In the Divisional Round of the postseason, all of Arrowhead Pride’s contributors picked the Kansas City Chiefs to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars. But just 12% of us expected the close game it turned out to be; the rest were evenly divided between an easy win and a blowout. Still, our aggregate prediction of a 34-21 Chiefs victory — 14 points removed from the 27-20 final — was the closest we had turned in since Week 12’s game against the Los Angeles Rams. Our readers, on the other hand, had a better handle on the spread. One in four thought it would be a close game — and fewer than one in five saw a blowout coming.
On Sunday, Kansas City hosts the Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC Championship. The line has been bouncing back and forth all week, but DraftKings Sportsbook now has the Chiefs favored by two points.
Let’s see what the staff — and our readers — think about the matchup.
Price Carter (@priceacarter)
With Patrick Mahomes 100% healthy, this game is a coin toss — but we know we’re not getting that version of Mahomes. In Cincinnati — with several plays breaking their way and the Bengals missing their best running back (Joe Mixon) and best tight end (Hayden Hurst) — the Chiefs lost. Cincinnati has won ten straight games and has all the confidence in the world against Kansas City. It’s hard to see a situation where that trend stops now. I think the Chiefs will put up an admirable effort — and despite his physical limitations, Mahomes will impress. But at the end of the day, the Bengals are just slightly better on both sides of the ball. I just don’t think the Chiefs are dominant enough on offense to overcome all of it. Prepare for a very long offseason in which people will claim Joe Burrow (who has the league’s best set of offensive skill players) has surpassed Mahomes.
Bengals 31, Chiefs 30
Tom Childs (@tomchilds56)
Just wake me up on Sunday night and tell me the result, OK? Honestly, I have no idea. The Bengals can’t get the Chiefs again, right? RIGHT?
Chiefs 28, Bengals 27
Nate Christensen (@natech32)
I hate picking this game so much. For three straight games, I’ve picked the Chiefs to win comfortably against the Bengals. I’ve been painfully wrong each time. Cincinnati has a roster well-suited to attack the Kansas City defense — or any other, for that matter — and a flexible offense that won’t beat itself. So I’m not going to argue against anyone who is picking the Bengals to win this game. But I just can’t see head coach Andy Reid (and Patrick Mahomes) losing four games to the same team in two years. Everything I know about probability would lead me to believe Kansas City finally gets one. I’m just going to trust them, sit back and hope for a win.
Chiefs 31, Bengals 27
John Dixon (@Arrowheadphones)
Earlier in the week, I gave serious consideration to picking the Bengals to win this game. But for all the talk about the 3-0 record Cincinnati has collected against the Chiefs with Joe Burrow under center, we’re still talking about three games that were decided by a field goal — and every one of them was well within Kansas City’s grasp until the team made crucial mistakes. That was especially true of last season’s AFC Championship. In recent weeks, however, this Chiefs team hasn’t been making those kinds of errors. As for Mahomes? Well, we’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we? I might very well be figuring this wrong, but I’m not betting against him.
Chiefs 31, Bengals 27
Maurice Elston (@recenickelz)
The Bengals are a very good team. They do well in all three phases. Late in their games against the Chiefs, they seem to always adjust well to limit Mahomes. But he is still the greatest player to ever throw a football. Despite his ankle injury, my mind can’t fathom him leaving Arrowhead Stadium with a loss. The Kansas City defense will disrupt things just enough. Mahomes and the offense will capitalize on that — while playing a turnover-free game. Chiefs roll!
Chiefs 35, Bengals 24
Mark Gunnels (@MarkAGunnels)
When these two teams met last year in the AFC Championship, I think most Chiefs fans assumed they were going to the Super Bowl. And why not? The national media narrative was that the Chief-Bills Divisional Round matchup was the real AFC title game. Now fast forward to this season. It feels like Cincinnati is expected to come away with a win — especially considering Patrick Mahomes’ ankle injury. But I just don’t see Andy Reid’s team losing to the Bengals four straight times.
Chiefs 31, Bengals 24
Zach Gunter (@ZachGunter08)
Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes will not accept a fourth consecutive loss. They just won't. Injured ankle or not, the Chiefs are coming out with a scorched-Earth attack. This should be fun.
