How the Chiefs Can Beat the Bengals in the AFC Championship

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Road to the Super Bowl: How the Chiefs Can Beat the Bengals in the AFC Championship


We’ll see you at “Burrowhead”

That’s what some of the Bengals are calling Arrowhead Stadium these days. To be clear, Joe Burrow isn’t one of them. Burrow called Mahomes and the Chiefs the team to beat in the AFC during his media availability on Wednesday. Still, I’m sure Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will not like that one very much.

After all, Mahomes is the greatest quarterback on the planet. At least for now. The Chiefs will play their fifth straight AFC title game on Sunday. Of course, they’ve also got a Super Bowl in there and one (soon to be two) MVP awards for Mahomes.

So, I wouldn’t anoint the Chiefs’ storied home field as Joe Burrow’s playground quite yet.

Still, the Chiefs have their work cut out for them on Sunday. They’ll face a Bengals unit that is oozing with confidence and hasn’t lost since Halloween. Patrick Mahomes is also dealing with a high ankle sprain that might change the complexion of this game a bit.

Even still, there’s a very viable path to victory for the Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. So let’s discuss what that might look like.

Will this be the Patrick Mahomes “Flu Game,” or will someone else step up for the Chiefs?

Sure, it’s convenient to compare Mahomes to Jordan. They both transcended their positions at the highest level. But let’s appreciate Patrick Mahomes for who he is; Patrick Mahomes. He doesn’t have to be Michael Jordan; he’s the best quarterback in the league.

Yeah, he’ll have to have a heck of a performance if the Chiefs hope to be playing in the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks. Still, this is an 11-on-11 sport.

However, this is where Mahomes’ weapons enter the conversation.

Travis Kelce is the best in the business at his position and is Mahomes’ favorite target. Even before Mahomes hurt his ankle last week against Jacksonville, Kelce was on the cusp of an all-time excellent performance. Kelce’s 14 catches and two touchdowns helped a hobbled Mahomes and the Chiefs beat the Jaguars. If Kelce has another day like that, the Chiefs will be in the Super Bowl.

The problem is Cincinnati knows it, and they took Kelce away from Mahomes in Week 13. They’ll likely try to do that again this week. But there’s a way for the Chiefs, even if the Bengals silence Kelce again. In fact, this one even takes some of the pressure off of the injured Mahomes.

After a field goal and a punt on their first two possessions against the Bengals, Kansas City started to incorporate Jerick McKinnon and Isiah Pacheco more. It worked. McKinnon has runs of eight and 11 yards on that drive. Here’s McKinnon getting the Chiefs near the goal line on an excellent design for 11 yards:

Two plays later, McKinnon was free in the flat for an easy Chiefs touchdown:

When the Chiefs took their first lead of the game in the third quarter, it was Pacheco who scored the touchdown.

Here’s Pacheco’s rushing touchdown that gave Kansas City a 17-14 lead:

Pacheco and McKinnon combined for 127 rushing yards on 22 carries (5.77 yards per carry), 25 receiving yards on four catches (6.25 yards per catch), and two touchdowns. The duo averaged 5.8 yards per touch for the Chiefs and scored two of their three touchdowns.

Lou Anarumo and the Bengals will have a plan for Mahomes. They’ll have a plan for Kelce. But, if this Sunday is anything like their last meeting, Pacheco and McKinnon can do some damage.

In most of Pacheco and McKinnon’s chunk plays in Week 13, you can see two, sometimes three Cincinnati defenders blanketing Kelce with the other four-to-five in coverage guarding the grass left and right of the hashes.

Monday’s headline: “Chris Jones the Game Wrecker!”

On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs will have had a monster performance from Chris Jones if we’re talking about a Kansas City victory on Monday morning.

For as shaky as the Bengals’ offensive line is right now, they played a great game against Buffalo. No one can take that stellar performance away from that group. But, the snow played a role in slowing the Bills front down, and, more importantly, Buffalo has no one like Chris Jones.

Chris Jones can take this game over on dry turf and against a decimated offensive line that’s missing two both starting tackles.

Jones, recently named an All-Pro, has been a force for the Chiefs all season. A case can even be made for Jones to win Defensive Player of the Year. Heck, a few finishes by Jones in last year’s AFC Championship game and the Bengals might still be searching for their first Super Bowl appearance of the Burrow era.

But don’t think that Jones doesn’t know that. He said in June that he blew some big plays in that game. He noted that it was offseason motivation for him:

“I missed some of the biggest plays of the game. The Joe Burrow sack… I used that as motivation the whole offseason. Feel like if I would’ve made those plays, the game would’ve been different.”

However, he’s got the perfect situation to write his redemption story on Sunday. The Chiefs may be in the Super Bowl in two weeks if he does.

Author: Patrick K. Flowers

Patrick is the Lead NFL Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @PatrickKFlowers.