Chiefs-Bengals: 3 matchups to watch in AFC Championship


After a week full of speculation, social media sleuthing, and some Bengals smack talk, it feels safe to say that the hype for this weekend’s AFC Championship at Arrowhead Stadium has reached its high point. In a rematch of last year’s title game, the Bengals come into Kansas City as one of the hottest teams in football, and the Chiefs – the conference’s 1-seed – are home underdogs. So who’s going to make or break this Sunday’s game? Here are a few matchups to keep an eye on.

Patrick Mahomes vs. Trey Hendrickson 
This is the obvious one, right? Mahomes has been front-and-center this week, even more so than usual, as everyone tries to get the inside scoop on how his ankle is feeling after suffering a high sprain in the Divisional win over Jacksonville. Mahomes is no stranger to improvisational magic, but it’s not unrealistic to think that he’ll be at least a little more limited outside of the pocket than he normally would be. If Hendrickson – who Pro Football Focus ranks as the 12th best edge rusher (out of 120) in the NFL – can get consistent pressure on Mahomes, specifically early in the game, then it’s easy to see how the Chiefs may be playing from behind for a big chunk of the game. A lot of this, of course, rests on Orlando Brown Jr., who played decently (0 sacks, two pressures allowed) against Jacksonville. Keeping Mahomes upright has been and will always be priority #1 as long as he’s in Kansas City, but it feels especially pertinent this week.

Travis Kelce vs. Germaine Pratt
It’s probably not a stretch to say that, outside of all the other stakes of an AFC Championship, this game means a tiny bit more to Kelce. The Chiefs’ star tight end was, by his own admission, the focal point of their close regular-season loss to Cincinnati back in early January. And who forced that game-sealing fumble? Pratt, who, by many metrics, has also been one of the best linebackers in football this season. So there’s the narrative aspect of this all – Kelce/Pratt revenge game, etc – but also the X’s-and-O’s aspect, which shows two of the very best at their position going up against one another for 30-40 snaps. Pratt’s PFF coverage grade (90.2) is far-and-away a career high, as teams have only averaged a 70.7 passer rating against him this season. It’ll be fascinating to watch whether the Chiefs try to scheme Kelce into matchups with some of Cincinnati’s weaker coverage players, or if they just trust their guy to be better.

Joe Burrow vs. Trent McDuffie
Honestly, this could also be Ja’Mar Chase vs. McDuffie. Or Tee Higgins vs. McDuffie. Or Tyler Boyd vs. McDuffie. The Bengals are, if you didn’t know, loaded. But it’d be hard to keep the QB that Bengals players are re-naming Arrowhead Stadium after off this list. Burrow has shown an impressive ability to be unflappable throughout his short career so far, and McDuffie, for all his good play this season, is up against it this weekend. After finishing the last quarter of the season as the Chiefs’ primary slot corner, McDuffie lined up almost-exclusively on the outside in their Divisional win. If that’s the plan for Sunday, he’s going to have more than a few chances to make plays on the ball. With the Bengals having a sneaky-good (maybe efficient is the better word) run game, he’ll need to have one of his better tackling games of the season – something that’s been a work in progress this season.

Featured Image Photo Credit: USA Today