary offensive skill players, such as running back Jerick McKinnon, wide receivers Byron Pringle and Mecole Hardman and even backup tight ends Noah Gray and Blake Bell.
The team that gets a big game from one of those players (a la Bills wide receiver Gabriel Davis lighting up the Chiefs) will prevail. The Chiefs also have the wrinkle of trick plays out of interesting formations. The Bengals, however, have more front-line playmakers to trust.
- Special teams
The teams have money kickers in Bengals rookie Evan McPherson and Chiefs veteran Harrison Butker. The punting games are pretty good, too with Kevin Huber and Tommy Townsend. The coordinators, Dave Toub and Darrin Simmons, have tons of experience. But the Chiefs get the edge here because of their usage of HIll on key returns.
Andy Reid is 63 and a future Hall of Famer. Zac Taylor is 38 with his first playoff appearance. Reid has the more seasoned staff with Toub, Eric Bieniemy and Steve Spagnuolo. Taylor is helped on offense by Brian Callahan, only 37, and on defense by Lou Anarumo, 55. It’s hard to lean away from Reid’s experience, although Taylor has proved he is a budding sideline star.
The Chiefs are a sprited and experienced team. They are prepared for these big-game situations with Mahomes. But the Bengals have been building great momentum and playing with unwavering confidence. Burrow has the same championship pedigree as Mahomes and his team is playing with house money. The Bengals will come into Kansas City motivated to surprise and remain gritty and fearless. The Chiefs need to be prepared for a team on the total attack. They also will be tired from playing overtime on Sunday while the Bengals played early Saturday.
AFC championship game prediction
Burrow vs. Mahomes will come down to which team will make more big plays in the passing game and run the ball effectively when needed. Although Mahomes will be up to the task of putting up more big playoff numbers, Burrow is a worthy adversary and the Bengals come in playing better overall defense, including forcing key takeaways. Kansas City will do its best to get pressure to thwart Burrow, but that’s it’s only defensive asset. Cincinnati pulls off another shocker to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in 33 years.
Bengals 38, Chiefs 34