MVP moment: Who can forget when Mahomes stretched for the pylon on a 3-yard touchdown run against Seattle in Week 16? He can win as a passer from inside or outside the pocket, as no other quarterback has more passing yards and passing touchdowns outside of the pocket than Mahomes over the past five seasons. But he also has the versatility to make things happen with his legs as a rusher and scrambler. The moment Mahomes went parallel to the ground to reach for a touchdown against the Seahawks goes down as one of his best from another MVP-caliber campaign.
At halftime, Cook pulled Cheatham and Mahomes aside and told them the coaching staff wanted to stick with Mahomes because of the slick conditions. But they both had a feeling that Mahomes had just won a quarterback battle that had gone on for four-plus years.
Cheatham exchanged a look with Mahomes. It’s the kind of look between two very good friends, where no words are said because no words are needed. They were both happy and sad, all mixed up together. “At the time, I wouldn’t have admitted it,” Cheatham says. “But I knew Patrick was better than me. I could see it.”
Mahomes led Whitehouse to another win. After the game, there was a sense in the locker room that Cheatham’s quarterback career was over. As the room cleared out, only Cheatham and Cook remained. They hugged and started to cry.
“My pride hurts,” Cheatham said.
The point spread in the AFC championship game continues to move.
Despite being the road team, the Bengals were favored by as many as 2.5 points on Wednesday. But now, as of Thursday morning, the odds have shifted back in the Chiefs’ direction.
The Chiefs are the favorites once again, listed at -1 and -115 on the moneyline at BetMGM. The Bengals are -105 on the moneyline and the total is 47.5, a point below the opener of 48.5.
According to BetMGM, most of the action has come in on the Cincinnati side. The Bengals have received 73% of the bets and 79% of the money on the point spread and 69% of the bets and 70% of the money on the moneyline.
Bengals: Eli Apple, Cam Taylor-Britt, Mike Hilton
Chiefs: L’Jarius Sneed, Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson
Cincy’s coverage unit is often carried by the versatility and physicality of Hilton, who acts more like a defensive Swiss Army knife than traditional corner. Their secondary also gets more from the back end. In K.C., meanwhile, Sneed has gradually elevated his game as a shadow on No. 1 wideouts, staying around the ball (11 pass deflections, three INTs, 3.5 sacks); and youngsters like McDuffie and Watson have mostly held their own when asked.
The Chiefs can win even if Mahomes doesn’t have his mobility back. The Bengals can win this game even if Mahomes shows no signs of trouble. There’s just not much separating these two.
When these teams last met, both squads were terrific on the ground. Joe Burrow also ran more than usual and remained extremely patient hitting his receivers on shorter, in-breaking routes. The Chiefs’ defense was determined to take the big play away and still couldn’t get stops. It’s the size of the Bengals’ receivers and their superior defense overall that has me leaning Bengals. The biggest mismatch in the game is when Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase work on the Chiefs’ undersized corners.
The Bengals’ defense can’t stop this Chiefs offense completely — no defense can — but coordinator Lou Anarumo has done a fantastic job changing what he does snap-to-snap, drive-to-drive and week-to-week. The Bengals’ combination of continuity, experience and youth is what every team strives to have. In a game that is dominated by offense, look for a defender like Mike Hilton or Logan Wilson to make the decisive play to send Cincinnati to a second straight Super Bowl.
31. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: EDGE NOLAN SMITH, GEORGIA
PFF Big Board Rank: 22
The Chiefs spent a first-round pick on an edge rusher last year, but it’s still a spot where they need to get better and younger this offseason. Smith, while coming off a season-ending pectoral injury, will be ready to start the 2023 season and would give the Chiefs even more pass-rush help after posting an elite 25.0% pass-rush win rate in 2022.
Around the NFL
Joe Burrow is next up to sign his name on the dotted line, and the Cincinnati Bengals will be offering him a behemoth of a deal.
ESPN NFL insider Jeremy Fowler’s latest polling of NFL executives includes a snippet regarding potential extensions for Burrow and Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. Per Fowler, the $50 million per year mark is where both passers are expected to reach.
“The expectation is both players sign new deals that surpass [Aaron] Rodgers’ league-high average of $50.3 million per year.”
If I could whistle, I would. But just like the report of Cincinnati planning to extend Burrow this year, this isn’t surprising at all. It’s just how the league works.
Burrow and Herbert are two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and they also happen to be two of the youngest at the position. Those are the guys who reset the market when their time comes, and it’s coming right now.
Carolina is hiring former Colts coach Frank Reich, NFL Network Insiders Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported Thursday. The team later announced the news. Reich will receive a four-year contract, Rapoport added.
Reich’s history with the Panthers dates back to the franchise’s first regular-season game in existence, in which Reich threw the team’s first touchdown pass (to tight end Pete Metzelaars). Reich eventually moved on from Carolina as a player, but returns to Charlotte as the new leader of the club nearly 28 years after he became its first starting quarterback.
Reich became available only after the Indianapolis Colts fired him in the middle of the 2022 season. The coach had spent the last four seasons with the Colts, leading them to two playoff appearances in their first three seasons together, but instability at quarterback contributed to their downfall and led to his in-season dismissal.
ESPN’s Rich Cimini reported New York has also hired former Tennessee Titans offensive line coach Keith Carter.
Hackett went 4-11 as the Denver Broncos head coach this season, failing to make it through the entire year in the role. Before that, though, he was an offensive coordinator for eight seasons, including stints with the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Green Bay Packers.
Because of how badly he flopped in Denver, Hackett’s hiring is bound to be met with some skepticism. In addition, his offenses didn’t perform all that well when he didn’t have the luxury of Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, raising broad questions about his suitability.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
Asked about the Bengals’ commentary, Kansas City linebacker Willie Gay Jr. had little to say... at first.
“I’m just excited to be playing football,” said Gay in the Chiefs locker room on Thursday, via friend-of-the-site P.J. Green of FOX4. “That stuff — it’s just what comes with the game. Like coach Reid said, ‘We don’t do no talking; we just go. Handle business when it’s time to go.’”
Gay was then asked about what impresses him most about the Cincinnati offense.
“Nothing,” he said sternly. “Nothing.”