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. Does Sunday’s game decide who is now king in the AFC?
It may be more of a “King of the Hill” moment, wherein the victor is temporarily the class of the conference. The triumvirate of the Chiefs, Bengals and Buffalo Bills will always seem be in the hunt for the AFC crown — as long as Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow and Josh Allen are healthy and heading the respective franchises. Those three will always be battling it out for conference supremacy.
You’ve also got the Justin Herbert-led Los Angeles Chargers and Tua Tagovailoa-headed Miami Dolphins both tasting the postseason now and they’re going to continue to load up to attempt to keep pace. And, being that I cover the Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are in the mix every single year, so the seven teams in the conference bracket seem to essentially be allotted for the foreseeable future. They’ll all want a piece of what the Bengals and Chiefs have had in recent years.
That being said, as of now, the Chiefs and Bengals are the current class of the conference, given what they’ve done the past couple of seasons. But if Cincinnati beats Kansas City four straight times — two apiece at each venue, with both being AFC Championship Games hosted at Arrowhead — it would be hard for anyone to unseat the Bengals from that throne in the near future. But I suppose it also depends on whose opinion you’re taking.
2. The Bengals love their ‘us against the world’ attitude. Are you personally a fan of it?
I’m kind of a sports purist in a lot of ways. I love the old Paul Brown quote: “When you win, say nothing; when you lose, say less.” I’m not a big “chatter guy,” for the most part. I kind of like the approach of, “We won — and everyone saw what we did. So why yak about it?”
However, for the Bengals and this attitude, I love it for a couple of reasons. First it is seeming to fuel them to big wins. They have taken national media talking points spouting doubt and/or rival teams’ players soundbites and spun them into a “We’re being disrespected, so we’ll show them” narrative. And for the most part, it’s worked. Chad Johnson did a bit of this back in the day with guarantees, mailing opposing defensive backs Pepto-Bismol and flamboyant celebrations — and that worked for a time — but this is different.
The second reason I love it is because these are the Cincinnati Bengals. Even this year—be it with preseason prognostications and/or their 0-2 start — they weren’t going to go far because “it’s the Bengals.” Traditionally, they had choked in big moments, couldn’t sustain long-term success and the organization couldn’t get out of their own way.
That’s a script that has been completely flipped on its head — and yet, they’ve still been underdogs. This group is out to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke and they are at the beginning of a dynasty being built. If they want to use talking points as fuel — even if it’s perceived that they’re grasping at themes that aren’t really there — I say let them after the tough history this franchise and its fan base has endured.
3. The Chiefs have not gotten after Joe Burrow very much in recent matchups. Why do you think that is?
In last year’s AFC Championship, Kansas City sacked Burrow four times, hit him five in total and pressured him a handful of other times. He just scrambled out of those to make plays with his legs. December’s matchupwas right around when the rebuilt offensive line hit its stride. It was playing some of its best ball — and it showed.
But Cincinnati leaned on a stout running game last time — even without Joe Mixon — while also utilizing a mix of quick-hit passes and intermediate routes in lieu of big dropbacks and a bunch of deep routes that take a long time to develop. They’ve been a little more selective with the big shots downfield this year, utilizing a bit more of a “move the chains” mentality instead of “we have to pop the big play here and now.” It’s been effective — and Cincinnati has greatly improved its red zone conversion percentage from last postseason.
Burrow is also a magician in the pocket, so he escapes a lot of plays where other quarterbacks would be sacked. The banged-up offensive line held up very well in Buffalo last week, but I believe the Chiefs’ pass rush is quite a bit more formidable than the Von Miller-less group they faced last week. This will most definitely be a major key in this game.
4. How will the Bengals’ defense try to stop the Chiefs’ offense? Do you think there are different game plans based on how Mahomes’ ankle looks?
No. I think they’re going to do a lot of similar things that they’ve done the past three times — with a few new wrinkles here and there. That plan is playing contain with the edges, having a spy in the middle of the field and dropping a bunch of players into coverage.
Now, big credit goes to Andy Reid and Eric Bienemy for the last time around. They stuck to the ground game and it was working quite well for them. It will be interesting to see if they go to that well again with Mahomes’ ankle issue and where his mobility will be. Mahomes is going to get his stats and points — no doubt. It’s just a matter of frustrating him by limiting his “backyard football” style and just weathering the unearthly plays he makes.
5. Do you have player prop bet that you like for Sunday’s game?
Not necessarily a “prop bet” — but if there’s a Samaje Perine yards or receptions number out there that isn’t overly-outrageous, I’d take that one. He’s quietly a very important player to this offense — and a nice outlet in the passing game for a big guy when things break down. Perine went over 100 yards rushing when Mixon was out of the lineup in December — and he is a bit more of a “north-south” runner over Mixon, who sometimes waits for things to develop.
A couple of others to watch: the Bengals are fifth in DVOA against tight ends this year and reports have them (rightfully so) hyper-focused on Travis Kelce this week. And as of Friday morning, the line is at -1 Chiefs, but the Bengals are 13-5 against the spread.
BONUS - How will this game play out? Score prediction.
Flip a coin. Based on recent history, I think if these two teams played this game — probably regardless of venue — you’d get a pretty even split of winning/losing. These two teams are the class of the conference and I’m sure we’ll have a nail-biter once again here.
While a big talking point is that the Bengals are 3-0 the past three matchups, they’ve all been decided by a field goal apiece — either with a last-second field goal in overtime, or a very late drive to kill the clock. It’s also ironic that two of the scores have been 27-24 — and that’s only about 3.5 or 4 points above the over/under in this one.
I think it’s another game decided within a field goal — perhaps even in overtime. I’ll say Cincinnati 27-24 (again) to avoid the heat from my Bengals readers, but wouldn’t surprise me at all if the scores were flipped.
Be sure to check out the answers I gave to their questions by clicking here.