AFC Conference Championship Game Hub: CIN-KC

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AFC Conference Championship Game Hub: CIN-KC

Cincinnati Bengals (12-7, 12-7 ATS) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-5, 10-9), 3 p.m.

Brolley’s Bengals Stats and Trends

  • The Bengals will play in the franchise’s first AFC Championship in 33 years.

  • The Bengals scored the franchise’s first postseason road victory — the 1981 and 1988 Super Bowl runs both came at home — with Evan McPherson’s game-winning 52-yard field goal at the horn to knock off the Titans.

  • The Bengals are riding a six-game ATS winning streak (5-1 outright) since Week 15, and they’ve scored outright wins in their last four games as a road underdog with Burrow at quarterback — he sat out Week 18 in Cleveland.

  • The Bengals clinched the AFC North title with their 34-31 victory over the Chiefs as 3.5-point home underdogs in early January. The game featured no turnovers and both teams netted 23 first downs and averaged more than seven yards per play.

  • The Bengals have played under the total in three straight games since going over the total by 14 against the Chiefs.

  • Joe Burrow became the first quarterback drafted first overall to reach a Conference Championship Game in his first two seasons, and he did it by becoming the first player in the Super Bowl era to absorb nine sacks in a playoff victory. Burrow has thrown for 300+ yards in five of his last seven games and he’s attempted 34+ passes in six of those contests after hitting that threshold three times in his first 11 games. Burrow finished with 446/4 passing on just 39 attempts (11.4 YPA) in that matchup.

  • Rookie Ja’Marr Chase is already knocking on the door to be a first-round fantasy selection next summer with his incredible run since Week 16. He’s posted 109+ receiving yards in four straight full games — he saw a 9% snap share in Week 18 — for a combined 32/616/3 receiving in those contests. Chase was this season’s ultimate league winner in the fantasy finals thanks to his team-record 11/266/3 receiving on 12 targets for 55.6 FP against the Chiefs.

  • Tee Higgins has taken a backseat to Chase since he went for 12/194/2 receiving against the Ravens in Week 16, but he went back to a prominent role last week with 7/96 receiving on nine targets against the Titans. Kansas City’s defense will look to get Tyrann Mathieu (concussion) back in the lineup after their secondary allowed an NFL playoff record four touchdown receptions to Gabriel Davis. Higgins managed 3/62 receiving on just five targets when these teams met four weeks ago.

  • Tyler Boyd had his four-game touchdown streak snapped last week. He managed just 2/17 receiving on three targets against the Titans, which gives him 36 or fewer yards in three straight games after he posted 55+ yards in four consecutive games before that in Week 13-16. He finished with 4/36/1 receiving against the Chiefs in Week 17, and Cole Beasley posted 6/60 receiving in this matchup last week.

  • C.J. Uzomah has been active in the postseason with 13/135/1 receiving on 14 targets. He’s now posted 4+ catches in four straight games and 3+ catches in eight consecutive contests. He managed 4/32 receiving on six targets against the Chiefs in early January. Kansas City limited Dawson Knox to 2/9 receiving on four targets last week.

  • Joe Mixon has 4+ catches in four straight games to boost his fantasy value with his impact as a runner dwindling. Mixon hasn’t averaged more than 3.9 YPC in any game since RT Riley Reiff left the lineup with his ankle injury in Week 13. He’s bested that average in eight of his first 11 games this season, and he’s averaging just 3.3 YPC in his last seven contests. He found the end zone last week but he’s scored in just two of his last six games after finding paydirt in 8-of-9 games in Weeks 4-13. Mixon managed 12/46 rushing and 7/40 receiving against the Chiefs in Week 17.

Brolley’s Chiefs Stats and Trends

  • The Chiefs are making NFL history by hosting their fourth consecutive AFC Championship Game.

  • The Chiefs will look to avoid a hangover this week after playing in one of the NFL’s greatest games. ​​Kansas City left it all out on the field in a frenetic 42-36 overtime victory over the Bills while Cincinnati got an extra day of rest heading into the title game.

  • The Chiefs have won six consecutive home playoff games over the last three seasons, and Kansas City’s only loss in the last 12 games this season came against the Bengals in Week 17 — they’re 8-4 ATS in that span.

