AFC Championship Game: Cincinnati at Kansas City

AFC Championship Game: Cincinnati at Kansas City

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Line: Kansas City -1.5

Total: 48

Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri

When: Sunday, 1/29 at 6:30 p.m. ET

TV: CBS

The top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs will get a rematch with the third-seeded Cincinnati Bengals in the 2023 AFC Championship Game on Sunday night.

Kansas City came up short against Cincinnati as a 7-point home favorite in the 2022 AFC title game, and the Bengals added a 27-24 win against the Chiefs as 2.5-point home underdogs in December. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow became the only quarterback in the NFL to beat Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes three straight times.

Oddsmakers opened the Chiefs as 2.5-point favorites in this matchup, but the line has been all over the place since then. Cincinnati flipped to a 1-point road favorite on Monday, eventually getting as high as -2.5 on Tuesday afternoon, but money has come back on Kansas City since then.

The Chiefs are 1.5-point favorites at offshore sportsbook BetOnline as of Thursday evening. Sunday night’s total opened at 48.5, dropped as low as 46.5, but then climbed back to 48 at the time of writing. The movement on the spread and total can both be partially attributed to reports surrounding Mahomes’ ankle injury, which he suffered in the divisional-round win over Jacksonville.

He initially left the game due to the injury before returning with limited mobility. Mahomes completed 22 of 30 passes for a season-low 195 yards and two touchdowns—he is not listed on Thursday’s injury report. He had an NFL-best 34 touchdown passes from the pocket this season, with just seven of his touchdown throws coming from outside the pocket.

Running backs Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon stepped up against Jacksonville, combining for 120 rushing yards on 23 carries last Saturday. Tight end Travis Kelce was the top target in the passing game, hauling in 14 receptions on 17 targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns.

The Chiefs led the NFL with 413.6 yards per game during the regular season, scoring 29.2 points per game. They had some issues with Cincinnati’s stout defensive line in last year’s AFC title game, as defensive end Trey Hendrickson had 1.5 sacks while Sam Hubbard added two sacks and a forced fumble. The Bengals used 10 cornerback blitzes in their upset win over Buffalo last week.

More impressive in the win over the Bills was Cincinnati’s offensive line, which was expected to be a weakness without three starters due to injuries. Burrow was rarely pressured, completing 23 of 36 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns while getting sacked just one time. Running back Joe Mixon racked up 105 rushing yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, averaging 5.2 yards per attempt.

“We can’t let Joe Burrow sit in the pocket and get rhythm throws,” Chiefs safety Justin Reid said. “We have to force him out of the pocket. We’re not gonna win the game if we don’t get sacks or turnovers.”

Cincinnati wide receiver Tee Higgins had 103 receiving yards in last year’s AFC championship, while Ja’Marr Chase now has 513 career postseason receiving yards. Offensive linemen Alex Cappa (ankle) and Jonah Williams (knee) are both ‘questionable’ for Sunday’s game.

Despite their Super Bowl run last season, the Bengals have been extremely profitable this season, covering the spread at a 13-3 clip in their last 16 games. They have covered in five straight road games and in five of the last six meetings between these teams. Kansas City has only covered twice in its last seven games, but it is riding a five-game home winning streak.

The Chiefs and Bengals have gone ‘under’ the total in 11 of their last 14 contests, including seven of their last eight at Arrowhead.

The pick: Kansas City -1.5

I think Mahomes’ mobility concerns are a bit overhyped right now. He averaged just over three carries per game in the regular season, and almost all of his touchdown passes came from inside the pocket. The more concerning aspect of this game is Cincinnati’s ability to pick up narrow wins over the Chiefs, but I trust Andy Reid in this rematch. Kansas City is on a five-game home winning streak, and Cincinnati’s offensive line issues are still a concern. Fading Burrow is starting to feel like a losing proposition, but this line is simply too close to a pick’em to not back the Chiefs, who were 2.5-point road favorites in December and were 7-point home favorites in last year’s AFC title game.

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