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Chiefs-Bengals 5 questions with the enemy: How have Bengals adapted to Jake Browning?

We welcome Cincy Jungle for answers to five questions about the Bengals before Sunday’s Week 17 matchup.

Syndication: The Enquirer Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

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) What’s the feeling among Bengals fans? Do they feel like there is still plenty to play for?

It’s a bit of a mixed bag, honestly. When Joe Burrow went down with the injury against the Baltimore Ravens a month and a half ago, Bengals Nation was in “fold-up-the-tents-and-hit-the-mock-draft-simulators” mode. There was optimism with Jake Browning — but he was a bit of an unknown because of his mediocre preseason performances; he had not played with the starting talent the Bengals boast in the regular season.

Initially, “Enjoy the ride” was the mantra when the team was in the middle of its three-game winning streak. They beat three quality opponents with current playoff aspirations, turning the “Hey, let’s have some fun” approach to the rest of 2023 into “Let’s make a run at this thing.” It’s been fun to watch this team’s fortitude take center stage through so many important injuries this year — including Burrow’s first month, when he was hobbled as well.

Yes, folks are excited for the final two games, as it’s a bit of a blend of Cincinnati controlling its destiny and potentially needing some help. It won’t be an easy task with an angry Chiefs team waiting for them in Arrowhead — and the red-hot Cleveland Browns to finish the year — but the fact that they’re in this thing at the end is fun and speaks volumes about the coaching staff, the roster construction and mental toughness of the team. Last week’s blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was sobering, but there’s an odd mix of quiet confidence and uncertainty after last Saturday’s debacle.

2) How has the offense evolved since the forced change at quarterback?

For the second half of the Ravens game — and in Browning’s first start in the first Steelers game — the Bengals entrusted their backup quarterback (who has some similar skill sets) with the full Burrow playbook. It came with mixed results, as that approach relies on a ton of checks at the line, a vast majority of plays being run out of shotgun and putting a lot of responsibility on the arm of the quarterback.

They pared things down and went for more balance during the three-game winning streak against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings, utilizing more RPO, play-action and bootleg plays. Browning also became highly comfortable while throwing the ball to a myriad of tight ends for high completion, chain-moving passes that were key in those wins. Getting rookie running back Chase Brown back from short-term IR was a big boost a few weeks ago, as he made at least one big play in each of those three wins. Joe Mixon was also effective.

Last week was a culmination of a buzzsaw of both that particular week and long-term (at least for the remainder of 2023) concerns for the Bengals. The Steelers are a bad matchup for the Bengals —and it was on the road against a Pittsburgh team seething after three straight losses. Cincinnati also didn’t have Ja’Marr Chase (who might be back against the Chiefs) and run-stopping savant D.J. Reader (out for the year after being injured the week prior versus Minnesota) — but regardless, both sides of the ball let them down. The defense got manhandled and Browning attempted to play hero ball, committing three costly turnovers. Trend or outlier? We’ll see.

3) What is it that Lou Anarumo specifically does that manages to cause Patrick Mahomes so much trouble?

Anarumo prefers to play two deep safeties while rushing three or four — and having the edges play a form of contain. Sometimes — when he rushes only three — he’ll add in a delayed blitz, trying to get Mahomes to the turf or commit a rare, errant throw while trying to play his incredible brand of backyard football. It has worked in spells, with the safeties and corners coming up with big plays in the past four matchups, in which the Bengals are 3-1.

Both teams have to be licking their chops this week, though. For the Chiefs, No. 15 has to be stoked that Cincinnati failed to keep even one of its stellar starting safeties from the past few years in free agency (Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell), who have created problems for the Chiefs in the past. Additionally, when I say Anarumo plays two deep safeties, he had also been using a hybrid player in Tre Flowers, who was relatively effective as a bigger corner/safety guarding slot receivers and tight ends. He left this year, too.

For CIncinnati, the perceived receiving issues in Kansas City — and the uncertainty of Isiah Pacheco being questionable this week — helps a Bengals secondary that has loads of athleticism, but often displays inexperience (and hiccups) on film from young players. Additionally, Cincinnati’s cornerback group looks to be getting a big boost this week with the apparent return of second-year man Cam Taylor-Britt, who was playing near a Pro Bowl level before going to short-term IR a few weeks back.

4) Do you have a specific player prop bet that you like?

I like Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the anytime touchdown scorer line of +100 in this one, per DraftKings. It’s not a crazy one, but I think Kansas City is going to look to run a bit more this week — even with Pacheco questionable — given the drops and other issues, so that would be a play in a parlay for an easy hit to keep things rolling.

For Cincinnati and a big swing for the fences, get Tanner Hudson anytime TD scorer at +900. He’s only had one career receiving touchdown — but it came a few weeks ago with Browning tossing it to him; the big tight end has been one of the backup quarterback’s favorite targets.

5) How does this one play out? Will it be another classic between these two teams?

Both teams are salty from last week’s respective embarrassments and are frothing at the playoff-seeding implications in this one. The Chiefs look more vulnerable than the past half-decade, but it’s still Arrowhead at the end of the year — and Cincinnati is playing a backup quarterback. Still, Browning has played admirably, made himself good money and opportunities for next year by putting the Bengals in playoff contention.

Cincinnati needs a lot of things to go right this week and, as obvious as it sounds, this game is highly-dependent on Chase’s status and the defense’s ability to swing the pendulum to “feast” from “famine.” I’ll say Kansas City pulls out a tight one — 20-17 — but an opposite result wouldn’t be crazy, either.

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

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