An inside look at Sunday’s Bengals-Chiefs AFC championship matchup in Kansas City:
Bengals receivers vs. Chiefs defensive backs
The Bengals have one of the league’s top receiving corps — led by Joe Burrow’s favorite target, Ja’Marr Chase, who set the Cincinnati single-game record with 266 yards receiving in a regular-season win over Kansas City last season. Chase caught 87 passes for 1,046 yards and nine TDs in just 12 games this season. Tee Higgins caught 74 passes for 1,049 yards and seven TDs. The Chiefs will try to counter that with a secondary that often employs three rookie cornerbacks and a rookie safety.
“Hopefully we’ve grown enough that we can match what they put out there,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “This is an elite group we’re going against. We have to have an elite game. We have to play our best game of the year.”
Patrick Mahomes figures to be compromised by his ankle sprain, and the Chiefs defense won’t be able to contain the Bengals running game. Bengals QB Joe Burrow goes 4-0 against Mahomes.
Bengals 24, Chiefs 23
Tight spot: The Bengals will be tasked with trying to at least slow down Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who had a career-high 110 receptions and 12 TDs this season. He, too, has been a monster in the playoffs. In the past four postseasons, Kelce has played in 10 games and has 77 receptions for 964 yards and 12 TDs. Last week, he caught four passes for 98 yards and two TDs. Kelce has had at least one TD catch in each of his past four postseason games.
What’s the rush? Kansas City defensive end Frank Clark, who has had his struggles in the regular season, had a huge sack against the Jaguars last week to give him 12 in his playoff career. That tied Hall of Famer Reggie White for fourth among all players since sacks became an official stat in 1982. Conversely, Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, who often looks unblockable and had 15 .5 sacks in the regular season, is still searching for his first career postseason sack. He had only one tackle and one quarterback hit against the Jaguars.
Hole the line: We cannot talk about the Bengals and the postseason without mentioning their injured offensive line. They beat the Bills despite playing with three starters out last week. Jackson Carman started an NFL game at tackle for the first time, filling in for Jonah Williams (knee). Hakeem Adeniji started his third game this season in place of La’el Collins (knee) at right tackle, and Max Scharping started a second at right guard for Alex Cappa (ankle). As of Friday, neither Cappa nor Williams was practicing full and head coach Zac Taylor said he doesn’t expect either to play. The line combo last week, however, dominated the Buffalo front seven, opening huge holes for running back Joe Mixon. “They were mauling guys,” Mixon said.
Big Red: The accomplishments of Chiefs head coach Andy Reid cannot go overlooked. His latest playoff win last week gave him 10 with the Chiefs after 10 with the Eagles. Reid’s 20 postseason total wins are tied with Hall of Famer Tom Landry for the second most in NFL history, trailing only Bill Belichick with 31. Reid has coached a team to a conference title game 10 times in the past 22 seasons, going from 2001-04 and in 2008 with Philadelphia and the past five seasons with Kansas City. The only coaches with more conference title appearances in the Super Bowl era are Belichick (13) and Landry (12).