5 - Isiah Pacheco & Jerick McKinnon
With Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle) going on injured reserve in November, Pacheco and McKinnon have really stepped up. Pacheco, a rookie selected in the seventh round, has been a breath of fresh air, leading the Chiefs in rush yards in each game since Week 10 — he’s averaged 4.9 yards per attempt in that span — and bringing a more physical element to the explosive offense. The 30-year-old McKinnon has provided Andy Reid’s unit with another wrinkle as a dynamic pass-catching weapon out of the backfield and reliable target in the red zone. He’s recorded at least one receiving touchdown in four straight games, tied for the longest streak by a running back since the 1970 merger, per NFL Research, and recorded six scrimmage TDs in December. Look for these two to play an instrumental role in the postseason.
What’s at stake for Bengals
AFC North title: The Bengals need two victories to wrap up the division title (and at least the No. 3 seed in the conference). If the Baltimore Ravens (10-5) beat the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) on Sunday, Cincinnati will have to beat Buffalo to maintain its division lead since Baltimore owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.
If the Ravens lose and the Bengals win this week, Cincinnati would wrap up the AFC North title. A Ravens win sets up a Week 18 showdown between Cincinnati and Baltimore for the division.
Home-field advantage: A win over the Bills would keep the Bengals in the race for home-field advantage, as Cincinnati would have wins over Buffalo and Kansas City in case all three teams end up tied. In that scenario, Cincinnati would be the No. 1 seed (beat Buffalo and Kansas City), Buffalo would fall to No. 2 (beat Kansas City, lost to Cincinnati), and Kansas City No. 3 (lost to Buffalo and Cincinnati).
The Bengals need to beat the Bills and have the Chiefs lose one of their last two games to have a chance of that happening.
3 - Chiefs
Get Mecole Hardman involved. It’s pretty tough to nitpick the Chiefs, to be honest, and both Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes would do just fine without Hardman. But the speedy wideout is returning from injury to give Kansas City more electricity up its sleeve, and he was actually an underrated gadget player before going down, with five touchdowns in a three-game span. Incorporating him on deep balls and red zone sweeps would simply add to their trustworthy attack.
Chiefs move into prime position for No. 1 seed
All the Buffalo Bills need to do is win their final two games and the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the home-field advantage that comes with it is theirs for the taking. The biggest challenge standing in their way of that goal, however, is a trip to Cincinnati to take on a Bengals team that has won seven straight games coming into Monday night.
The Bills are slim one-point road favorites at Caesars Sportsbook, but this game is essentially a coin flip. Joe Burrow has been playing at an MVP level for the bulk of the season, leading the league in passer rating since Week 3 and completing 70% of his throws over that stretch. In his career, Burrow also has a .631 winning percentage at home. We see Cincy pulling off the home upset, which then swings the door wide open for Kansas City to swoop in and steal the No. 1 seed away from Buffalo.
With Buffalo falling to the Bengals, the Chiefs would then need to simply win their remaining games to lock up the top seed. In the final two weeks, K.C. is facing a 4-11 Broncos team that just fired its head coach and then a 6-9 Raiders club that benched starting quarterback Derek Carr for the remainder of the year.
Bold prediction: Get the confetti cannons ready. The Broncos will get a play on special teams that is worth a highlight from rookie returner Montrell Washington. The Broncos have been at, or near, the bottom of every significant special teams metric all season, and coach Nathaniel Hackett, special teams coach Dwayne Stukes and offensive line coach Butch Barry were all fired on Monday. Interim coach Jerry Rosburg, a long-time special teams coach for John Harbaugh with the Ravens, has the unenviable task of facing the Chiefs, who are trying to win and become the AFC’s top playoff seed. The Broncos will need a football miracle to keep it close, but they will at least play offense the way they should — few more runs, lot more play action — and Rosburg will be willing to roll the dice on special teams with a potential surprise or two. — Jeff Legwold
Stat to know: Patrick Mahomes is 10-0 in his career against the Broncos, one shy of matching the most wins without a loss vs. an opponent in the Super Bowl era.
Shanahan spoke about Nick Bosa on Friday while meeting with reporters. During the conversation, he was asked if there was a case for Bosa to win MVP. He didn’t hold back with support for his star edge rusher.
“It’s always tough with quarterbacks because of how big of a deal quarterbacks are to their teams and in the league and how great some of them are, so they do usually get it,” Shanahan stated.
He then added, “The other position that’s so impactful are pass rushers, so you think of someone like Lawrence Taylor, that makes sense for someone like that to win it. I think it would make sense for someone like Aaron Donald in some of the years that he’s had and you look at Nick, who I think is right in that league right there of those two people that I just mentioned and I think he’s having that type of year, so it depends how the votes go.” stated Shanahan.
Around the NFL
Hurts is doubtful to play Sunday, but sources told NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback made significant strides in returning to practice during the week from his right shoulder sprain, and the team is very confident he’ll return in the short term.
Ever the competitor, Hurts has been pushing to play in Philadelphia’s Week 17 game against the New Orleans Saints — a team Hurts defeated in his first career start in 2020 — but the quarterback’s health and safety comes first for the Eagles, who own a narrow lead atop the NFC standings.
Von Miller terrorized Joe Burrow while playing for the Rams in Super Bowl LVI, and it was that kind of performance that led Buffalo to sign the future Hall of Fame pass rusher. But with no Miller — who is out for the year with an ACL tear yet unbelievably still leads the Bills in sacks (8.0) despite his last appearance being on Thanksgiving Day — this week, the Bills get no pressure on Burrow, and he takes advantage. The third-year passer picks apart Buffalo’s secondary to the tune of 300 yards, three touchdowns and 30 points in a statement win.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
2. The screen game
With a heavy blitzing team comes an opportunity to take advantage by hitting screen passes effectively.
Against the Broncos, the Chiefs completed seven screen plays — turning them into 59 yards and a touchdown; two others went for first downs.
With heavy blitzing comes a chance to get beat by screens— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 30, 2022
The #Chiefs hammered Denver with RB screens in Wk14, hitting more in that game than any other this season
This weekend could be a good dress rehearsal for the screen game before the playoffs pic.twitter.com/ODLDL7johL
Running back Jerick McKinnon was on the receiving end of four of those screens; that’s significant because no Chiefs’ running back has seen more than two screen completions in a single game this season. One gained 24 yards on third-and-10, then another scored a touchdown from 10 yards out on second and goal.
These are excellent plays for McKinnon — but this could be a good opportunity for rookie running back Isiah Pacheco to grow as a receiver on screen passes. He had a great rep in the screen game last week that earned the offense 35 yards, but he could use more experience. McKinnon looks very natural and comfortable doing it, so much so that he’d probably be fine delegating his snaps.
Not only can it keep the veteran fresh, but it could also make a screen pass that more unpredictable with Pacheco in rather than McKinnon.
A tweet to make you think
It's been a long time since the #Chiefs had a one–two punch like Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon. #ShowAndBK@RealRonTheShow | @BKSportsTalk | @StephenSerda— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) December 30, 2022
: https://t.co/H57SFSzPoK pic.twitter.com/CB9G6AIhlZ