Kansas City can exorcise some serious demons on Sunday en route to the Super Bowl.
The Kansas City Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to host the AFC Championship Game five times in a row. That’s a feat in and of itself, especially considering the offseason the team had. After losing to the Cincinnati Bengals in last season’s AFC Championship Game, general manager Brett Veach went to work and renovated multiple position groups on the team. Despite having such a young team, Kansas City is one win away from reaching the Super Bowl for the third time in the Patrick Mahomes era.
The only thing standing in their way is the Bengals, and that’s almost surely how the Chiefs would prefer it.
Starting with a January matchup near the end of last season, Kansas City and Cincinnati went toe-to-toe at Paycor Stadium in what was a thrilling matchup. In that game, Joe Burrow threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns. He shredded Steve Spagnuolo’s secondary, and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase went for 266 yards and a trio of scores. While the Chiefs’ offense was efficient, the Bengals’ attack was too much in what ended up being a 34-31 victory.
Less than a month later, the two teams met up in the aforementioned AFC title game for a rematch of their Week 17 battle. This time, it was the Chiefs who hosted and even got out to a commanding 21-3 lead that made it seem like another Super Bowl trip was well on the way. The visitors had other plans, though, as Lou Anarumo’s defense essentially shut down Mahomes in the second half and Cincinnati came all the way back to eventually win by another field goal in overtime. It was a heartbreaking loss for the Chiefs, and they still had it fresh in their minds into the offseason.
By virtue of the NFL schedule process, Kansas City was granted a regular-season rematch with Cincinnati. Riding a five-game win streak, the Chiefs went back to Paycor Stadium looking to exorcise some demons from the previous season. Instead, the offense was once again held to 24 points and one could argue that Burrow outplayed Mahomes while also benefitting from a quality run game all afternoon. For the second time in as many seasons, the Bengals ran into the home locker room at the end of regulation with a 27-24 win. Neither team has lost since.
A couple of things have been made clear over the course of the last three Chiefs-Bengals games. One of them (although there are no true moral victories) is that Kansas City can hang with Cincinnati. One-score losses don’t indicate that the Bengals are simply out of the Chiefs’ league. On the contrary, the two teams are clearly the best in the conference. On the other hand, the second lesson these games have taught is that this is hands-down the worst possible matchup for the Chiefs. Burrow is laser-sharp, his skill position players are fantastic and Anarumo’s defense is quickly building a reputation as not a “stopper,” but a severe roadblock to great quarterbacks and offenses. A win will be tough to come by for Kansas City.
The Chiefs’ home-field advantage is legitimate, but Mahomes being hobbled and nursing a high-ankle sprain is also a potentially dangerous swing for this matchup. If he isn’t his normal self, which he already hasn’t been in prior Bengals matchups, that makes it much harder to envision a Chiefs win. Burrow and company will come ready to play. With that said, this should be the most amped-up, locked-in and motivated Chiefs team anyone has seen in quite some time. Regardless of win probabilities or betting favorites or anything else, an AFC Championship Game rematch opens the door for the ultimate revenge. Whether or not Kansas City exacts that revenge remains to be seen.