The Bengals have twice played in and won the AFC championship. But both of those games in their 80s heyday were played in the friendly confines of Riverfront Stadium.
On Sunday they’ll travel to one of the least-hospitable stadiums in sports for the highest-stakes round of NFL football not played at a neutral site. Preparing for Arrowhead Stadium is a top priority. Just check the tape from Wednesday’s practice. Or outside practice, to be precise.
Security guard at Paul Brown stadium apologized for it being so loud, “they’re practicing.” Bengals are trying to simulate Arrowhead crowd noise at practice- here’s what it sounds like *outside* the stadium. pic.twitter.com/xb2D8kMJaC— Michele Steele (@MicheleSteele) January 26, 2022
That’s loud. So loud that ESPN’s Michele Steele said she got an apology from stadium security for the noise.
There’s obviously dozens of factors that go into the squib that we simply can’t predict. Strange bounces, weird mistakes, the possibility of an onside recovery. These are all random elements that we can’t predict. Obviously some would be hugely beneficial, even game-winning for Buffalo, but there are equal scenarios that could have sealed the game for Kansas City. If the squib bounced out of bounds, that would essentially be an automatic field goal. If the coverage team didn’t have time to track the returner, it could have been a big return.
So let’s split the difference of all this and assume a fairly middle of the road result for both teams. A squib kick that traveled 20 yards, and was returned 5, eating four seconds off the clock. This would put the ball at Chiefs’ 35, with nine seconds left.
We know that Harrison Butker’s effective range to be comfortable with a field goal is somewhere around the 53-yard mark, and it’s wholly possible he could drill one up to 60 yards. So let’s split this once again and set him up for a 56-yarder. Big, to be sure, but absolutely not unheard of.
In this scenario the Chiefs needs to gain 22 yards in one play, maaaaybe two — but that would really be pushing the tempo. As the game played out Kansas City took 10 seconds off the clock to gain 44 yards, on a 19-yard pass and then a 25-yard completion. On this we can’t re-write history to benefit the squib. The Bills defense could not stop Mahomes through the air.
So if we assume that same 19-yard completion happened to start the drive (taking five off the clock), then the Chiefs modified their play call into a short pass with four seconds left that gained 5 yards (to preserve time) we have the end result of KC gaining 24 yards, setting Butker up for a 54-yard field goal, which we know is in his effective range.
When Mahomes is cooking, the game around him moves in slow motion. After a regular season in which he often looked uncomfortable, even frantic, Mahomes’ control of Sunday’s contest — whether in structure or improvising — was uncanny. The first game this season in which this felt completely true was the Chiefs’ 34-31 loss to the Bengals in Week 17. I wrote after that game that I was higher on the Chiefs’ championship hopes than at any other point this season because Kansas City’s offense was back. Mahomes backed that up with two nearly perfect playoff performances.
6. Orlando Brown Jr., OT
2021 team: Kansas City Chiefs | Age entering 2022 season: 26
Brown acquitted himself well after engineering a trade from the Ravens to the Chiefs in order to play left tackle, earning a spot on the AFC’s Pro Bowl roster, and now he’s in line for a major payday. It would be really surprising if the Chiefs didn’t retain him in some fashion after sending the Ravens four draft picks to get him, including their first-round selection in 2021. High-end left tackles rarely see the market, especially at Brown’s age.
One mismatch in the Chiefs’ favor: Travis Kelce vs. Bengals linebackers
In the Chiefs’ and Bengals’ Week 17 matchup, Kelce caught five of seven targets for just 25 yards, his second-lowest total in a game all season (though he did add a TD). Cincinnati linebacker Logan Wilson, meanwhile, might be my pick for the most underrated Bengal. So why did I identify this as a mismatch that favors the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game? Because Cincinnati will still have to prioritize stopping Kelce (the first player since at least 1950 with 90-plus receiving yards in five consecutive playoff games), and that will change the shape of the Bengals’ defense. Plus, Kansas City has added reliable and productive layers to its offense. Even if the Bengals manage to slow Kelce and Tyreek Hill (in their Week 17 win, the Bengals held Hill to six catches for 40 yards on 10 targets, one of just two times all year that Hill was targeted 10-plus times and finished with fewer than 50 yards), the attention paid to the pair of pass-catchers will create space elsewhere for players like Byron Pringle, Mecole Hardman and Jerick McKinnon. And while the Chiefs did not do a good job of adapting their offensive game plan in the second half of that Week 17 showdown (Kansas City posted three points and 50 net passing yards after halftime), that failure is an outlier, especially when you broaden the scope to include all games in any season with Patrick Mahomes at QB and Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy coaching, and I am willing to say it is unlikely to happen again.