Chiefs 31, Bengals 21
Conner Helm (@ArrowheadConner)
I’ve learned one thing during the Patrick Mahomes era: don’t bet against the Chiefs’ moneyline. Mahomes is 72-19 as a starter. The national narrative is that Kansas City has already lost — and Mahomes is no longer the best in the game. But I believe he will carve up the Cincinnati defense from the pocket and cement his legacy as the game’s best quarterback. I expect Andy Reid, Eric Bieninemy and Matt Nagy to create a game plan that minimizes Mahomes’ physical limitations with quick attacks against the Bengals’ corners. I expect Kansas City to target Eli Apple in the quick passing game — and also take coordinated deep shots toward Cameron Taylor-Britt. I have all the respect in the world for this Cincinnati team; it is very good. I just believe Mahomes won’t let his team lose.
Chiefs 31, Bengals 27
Caleb James (@CJScoobs)
This will be the toughest test of the Mahomes and Reid era. No team since the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos has racked up more consecutive wins over the Chiefs than the Bengals have. So how can Kansas City prevent a fourth straight loss to Cincinnati — and once again advance to the Super Bowl? Since Mahomes is coming into the game with an injured ankle, the Chiefs need to be able to run the ball early (and often) out of multiple looks. Many overlooked Isiah Pacheco’s 95-yard game in the Divisional Round — but if he is running hard and the offensive line is opening holes, anything is possible. The Bengals will swarm Travis Kelce — so it will be up to JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes Scantling, Jerrick McKinnon and Noah Gray to step up and catch passes. Defensively, Kansas City must get pressure on Burrow. This game will hinge on the Chiefs’ pass rushers — starting with Chris Jones. Kansas City’s defensive backs and linebackers will have their hands full against Burrow’s assortment of weapons — but if the defensive line can get home, they can cause some problems. I think this game will come down to Harrison Butker’s leg.
Chiefs 30, Bengals 28
Ashley Justice (@Justice_Paur88)
I’ve seen this movie before — and I absolutely loathe the ending. The Bengals return to Kansas City, making a quick pit stop for some barbecue on their way to the Super Bowl. As the week has gone on, the end of the Chiefs’ season feels increasingly (and tragically) closer; I fear that the Chiefs are all out of miracles. Lately, Kansas City has given Cincinnati so much ammunition, why would the Bengals come into Arrowhead Stadium without expecting a victory? Maybe I’ve become so spoiled by repeatedly witnessing the improbable that the expectation for greatness is too high. Is this another great season — one with so much promise — that ends just before the big show? It feels like it. I hope that I am wrong. I hope that Mahomes does Mahomes Things. There’s a difference between hope and faith, and I do not have the latter. The Bengals will make good on their smack talk.
Bengals 34, Chiefs 31
Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp)
These teams are much closer than even the three recent games between them would suggest. To me, it’s been simple: against Kansas City, Cincinnati has been better situationally — whether that’s been in the red zone, on third down, late in halves or in the fourth quarter. In those moments, the Bengals have outplayed the Chiefs — because they have been more locked in and confident in their abilities. But on Sunday, I think that flips. One team is doing a lot of talking, while the other one is locked in. Just like last year, the team coming off an emotional high will fall flat — while the more locked-in, focused team will be booking a charter flight to Arizona.
Chiefs 29, Bengals 27
Aaron Ladd (aaronladd0)
Nope. It’s not deja vu. Same teams. Same round. Same stadium. In early August, if I had told Chiefs fans that this would be the AFC Championship matchup, they would have salivated at the opportunity. A chance at revenge against the team that has not only had Kansas City’s number, but has talked a fair amount s--t on the way there? Bring it on! I’ve got to admit: Burrowhead is clever — but trading media jabs won’t win Sunday’s game. It’s going to be won in the trenches. Kansas City’s inability to sack Joe Burrow has doomed them in the three previous matchups. Chris Jones has even highlighted a missed sack on Burrow as his offseason motivation for 2022. Cincinnati’s win over Buffalo was mighty impressive — dare I say the most impressive win of the season? And oh, yeah… Patrick Mahomes’ ankle? Yeah... I’m sticking with my gut on this one.
Bengals 30, Chiefs 27
Rocky Magaña (@RockyMagana)
We all know the narratives. The Chiefs have dropped three straight to the Bengals. Mahomes will be limited. Kansas City’s offensive line isn’t good enough to keep their quarterback upright. The secondary can’t stop Cincinnati’s wideouts. Blah, blah, blah. But what if the Chiefs change the narrative? Michael Jordan had the flu game. Curt Schilling had his sock. Jack Youngblood played an entire postseason with a broken fibula. Kerri Strug won a gold medal just moments after blowing out her knee. There are countless stories like these. It’s in these moments that the great ones rise to the occasion and get the job done — by any means necessary. If Mahomes is who we think he is, a sprained ankle just isn’t going to stop him. Right now, the Chiefs have an 800-pound tiger on their back. The Bengals have spent the week mocking them — but Sunday is when the jokes have to end. It’s time to go big-game hunting — and put another pelt on the wall. No excuses. Strap up, put your fist in the dirt and get it done.