  • The Chiefs had three different two-touchdown leads when they met the Bengals in Week 17.

  • The Chiefs have played over the total in seven consecutive games with 28+ points scored in each of those contests. Kansas City’s defense has also been leaky in recent weeks when they haven’t played Pittsburgh’s dreadful offense, allowing 24+ points in their last four non-Steelers games.

  • Patrick Mahomes outdueled Josh Allen in the all-time classic game, leaving last weekend with the most passing yards (378) and the most rushing yards (69) in the Divisional Round. Mahomes also set a franchise playoff record with 33 completions, and the Chiefs set a franchise playoff record with 552 yards against a Bills’ defense that allowed a league-low 272.8 yards per game. Mahomes has thrown for multiple TD passes in seven consecutive games, and he’s accounted for a ridiculous 782/8 passing so far in the postseason. He’s 438 passing yards away from breaking Eli Manning’s single-postseason record of 1219 passing yards set in 2011. Mahomes needs four more TD passes to top the record of 11 scores in a single-postseason that’s currently held by Joe Montana (1989), Kurt Warner (2008), and Joe Flacco (2012). Mahomes completed 26/35 passes for 259 yards (7.4 YPA) and two TDs when these teams met in early January.

  • Travis Kelce is riding a five-game touchdown streak after scoring the game-winning touchdown in overtime last week. He’s posted 13/204/2 receiving through two postseason games, and he’s now managed 95+ yards in each of his last five postseason games with five overall TDs since 2020. The Bengals kept him in check with 5/25/1 receiving on seven targets back in Week 17.

  • Tyreek Hill broke out of his mini-slump with 11/150/1 receiving against the Bills, which included his 64-yard touchdown burst with a minute left in regulation. He had fallen below 60 yards in four straight games before last week’s outburst, including 6/40 receiving on 10 targets against the Bengals in early January. A.J. Brown ripped the Bengals for 28.4 YPR with 5/142/1 receiving in the Divisional Round.

  • Mecole Hardman was actually the only receiver to have more than 40 receiving yards against the Bengals back in early January thanks to a 53-yard catch. He’s off to a solid start in the postseason with 5/69 receiving and 4/37/1 rushing through two games. Byron Pringle has emerged as the top secondary WR with 5+ catches and 7+ targets in three straight games, and he has 3+ catches in six consecutive contests, including 3/35 receiving against the Bengals. He’s scored three touchdowns in the postseason so far.

  • Jerick McKinnon paced the backfield for a second consecutive game even with Clyde Edwards-Helaire returning to the lineup. He finished with 10/24 rushing and 5/54 receiving on a 70% snap share while CEH managed 7/60 rushing with a nine-yard catch on a 30% share. This week’s gamescript could work in CEH’s favor as seven-point home favorites, but HC Andy Reid is going to stick with McKinnon’s hot hand in passing situations. Darrel Williams propelled the Chiefs’ offense back in Week 17 with 17/107/2 scrimmage, but he’s the #3 option now if he’s healthy enough to dress with his toe injury.

Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies

Bengals

Pace (seconds in between plays): 29.9 (27th)

Plays per game: 64.3 (23rd)

Pass: 61.5% (14th) | Run: 38.5% (19th)

Chiefs

Pace: 27.9 (11th)

Plays per game: 70.1 (4th)

Pass: 64.2% (5th) | Run: 35.8% (28th)

Pace Points

The Bengals are going as far as Joe Burrow takes them and they have finally turned over the reins to him. After inexplicably going run-heavy in pivotal contests against the 49ers and Bengals in back-to-back games in Weeks 14-15, HC Zac Taylor and OC Brian Callahan have scrapped the need for “balance.” The Bengals were exactly 50% pass | 50% run on early-downs in Burrow’s first 14 starts, but have been much more aggressive as of late with a 64% early-down pass rate in Burrow’s last four starts. As a result, Burrow is averaging 39 pass attempts per game over his last four starts after averaging just 31.1 passes per game in Weeks 1-15.