“It’s painful and still going through it,” Beane said during his 71-minute end-of-season news conference Wednesday. “I’m not in a good spot. But I will review it and we’ll learn from it, I promise you that. There’s a lot of pain in this city and there’s a lot of pain in that building over there, and we’re gonna do everything in our power to not let that happen again.”
The divisional-round loss marked a second straight year in which the Bills’ season ended against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium; last year it was in the AFC Championship Game.
Round 1 - Pick 32
Cameron Thomas DL
The Chiefs could use an outside rusher to improve their defense, and Thomas has a good chance of sneaking into Round 1.
4,324 miles from Heathrow to the Kansas City International Airport, Harrison gets here on Saturday, for his first ever game at 1 Arrowhead Drive.
“I think he’s already overwhelmed with how much has happened in this small window, that we’ve been talking about since basically Sunday night,” Rojas said.
“It’s a mission, but you know what, this is a chance of a lifetime,” Harrison said.
Around the NFL
The Giants organization still believes in its starting quarterback for most of the past three seasons.
“We do feel Daniel can play,” Mara said. “We’ve done everything possible to screw this kid up since he’s been here. We keep changing coaches, keep changing coordinators, keep changing offensive line coaches. I take a lot of responsibility for that. But let’s bring in the right group of coaches now and give him some continuity and try to rebuild the offensive line and then be able to make an intelligent evaluation of whether he can be the franchise quarterback or not.
Romo gets praised for his use of the Telestrator, but Aikman, Collinsworth, and Kirk Herbstreit wield the Telestrator well, too. What makes Romo unique is that he surrenders himself to the excitement of a game. In Sunday’s fourth quarter, the Chiefs trailed the Bills by three points. Mahomes found Tyreek Hill, who cut a 64-yard trail through the Bills’ defense and scored.
Romo said: “We talked about Josh Allen needing to make a huge play. This place is going crazy. And then all of a sudden you got Superman himself, comes out, and he shows you. Patrick Mahomes. He don’t lose in the playoffs very often: 6-1 in here, only that loss in overtime. But if he gets the ball. Wow, what a strike. And then Tyreek does the rest. Cheetah says goodbye. He’s even giving a little wave here. Bye-bye! Bye-bye!”
“I could tell you, honestly, one of my best stories ever: Les Miles told me I couldn’t play receiver when I was coming out of high school,” Chase said. “That was something I had on my shoulders growing up. Les Miles told me he thought I could play cornerback, I wasn’t really in full position at receiver yet. So I just kept working on my craft, offseason waking up early in the mornings to work out. I just kept focused.”
LSU fired Miles in 2016. Ed Orgeron took over and had zero issues at that point with Chase as a receiver when he enrolled in 2018.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. emphasized to reporters during his Wednesday press conference that the team had no qualms about failing to come through at that moment.
“We have a ton of confidence in what we can do,” Brown said. “With us only needing three points at the time, we felt like we can do what it takes to put ourselves in field-goal position.”
Reflecting a similar sentiment, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire shared how confident he felt in the moments leading up to the offense taking the field.
“It’s one of those things that we all were prepared for,” Edwards-Helaire insisted. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh man, it’s 13 seconds,’ and probably thinking the game is over, turning the TV off and doing those things — but we work and execute those things. I’m looking at 13 seconds like, ‘Man, they gave us this much time to get down the field so let’s just go do it.’ We’re walking out there just as cool, calm, and collected as we possibly can be... it was either win or go home, and we knew what we needed to do.”
A tweet to make you think
Travis Kelce has been perfect this postseason pic.twitter.com/s6N6NQszrG— PFF (@PFF) January 26, 2022