Chiefs 31, Bengals 28
Ricko Mendoza (@ricko_mendoza_)
Before Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain in the Divisional Round, the Chiefs’ offense looked to be in great shape to make another run at the Super Bowl. After the injury, however, was a different story. Mahomes struggled to even hand off the ball on a simple running play. His competitiveness and overall grit may have gotten him past the Jaguars — but now he faces a shootout against a Cincinnati offense as talented as his own. The injury — plus a matchup against a Bengals squad that has had Kansas City’s number in recent games — has made the Chiefs home underdogs for much of the week. We’ve seen Mahomes and the Kansas City offense come up big in the biggest moments. So maybe — just maybe — the team can do it again, booking a trip to Phoenix on Sunday night.
Chiefs 28, Bengals 21
Stan Nelson (@chiefsfanstan)
The Bengals deserve every one of the accolades they have been receiving. They can no longer be considered to be just a lucky upstart who have had things fall their way. No... Cincinnati is a legitimate AFC power that has demonstrated the grit and moxie to go into an opponent’s house and beat it hands down. Kansas City fans — having recently watched the Chiefs fall to the Bengals in both in the regular season and the playoffs — already knew that. Now, however, Cincinnati is coming to Arrowhead after an impressive road victory against the Buffalo Bills — a team that is correctly considered to be one of the AFC’s top teams. But with Patrick Mahomes’s injury, I believe Kansas City has found the extra motivation it needs — and that’s what will propel the the team to victory.
Chiefs 34, Bengals 31
Tom Ruprecht (@truprecht)
Yes... the Bengals should be favored. I get it. My head tells me they are going to win — but on this one, I’m going to let my heart take the lead. Mahomes is a legendary athlete. I think this is a game where he will transform himself into the quarterback he needs to be to win this matchup. After the botched play at the end of the half in last year’s AFC Championship, I think there was a lot of arguing among the Chiefs — and winning the game became an afterthought. On Sunday, however, the entire focus will be on doing whatever is necessary to win the game. And if that means playing smashmouth football — like the 98-yard drive with Chad Henne a week ago Saturday — then that’s what they’ll do. I loved the way the entire team stepped up after Mahomes’ injury. I expect the same kind of performance this week. Oh... and I think Mecole Hardman is going to play — and smoke Eli Apple.
Chiefs 27, Bengals 24
Kramer Sansone (@KramerTalks)
For Kansas City to shut down the Burrowhead narrative, this is a must-win game. But I don’t see that happening. The Bengals have more offensive weapons than the Chiefs — and the weapon that will hurt Kansas City the most is likely to be tight end Hayden Hurst. If you remember the comments Chiefs’ safety Justin Reid made before the regular-season matchup, this is where it hurts them the most. The Kansas City offensive line also needs to wake up before the middle part of the third quarter to keep a less-than-100% Patrick Mahomes upright, keeping him from putting unnecessary weight on his injured ankle.
Bengals 33, Chiefs 21
Jared Sapp (@TrumanChief)
I try to be neutral with these — even when it means I am making a pick I don’t like. Can the Chiefs come up with a game plan where a limited Mahomes can do enough to outlast the Bengals? Of course they can. Kansas City, however, is usually the team whose quarterback gives them an otherworldly margin for error. But in this game, everything has to go right for the Chiefs to come out on top. The Bengals are just in a better position to overcome a slow start or a crucial turnover. And yes... there is some reverse-jinx psychology in this pick.
Bengals 31, Chiefs 24
Nick Schwerdt (@nick_schwerdt)
This is the game the Chiefs have been waiting 12 months to play. Same game. Same venue. Same opponent. If they win, they secure a spot in the Super Bowl and avenge what is perhaps the most crushing loss of the Patrick Mahomes era. We know about the talent that the Bengals have on offense — and they deserve all the praise they’ve received. Mahomes’ ankle has been the hot topic, but I truly don’t believe it’s going to be a factor in this game. He’s as tough as they come — and I don’t foresee him letting it affect his play. The one aspect that hasn’t been discussed enough is the trenches. I think we have a tendency to fawn over talented quarterbacks and receivers, while sort of ignoring where the advantages lie up front. But this is where games are aften decided. In this matchup, the Kansas City has a distinct advantage on both lines. They ranked second in sacks this season, while Cincinnati gave up the legue’s fifth-most sacks. The Chiefs also have one of the best pass-blocking units, while the Bengals have struggled to get after the quarterback. I think Kansas City will impose its will — but perhaps not in the way you might be thinking. Win at the line — and win the game.
