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Chiefs-Bengals: 5 questions with the enemy

We welcome Cincy Jungle for answers to five questions about the Cincinnati Bengals before Sunday’s Week 13 matchup

NFL: AFC Championship-Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs face the Cincinnati Bengals. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Kansas City is favored to win. We welcome Anthony Cosenza of Cincy Jungle — our sister SBNation site covering the Bengals — for Five Questions with the Enemy.

1. Despite injuries, the Bengals are on a nice run. What’s been the key to their success?

There are a few keys to their success. Joe Burrow has greatly eliminated turnovers since the Week 1 debacle against the Steelers is probably the biggest. Guys on offense are just plain stepping up when called upon, particularly with Ja’Marr Chase being out the past five weeks (case in point: Tee Higgins had two 100-yard receiving games and two touchdowns in the past four games with Chase out—the Bengals went 3-1 in that stretch).

Obviously, the rebuilt offensive line and its four new starters are playing better ball than the unit last year, as well. Cincinnati adjusted its wide zone running style to a bit more RPO plays, while also having to make early-season adjustments to defenses showing a lot of two-deep safety looks in an effort to take Chase out of the equation. They’ve done so, exercising patience and executing the short and intermediate passing game at a very high level.

One other savvy and under-the-radar move was switching punters. Drue Chrisman has been a weapon the past couple of weeks, when the games had periods of field position battles.

2. Ja’Marr Chase torched the Chiefs secondary last season. Can he be stopped? How have other teams had success against him?

This is a really interesting week to watch Chase and see what he can do. There were rumblings he’d be back last week versus the Titans, but all parties decided another week of rest was for the best — and they were able to get a huge win over Tennessee without him.

I don’t think he’ll be on a pitch count, per se — but I do think Cincinnati will try to continue to get other targets like Higgins and Hayden Hurst (not “Tyler Higbee”) involved along with Uno. Tyler Boyd has been a bit quiet the past couple of games, so I’m curious to see what happens with him as Chase returns.

But if Chase is at or near 100% healthy — which the timeline and extra rest suggests — he’s hard to stop. It’s going to be a matter of the Chiefs’ defense stepping up — and/or any rust Chase may have accumulated while rehabbing the hip injury.

The Steelers, Cowboys and a couple of other teams early in the season used forms of Tampa 2 defensive looks to limit Chase’s impact and take away the deep ball. While it worked from a macro perspective (losses), Chase still had a big game in Week 1 against a stout Pittsburgh defense.

3. Tyler Boyd said that Mahomes-Burrow is the next Brady-Manning. Do you agree?

I agree it’s heading that way, but it’s still pretty early. I love Boyd, what he does on the field and in the locker room — and appreciate his hyping up this matchup — but I still think there are a couple more chapters to write before it truly gets to that apex.

Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if some (or many) players on both teams believe this sentiment. Both teams know they have two of the best quarterbacks in the league right now and the prevailing opinion is that these are two perennial playoff teams — until history says otherwise.

It’s pretty neat to see a handful of quarterbacks from the 2017, 2018 and 2020 drafts start to rule the league at the moment — and all are in the AFC (Burrow, Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa). Still, with only Burrow and Mahomes of that group currently showing they have the ability to take their team to the big dance, it would seem Kansas City-Cincinnati could be in line as the next New England/Indianapolis (or Denver).

4. Who have been the standout players on defense for the Bengals this season?

Edge defender Trey Hendrickson is playing solid football, having six sacks, two forced fumbles and a number of hits and pressures. Fellow edge defender Sam Hubbard is also having a solid year, being a well-rounded guy against both the pass and the run.

Safety Vonn Bell has a surprising four interceptions on the season, while linebacker Logan Wilson remains a problem for opposing offenses.

Two guys on different trajectories that nobody talks about, though:

The first is nose tackle D.J. Reader. He’s a huge run-stuffer that brings a surprising amount of pass-rush ability, simply because he sheds blocks so well.

The second is rookie corner Cam Taylor-Britt, who has been forced into starting action because of a knee injury to Chidobe Awuzie. CTB has taken lumps, but he’s shown big-time growth the past couple of weeks. Keep an eye on No. 29 this week, for better or worse.

5. The Chiefs are slight favorites. Do you think that is fair? How do you think this game will go?

I think it’s a fair line, but we know to expect the unexpected here. We also know that — given recent history — even if Kansas City gets up pretty big in the first half, Cincinnati will almost assuredly make a game of it in the final two (if not more) quarters.

Neither outcome would surprise me, honestly. Kansas City cruised to a win last week against the reigning Super Bowl champs and seem to have a lot of hands on deck for this one. They also seem to have had this game circled for a long time and want revenge.

But the Reid comments and the media not giving the Bengals much of a chance may have poked a bear here. Since starting 0-2, Cincinnati has gone 7-2, winning three of four without Chase — including against the AFC South’s first-place Titans in Tennessee. Cincinnati is also getting healthier — and this team plays its best when doubted.

I’ll take the Bengals in a squeaker: 31-30. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Kansas City takes this one.

Be sure to check out the answers I gave to their questions by clicking here.

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