The Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs meet again for an AFC championship game rematch.
Kansas City will host the AFC championship game for an NFL record fifth consecutive season. The Bengals have defeated the Chiefs three straight times, including last year’s AFC championship tilt.
The Chiefs beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-20 to advance to Sunday’s conference title game. But star quarterback Patrick Mahomes suffered a high right ankle sprain in the win. His tender ankle is a big storyline this week but the quarterback professed that he’ll be ready to play.
“I’m doing good,” Mahomes said Wednesday. “AFC championship week. I’m ready to go.”
The Bengals routed the Buffalo Bills 27-10 to move on to the AFC championship game. Cincinnati is currently on a 10-game winning streak dating back to the regular season.
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Yet, the Bengals have their own injury concerns. Cincinnati is dealing with multiple injuries along its O-line, but the franchise is confident heading to Kansas City’s after recent success against the Chiefs.
Sunday will be the fourth matchup between the Bengals and Chiefs in the last 13 months. Here are three keys to the AFC championship game:
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Chiefs D vs. Burrow, Chase and Bengals offense
Ja’Marr Chase torched the Chiefs defense to put it mildly. The Bengals star wideout has produced 24 catches, 417 receiving yards and four touchdowns in three games against Kansas City, including the playoffs.
Joe Burrow produced 982 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception in three games versus the Chiefs, including the playoffs.
The Chiefs have to be able to contain Chase and slow down a Bengals’ passing attack that ranked in the top five during the regular season.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo dialed up a blitz on a little over 24-percent of Kansas City’s defensive snaps this season. Spagnuolo’s defense must be able to pressure Burrow with defensive tackle Chris Jones, defensive end Frank Clark and the front four, and not leave cornerbacks on an island by sending multiple blitzers. It’s apparent the Chiefs cornerbacks can’t cover Chase one-on-one.
Burrow’s outplayed Mahomes in recent meetings in large part because Burrow’s been kept clean in the pocket and Chiefs corners haven’t been able to cover Chase and Cincy’s pass catchers.
Bengals D vs. Mahomes and Chiefs top-ranked offense
The Chiefs had the NFL’s No. 1 total offense, passing offense and averaged the most points per game during the regular season. But Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has done a tremendous job mixing up coverage versus a Mahomes-led Chiefs offense. Against Mahomes, the Bengals like to rush three and send everyone else back in coverage. Cincinnati also utilizes a linebacker to spy on Mahomes.
Cincinnati will occasionally blitz, but Anarumo’s scheme of rushing three and dropping all other defenders in coverage has been effective versus Kansas City.
The Bengals have six sacks and three takeaways versus the Chiefs offense since 2021 (including the playoffs).
To combat Cincinnati’s defensive scheme, the Chiefs should try to establish the run with running backs Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon. Kansas City’s run game will help set up the pass game and alleviate some of the pressure off Mahomes who will be playing on a sore right ankle.
Win turnover battle
The Bengals won the turnover battle in two of their past three matchups against the Chiefs, including last year’s AFC championship game and the most recent meeting this season. Tight end Travis Kelce’s fumble in the fourth quarter led to a Bengals’ go-ahead touchdown that proved to be the difference in the 27-24 Week 13 win.
Cincinnati’s won the turnover battle in both of its postseason victories against the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills. Who will force the most takeaways on Sunday? The winner in this area will likely determine the outcome of the AFC title game.
The Bengals have three takeaways to just one giveaway this postseason. Kansas City has two postseason takeaways and no turnovers entering the conference title game.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Tyler Dragon on Twitter @TheTylerDragon.