The Chiefs have put up a ridiculous 84 points on offense in the postseason so far as Patrick Mahomes is playing his best ball of the season, by far. Relative to 49ers-Rams, this game has explosive scoring upside with Mahomes finding his stride at the perfect time and Burrow and the Bengals finally taking the governor off their offense. I’m expecting 38-45 passes from each side in this game and that should lend itself to a high scoring, highly entertaining affair just like their Week 17 meeting that combined for 65 total points.

Huber’s Key Matchup Notes

The Chiefs appear well on the way toward having Rashad Fenton and Tyrann Mathieu on the field for the AFC Conference Championship. Fenton has been absent from the first two playoffs games due to a back injury suffered during warmups for the Super Wildcard Round. Mathieu was forced out of the Divisional Round after only seven plays with a concussion. For mere mortals, seeing the healthy return of a top-five corner and strong safety would be intimidating. But Joe Burrow is no mere mortal on the gridiron.

After what he did in Week 17, Kansas City will no doubt view this matchup as a daunting task. While completing just under 80% of attempts, Joey Franchise accumulated 446 passing yards, and four TDs to a KC defense at full health.

Do I even need to remind anyone about what Ja’Marr Chase did to the Chiefs in Week 17? Some records may have been set. Like Burrow, sans dedicated double-coverage, Chase is not going to have any scheme-related issues with KC. As for the chances Kansas City places a double-team on Chase, it’s not a great idea against this offense. Assigning two-on-one would leave the rest of the defense in man-to-man on Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and C.J. Uzomah. And it would also result in placing additional pressure on their most vulnerable area, defense of slot receivers. Needless to say, it’s a decision that would result in an offensive explosion from any of those three receivers. Considering Chase did a number on the coverage metrics from Charvarius Ward’s season, the expectation is that he will want another go at the rookie. And the alignment averages back that up.

Since the need to promote the passing numbers from Patrick Mahomes is entirely unnecessary, I’ll conclude by stating that this entire game could be decided by the O-line quality from Cincinnati. If the Chiefs are able to put the same amount of pressure on Burrow that he dealt with against Tennessee, Kansas City will roll downhill to the victory, and we may end up seeing some disappointing numbers from Mahomes. If the Bengals’ O-line holds up in pass pro, we may see some playoff records established, a scenario that would result in video game numbers from Mahomes, and, in my view, would play out in favor of Cincinnati.

Dolan’s Vantage Points

One of the things about these matchups is they’ve been analyzed to death and there isn’t much to say in terms of fantasy, so I’ve been devouring a lot of written content breaking down the Xs and Os of what’s going to happen.

The nice thing about these title games is we’ve had recent tape to break down, which The Athletic has done in fantastic detail with this study of the All-22 and the analytics of the battle.

The key takeaway for the Bengals is that they’ve decided to put the ball in the hands of QB Joe Burrow. As the article above points out, the Bengals have been 61.2% pass-heavy in neutral situations during the playoffs… which would be behind only the Bills and Chiefs over the full season. And that’s how Zac Taylor beat the Chiefs the last time out.

Chiefs DC Steve Spagnuolo has a very interesting dilemma — the way to slow down the Bengals’ passing game is by being aggressive with their receivers and getting to Burrow. Spags typically prefers to not blitz if he doesn’t have to, and my guess is he will attempt to attack the Bengals’ weak OL with four-man pressure concepts early. But if that doesn’t work and he has to send extra rushers… oh boy. That really opens things up downfield for Ja’Marr Chase and company. The Chiefs really don’t have the bodies to cover these receivers — they’ve given up an individual 200-yard, multi-TD game in two of their last four games, one to Chase and one to Gabriel Davis last week.

The good news for the Chiefs is S Tyrann Mathieu — who missed most of last week’s tilt with the Bills with a concussion — returned to practice this week and it’s looking like there’s a solid chance he’ll be cleared to play. And CB Rashad Fenton (back) looks on track to return, as well. He shut down Tee Higgins in their last go-round, but that might well be because Chase was unstoppable.

The big question for the Chief offense is how their run game will look — Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran it well last week against the Bills, and the Bengals have big-time issues at defensive tackle. And remember, they got gashed by Darrel Williams the last time these two teams played. But CEH wasn’t available in that game, Williams is now dealing with a toe injury, and Jerick McKinnon has been very successful in the passing game — he has over 150 receiving yards this postseason, and ran 41 routes to CEH’s 11 last week.

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