Kansas City (9-6) is still two games up on Las Vegas in the AFC West, but Monday’s loss to the Raiders put a little more pressure on the Chiefs, who otherwise could have clinched the division by now.
The Bengals travel to play the Chiefs in a rematch of the last two AFC Championship games played at Arrowhead Stadium, the last of which Kansas City won on a field goal with three seconds left after Joseph Ossai’s late hit out of bounds put the Chiefs in range. Cincinnati had won three straight meetings between the teams before that, including a regular-season game Jan. 2, 2022, that allowed the Bengals to clinch their first AFC North title in six years and the AFC title game four weeks later to get to Super Bowl LVI.
“It’s a big game,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Sunday. “There’s still a lot on the line. I’m sure for them as well. I don’t know where they’re at in the divisional standings and all that. That’s not my concern. But we’ve got a lot to play for. It’s always going to be a tough environment. ... We know what the atmosphere is going to be like. Our guys will be excited to go out there and play. New Year’s Eve, 4:30 game. ... We have a lot to play for and I know our guys are gonna be excited for that.”
Kansas City has been on a bit of a downward slide since a 7-2 start before its bye. The Chiefs have won just two of their last six games, including losses to the Eagles, Packers, Bills and Raiders, with whom they split two divisional meetings.
Cincinnati still faces a tough matchup. Patrick Mahomes leads the fourth-best passing offense in the league with just under 4,000 yards passing and 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions – despite not having consistent weapons at wide receiver. Tight end Travis Kelce has remained his top target, accounting for 968 yards and five touchdowns on 90 catches. Rashee Rice adds 811 yards and seven touchdowns on 74 receptions, and Justin Watson has 419 yards and three touchdowns on 26 catches.
Running back Isiah Pacheco has 805 yards and seven touchdowns on 187 carries.
Familiar faces remain among the leaders of Kansas City’s defense, including safety Justin Reid, who has a team-high 87 combined tackles, one interception, seven passes defended and a forced fumble. L’Jarius Sneed has two interceptions, Willie Gay Jr. accounts for one interception and three fumble recoveries.
George Karlaftis leads the team with nine sacks, and Chris Jones, who caused a lot of problems in the AFC Championship game last year, adds 8.5 sacks. Kansas City brings the league’s fourth-best pass rush with 48.0 team sacks.
Cincinnati has allowed 41 sacks, ranked tied ninth with the Browns, and this will mark left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.’s first game against his former team. The Bengals tried beefing up their offensive line the past two offseasons after struggling against dominant pass rushers in the 2021 playoffs and the left tackle spot was the only position unchanged in that initial overhaul.
Kansas City’s defense has allowed just 17.7 points per game (second best in the league) and 173 passing yards per game (third fewest), but the Chiefs are 31st in takeaways differential at minus-10. The run defense has allowed 113 rushing yards per game (18th most).
Each of the past four matchups with Kansas City came down to three points, including the first meeting in Cincinnati when the Bengals rallied from down 14 to win on Evan McPherson’s last-second field goal. McPherson also had a game-winning field goal in overtime in the AFC Championship game that season. Last year’s regular-season matchup was won on a Chris Evans’ touchdown reception with 8:54 left after Ossai sacked Mahomes on a third down and Harrison Butker missed a 55-yard field goal with 3:25 left.
Bengals at Chiefs, 4:25 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7