1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)
Chance to make the playoffs: 99.9%
The Chiefs’ flaw: Pass coverage
It’s difficult to poke many holes in the Chiefs. Their 20-17 loss to the Colts in Week 3 was driven by one of the worst special teams performances in recent memory, courtesy of sloppy play and backup kicker Matt Ammendola. Three weeks later, Patrick Mahomes was outdueled by Josh Allen in a 24-20 home loss. I’m not sure “force the Chiefs into a backup kicker” or “have Josh Allen” are game plans other teams can emulate.
Instead, I’ll head toward the secondary. The Chiefs invested resources up front by signing Carlos Dunlap and using a first-round pick on George Karlaftis. The secondary also got a big free agent addition (Justin Reid) and a first-rounder (Trent McDuffie), but it lost Tyrann Mathieu and Charvarius Ward via free agency.
Why Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are a safe bet vs. the BengalsDoug Kezirian expects the Chiefs to get revenge for last season’s AFC title game and cover against the Bengals in Week 13.
Teams have been able to move the ball on Kansas City. When the Chris Jones-led pass rush doesn’t get home, Steve Spagnuolo’s defense allows an 81.6 QBR to opposing passers. That’s the worst mark in football. The good news for the Chiefs is that they pressure quarterbacks at the third-highest rate, which has prevented teams from exploiting their secondary. If they do get upset in January, I would expect it to come in a game in which the pass rush has a quiet day.
As a starter, Mahomes has gone 59-15 in his career as the Chiefs have been steamrolling opponents for years. While winning a Super Bowl is the most impressive feat, there are other things that Kansas City has done that are truly eye-opening, such as their success on the road.
Winning away from home and in hostile environments is very difficult, but the Chiefs have made it look easy in recent years. In the last four seasons, 2019 up until right now, Kansas City is 24-5 on the road, a win percentage of .828.
Second place on the list is the Buffalo Bills, who are more than 100 percentage points behind the Chiefs with a record of 21-9, a .700 win percentage. Third place is the San Francisco 49ers, who are 21-10 with a .677 winning percentage. Rounding out the top five is a three-way tie between the New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans, who are all 20-10 with a .667 win percentage.
Cincinnati Bengals 31-30 Kansas City Chiefs
Can the Bengals beat the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs three times in a row? If last week’s performance by both Bengals lines was an indication, the answer is yes. Cincy’s secondary is a huge concern, and this is likely to be a shootout. But with Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Mixon expected to return, and improved pass protection for Joe Burrow, the difference at quarterback here isn’t that great. Look for Kansas City to finish 14-3, with this being its last loss before earning the No. 1 seed.
Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals (+2.5)
The Chiefs and Bengals are both on the short list of teams that can win the Super Bowl. Kansas City has far and away the best offense, statistically, in the NFL.
Gap between Chiefs and every other offense is jarring.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) November 28, 2022
Chiefs 1st in EPA per drive.
Diff. between them and No. 2 Bills is same as diff. between Bills and No. 21 Cardinals.
2022 Chiefs just ahead of '18 team in EPA/drive. Significantly better than 2019-21.@TruMediaSports
The Bengals, meanwhile, put the clamps on Derrick Henry last week and escaped Tennessee with a victory. As of this writing, it’s unclear whether they’ll get Ja’Marr Chase back for this game.
In the AFC championship game last year, the Bengals’ strategy of dropping eight into coverage and forcing Patrick Mahomes to be patient worked brilliantly. But Mahomes has had answers for just about every defensive tactic he’s seen this season.
Mahomes in a revenge game is scary. It’s possible he goes off and lights the Bengals up. But I love how flexible Cincinnati’s defense can be week to week, and the Bengals offense is balanced and efficient. I’ll take the points and wouldn’t be surprised to see Joe Burrow and Co. win outright.
The pick: Bengals (+2.5)
“I don’t think I can be stopped, if I’m being honest,” Chase said Wednesday. “I’m out there playing football, playing my game. So when I’m in a rhythm, on a roll, the timing is there, and I’m just playing football.”
Chase was also asked about if he could have returned last Sunday in the win against the Tennessee Titans. He wanted to wait it out one more week, as he wasn’t feeling super comfortable just yet.
But when asked how he is feeling going into Sunday;
“I feel good man. I’m here at practice, I’m smiling, I feel good.”
Getting Chase back is obviously a huge addition to this offense against the Chiefs. Tee Higgins has stepped up his game to help fill his absence, but the explosive traits Chase possess are unmatched.
Going to be a fun one in the Queen City on Sunday.
Kansas City Chiefs LB Nick Bolton is participating in the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats initiative for Week 13 this weekend vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. ESPN is celebrating V Week across the network’s platforms through December 11th, and Bolton has chosen to support the V Foundation with his cleats. The V Foundation for Cancer Research was founded in 1993 by ESPN and the late Jim Valvano, legendary North Carolina State college basketball coach and ESPN commentator.
Bolton will be wearing one pink & one gray cleat to symbolize breast & brain cancer. His mother, Jalunda, battled breast cancer and was declared cancer free on 12/2/15, and his sister Jaz, battled brain cancer and was declared cancer free on 3/10/10. One cleat represents Bolton’s mother, while the other his sister, with their names and the date they declared victory over cancer.
Around the NFL
It was an astounding play that essentially put away Allen and the Buffalo Bills’ fifth win in the last six meetings against the New England Patriots, as the quarterback tossed a pair of TDs Thursday in a 24-10 victory to continue his recent mastery of the Pats.
“I wasn’t looking, I closed my eyes when he threw it,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said with a smile after the game. “That’s a part of who he is. So, you know … bottom line is you can’t put the ball in trouble in danger and I thought it was a well-calculated throw and he was open, and he got it to him. You never take away Josh’s instincts and his gut feeling. He’s got a great feel for things, but at the end of the day, he knows we got to continue to be smart with the football.”
Bills general manager Brandon Beane offered a brief explanation for the move, which came as a surprise after Miller said earlier in the week he believed he might be able to return within 7-10 days, ideally in time for Buffalo’s Week 14 rematch with the New York Jets.
“He’s been doing treatment and trying to rehab it,” Beane told a pool reporter Thursday. “We don’t want to rush him back and he’s a competitor. That’s why we love him. That’s why he’s so great. The competitor in him — if he could wheel it out there tonight, he would do it. We just think in talking to the medical people that the best decision right now is to give this time, and that gives him the best opportunity to help us down the stretch.”
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
Dunlap was eventually dealt to the Seahawks, but the awkward conclusion to his time with the Bengals left some fans with a sour taste in their mouths. Earlier this week, Dunlap’s Kansas City teammate, Chris Jones, was sure to remind Dunlap of that.
“Me and him talked and I asked him, ‘Carlos is this your homecoming?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, this is my first time going back since leaving,” Jones recounted to the media on Wednesday. “And I was telling him how much they hate him over there. They felt like he left them when they were doing bad, and he jumped ship.”
Dunlap was highly productive in Cincinnati, amassing 82.5 sacks (2nd in franchise history) and earning two Pro Bowl nods. Unfortunately, the Bengals didn’t do a ton of winning during his time, going just 81-92 with no playoff wins from 2010-2020.
“Respectfully, he’s done a lot for that organization,” Jones continued. “He’s probably one of the best (defensive) ends to play in that organization.”
A tweet to make you think
"These Bills and Chiefs respect each other. It's a love parade every time they play.— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) December 1, 2022
The @Bengals and @Chiefs ? They do not like each other. There's been chatter all week. And not a ton of respect for either team." -- @Pschrags pic.twitter.com/aZRN5deNLf