Chiefs 31, Bengals 27
Stephen Serda (@StephenSerda)
There’s no doubt that Mahomes' ankle injury will weigh heavily on this game. While there’s an easy case to be made that the Bengals are the better team, I’m putting my faith in Mahomes and Reid. We all know Mahomes is the best in the game — and despite all of his success, he still has to check Joe Burrows’ name off this list. Being 0-3 against this Cincinnati team is a factor — and I’m confident Kansas City will show up with one of the best game plans of the season. This is as close to an even matchup as we’re going to find — but the Chiefs have to win in the trenches on both offense and defense. I believe they’ll be up to the task.
Chiefs 34, Bengals 31
Matt Stagner (@stagdsp)
Before the Divisional Round game, I was filled with a feeling of excitement — knowing that it was likely to be a fun game that the Chiefs were going to win. Then Patrick Mahomes’ injury put a damper on that enthusiasm — even though Kansas City delivered the win. Immediately after Cincinnati defeated Buffalo, my gut feeling turned to anxiety. This is a monumental game that will help define the narrative around this team — and the Hall of Fame resume for several Chiefs. I can’t remember a more consequential contest in team history — although there might be some recency bias there. The only game that could top it might come in two weeks — providing, of course, that Kansas City wins this one. Unfortunately, the matchup is not a good one — as evidenced by the three most recent contests between these teams. The Bengals are physical on defense and deadly on offense. They can negate many of the things that other teams use against them. I expect the A++ Andy Reid game and an over-my-dead-body game by Mahomes. The outcome could hinge on how effective the Chiefs' backs and receivers can be — and what the pass rush can do to get home. I’m not confident Kansas City will win — but I’m hopeful.
Chiefs 38, Bengals 37
Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_)
It is time. Sunday night’s matchup has been more than a year in the making for Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Everyone expects a very close game — and based on the previous three matchups between these teams, it should be. But among the previous 12 conference championship matchups with a point spread of fewer than three points, 10 have been decided by at least two scores. The Chiefs have more to prove than ever before — and when they play with an intense focus, there’s no better team. Reid has more than one way to skin this cat — and regardless of how Mahomes feels, he’ll do it. Kansas City’s front four can control this game.
Chiefs 33, Bengals 21
Pete Sweeney (@pgsween)
I think the Chiefs — and their fans — came into last year’s AFC title game against the Bengals thinking another Super Bowl trip was a foregone conclusion. What a difference a year makes! For Kansas City, the key to this game is the line play on both sides of the ball. There are two goals: A) Get to Joe Burrow — and B) Protect a beat-up Patrick Mahomes. This has the feel of a heavyweight fight — one that four weeks from now, we might wish had been the Super Bowl. Through five seasons as a starter, Mahomes is statistically the best quarterback of all time. Even if he’s playing at 80-90%, he will find some way to get this done.
Chiefs 24, Bengals 23
Dakota Watson (@dwatson_56)
As this week has progressed, I’ve gotten more confident. Much of the attention has been focused on Mahomes’ ankle, but this game truly comes down to winning the line of scrimmage. In the previous matchups, the Chiefs have struggled to pressure Burrow — and then made critical mistakes at just the wrong times. I think Kansas City will play a clean game — and Cincinnati’s patchwork offensive line will struggle as the Chiefs finally get pressure on the quarterback. Mahomes’ legend will continue to grow as he leads the game-winning drive on a beat-up ankle — and the Chiefs will head to the Super Bowl for the third time in five seasons.
Chiefs 28, Bengals 24
Which team wins Bengals (14-4) at Chiefs (15-3)?
This poll is closed
Chiefs in a blowout (14 or more points)
Chiefs in an easy win (8-13 points)
Chiefs in a close game (7 or fewer points)
Bengals in a close game
Bengals in an easy win
Bengals in a blowout
|22||22||Ron Kopp Jr.||14||4||0.7778||27.3|
Ties in the standings are broken with prediction points error — how much each prediction misses the actual point spread and the number of points scored by each team.
In the Divisional Round, Pete Sweeney led the AP staff with a 28-20 prediction that had just two points of error. His third win of the season — and the second time he’s turned in a pick that close — moved him to the top of the standings. Price Carter, Ricko Mendoza and Nick Schwerdt followed Pete with 30-20 and 30-21 picks that were six points off. Three other contributors had predictions that missed by eight points.