The last time the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs faced off, Patrick Mahomes torched the Bengals and walked away with a decisive 45-10 victory at home. As the two face off in Week 17, there are a few Bengals keys to victory that are necessary to facilitate an upset of the kings of the AFC.
With a win, Cincinnati officially clinches its first AFC North title since 2015 and is still in play to earn the number one overall seed in the AFC. With a loss, they can still win the division with a win in Week 18 over Cleveland (or a Ravens loss and Cleveland/Pittsburgh tie in Week 17).
Cincinnati Bengals Keys to Victory Against Kansas City Chiefs
Must Limit Explosive Plays
Number one: limit Mahomes’ big-play ability. Easy enough, right?
By using the belief that any play that goes for 20 or more yards is defined as explosive, Kansas City has an offense that has scored 11 touchdowns on explosive plays. Conversely, Cincinnati has only allowed seven. Going into the game with the idea that the defense must absolutely shut down Mahomes and company is nonsensical. Sure, it’s ideal, but Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce are going to get theirs.
Hill and Kelce each have eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards on the year. Hill is likely going to match up against Chidobe Awuzie. While Hill has an obvious speed advantage, Awuzie has shown that he can play with number one receivers thus far. Among the Bengals secondary, Awuzie allows the fewest yards per target with just 5.6. Naturally, he should have some safety help over top with Jessie Bates cheating his way. The best way to limit Hill’s after-the-catch explosive ability is to not miss tackles. Awuzie misses just seven percent of his tackles, also best among the Bengals secondary.
To this point, the Bengals have matched up against each of the best tight ends in the NFL and Kelce has a case to be the best of them. In total, Cincinnati has allowed seven tight end touchdowns and 997 yards off of 84 receptions. None of those seven touchdowns were “explosive.” Kelce will sit where there are no Bengals defenders and make his mark after the catch, as he did in his game-winner against the Chargers.
With the linebacker room as depleted as it is, this is going to be a massive issue. Even if Logan Wilson gets to come back from his shoulder injury, it’s him and Marcus Bailey…and that’s it. Safety Vonn Bell is likely to be in Kelce’s area in a number of coverages. Limiting Kelce will be a massive first of the Bengals keys to victory.
Strong Third Down Defense
The last thing the Bengals want to do is give Mahomes extra plays or possessions. Getting off the field on third down is an area that the Bengals have struggled this season. In total, opponents covert on 40.4% of their third downs. While that mark is 14th worst in the NFL, it doesn’t tell the full story for this matchup.
In the last five games, Bengals opponents are converting on 48.5% of their third downs. Against quarterbacks like Josh Johnson, Jimmy Garoppolo, and the ghost of Ben Roethlisberger, it’s not as concerning. If the Bengals allow Mahomes to convert on half of his third downs, they’re going to be in for a long day.
Last week, Lou Anarumo dialed up a number of pressures, alternating between sending complex blitzes and bluffing. Even Baltimore without its MVP quarterback converted over half of its third downs.
The difference here is going to be manufacturing pressure. Mahomes has been pressured on 22.2% of his drop-backs. Kansas City has faced great pass rushers, so Trey Hendrickson will have to keep up his career year. He’s recorded 71 pressures and possesses an 84.5 PFF pass-rush grade. Those 71 pressures are already 21 more than he had last year in New Orleans.
The second of the Bengals keys to victory will allow Cincinnati to control the game. Possibly getting Wilson back will help the defense get off the field. Mahomes and company are too dangerous to allow free possessions. Keep them off their rhythm, force third and long, and get to him.
Let Joe Burrow Cook
Joe Burrow is really starting to get hot. After busting his pinky, Burrow has thrown for 300, 348, and 525 yards in three of his last four games. Was that 525-yard performance against guys the Ravens recruited out of the stands? Sure, but it’s the NFL and nobody cares, just win. Even if they were nobodies, Burrow was nearly flawless.
Well over a year after getting his knee destroyed, Burrow has been playing like the elusive quarterback Cincinnati drafted him to be. His pocket presence has only gotten better. At the beginning of the year, it seemed he was seeing ghosts and got antsy whenever anyone was near his leg. Now, he’s able to make subtle movements — stepping up, sliding left or right just enough — and keep his eyes downfield.
With a subpar offensive line in front of him, Burrow must be able to do this in order to survive. As of late, he’s not only surviving, he’s thriving. Just on Sunday, Burrow had seven explosive plays, one of which was a 68-yard touchdown to Tyler Boyd. He was a reviewed play away from another explosive play to Boyd on a step up in the pocket. Plus, the record-breaking completion to Joe Mixon was on a scramble drill where his check down just so happened to be 50 yards downfield.
Between Boyd, Tee Higgins, and Ja’Marr Chase, Kansas City will have its hands full. Higgins and Chase have been able to eclipse 1,000 yards each and it’s the first time in history that they are the home of a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher, and two 1,000-yard receivers, each under the age of 25. The future is so very bright in the Queen City.
The Chiefs have the eighth-worst passing defense, allowing 245.7 yards per game. They are home to one of, if not the best safety in the game, however. The Bengals offense this season has gone through two phases. First, Chase shot out the gate and dominated. Then, Higgins dominated with the defense focusing on the rookie. Now what? Is Boyd going to have a monster day and become the third Bengals receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards? Allow Burrow to cook and take what the Chiefs defense gives him and it’s not unlikely.
Bet The Over
These two offenses, when firing, are nearly unstoppable. Two young superstars dueling it out, two defenses susceptible to giving up yardage. Kansas City will likely be without Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but backup running back Darrell Williams is no slouch. Who would have thought in the preseason that this game would have any meaning at all? Not only does this game have divisional implications but if Cincinnati wins out, it has a chance to lock up that number one seed.
The Bengals offense has the capability to score 30 to 40 points on any given Sunday, as does Kansas City. This game is going to be a shootout. The last quarterback with the ball takes home the victory. If the Bengals keys to victory are adhered to, there will be a new king of the AFC North.
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