We’re in for a replay of last year’s NFL AFC Championship Game. This year’s big game features the Kansas City Chiefs going up against the Cincinnati Bengals once again. Last time out, the Bengals won in overtime by a field goal as the final result was 27-24 in favour of head coach Zac Taylor’s team.
This time around, the Chiefs will be looking for revenge. However, it will be all but a straightforward task for them, especially considering the fact their star quarterback Patrick Mahomes might not be fully healthy for the AFC Championship Game.
As things stand now, the Bengals (+1.5) are the slightest of underdogs at BetMGM and the sportsbook has them at +100 on the moneyline. On the other side, the Chiefs moneyline is at -120 and the total for the game is set at 48.
This spread line has fluctuated wildly since it opened last Sunday as there was widespread speculation that Mahomes would not be 100% after he suffered an ankle injury in the divisional round. Bettors early in the week hammered the Bengals, causing huge line moves all the way to Cincinnati -2.5 points. Once Mahomes practiced in full with the team on Wednesday and seemed to be moving fine on his ailing ankle, the line swung back towards Kansas City and it now sits at -1.5 points.
Kansas City Chiefs vs Cincinnati Bengals (+1.5, 48 over/under)
The Chiefs (14-3) are set to host the Bengals (12-4) at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City on Jan. 29. The game will kick off at 6:30 p.m. ET and by that time, the NFC champion will have already been decided.
This game features two amazing quarterbacks in Mahomes and Joe Burrow. While the NFC Championship game has all the makings of a slugfest, this matchup feels like it could be a shootout with each quarterback getting the chance to one-up the other.
How the Chiefs got here
The Chiefs’ 14 wins were enough to earn a bye and jump straight into the playoffs during the divisional round. They played the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game that was closer than many predicted. The Chiefs’ biggest issue from that game was Mahomes’ injury in the first quarter. However, X-rays came back before halftime confirming there was no fracture and the gunslinger had just a high ankle sprain.
Mahomes was able to come back into the game, but his hobbling was quite noticeable. However, that didn’t stop him from taking over the game. The Chiefs ended up winning 27-20, with Marquez Valdes-Scantling on the receiving end of a simple, yet brilliant, touchdown pass by Mahomes.
This will be the fifth straight AFC Championship game that the Chiefs have hosted. Mahomes’ ankle will be a massive storyline heading into this Sunday’s contest as everyone waits to see if it will impact his mobility.
How the Bengals got here
The Bengals were the third seed in the AFC and played last week against the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens stood their ground, though the Bengals showed perseverance and managed to win it in the fourth quarter. The game was tied late, but Sam Hubbard’s 98-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown with 12 minutes left put the game away.
That set the Bengals up against the favored Buffalo Bills last week. The Bengals were the better team, both on offence and defence. Their defensive efforts were brilliant, containing the Bills’ high-power offence and keeping Josh Allen in check.
The Bengals have had many doubters all season long, but they keep proving them wrong. After making the Super Bowl last season, they’re now just one game away from returning. Can they channel the sting of last year’s defeat to give that extra level of effort in this game?
The Chiefs win if
Mahomes can deliver a vintage performance.
The Chiefs rely on Mahomes and their high-flying attack to beat opponents. Their top-ranked offense (led league with 29.2 points per game this year) that can put up points in a jiffy. However, if Mahomes is limited due to injury, it will be harder for the Chiefs’ vaunted offence to put up points.
Then again, veteran backup quarterback Chad Henne was solid against Jacksonville following Mahomes’ first quarter injury. While the 37-year-old quarterback did play well coming off the bench, the Chiefs will obviously want their star quarterback under centre for this one. Mahomes’ talent and sheer willpower are enough to sway the odds in the Chiefs’ favor. The Chiefs aren’t going to win this game by scoring under 20 points and they’ll need their star at the helm.
The Chiefs will win if Patrick Mahomes is fully healthy and on top of his game during the AFC Championship. If they have to rely on their backup QB in a game as important as this one, they’ll be in an uphill battle right from the first whistle.
The Bengals win if
They can continue to be kryptonite for Mahomes and the Chiefs.
The Bengals just have to keep doing what they’ve been doing against the Chiefs. Burrow and the Bengals are 3-0 against Mahomes and the Chiefs and the Bengals have won each of those games by a single field goal. It’s on the Chiefs to have their revenge, and that will be difficult, even with the home crowd on their side.
The Bengals have played against the Ravens and Bills during this playoff run, much tougher competition than the Chiefs who have faced just the Jaguars. That could help them as the Chiefs haven’t faced a truly elite team in a few weeks.
Mismatch to watch
Travis Kelce vs. the Bengals defence.
Kelce is having an amazing year and he continues to prove why he’s the league’s best tight end. When it’s all said and done, we might even be talking about Kelce as the greatest receiving tight end of all time.
He just broke a playoff record against the Jaguars with 14 receptions, the most ever in a playoff game by a tight end. Kelce is a dominant force and someone that the Bengals defence will need to key in on.
The Bengals will need to focus on this matchup as they’ve allowed some big games to tight ends recently, such as in Week 18 when they were gashed for over 150 yards by the Ravens’ position group.
Prop bet to watch
Travis Kelce 2 or more touchdowns (+600).
As previously mentioned, Kelce had 14 receptions last week and faces a Bengals defence that is a bit soft down the middle. If Mahomes can’t run around too much, he’s going to be looking to get the ball out quickly and Kelce is his favorite short yardage target.
It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Kelce snag multiple touchdowns in this game, especially if it turns into a shootout with both quarterbacks going up and down the field.