Chiefs at Bengals: 5 storylines to watch in today’s game

Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Mixon (28) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
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Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Mixon (28) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Credit: Jeff Dean

Credit: Jeff Dean

The Cincinnati Bengals haven’t figured out how to string together more than two wins this season, but they will be trying to break that trend this weekend.

A third straight win would secure the AFC North title for the Bengals (9-6) and their first playoff berth since 2015.

That’s no easy task, though. They host the Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) today at Paul Brown Stadium. The Chiefs, who have had back-to-back appearances in the Super Bowl, are on an eight-game winning streak following a slow start to the season.

Here are five storylines to watch:

1. High-flying offenses

Much of the hype centers around two of the league’s top quarterbacks and most explosive offenses.

Patrick Mahomes sits just above Joe Burrow on the passing yards leaderboard at No. 5 overall with 4,310 yards and 33 touchdowns. Burrow is 129 yards from breaking the franchise single-season passing record with 4,165 yards and 30 touchdowns and is coming off a franchise single-game record with 525 yards against the Ravens last week.

Both teams have a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Bengals wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins and Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Kansas City is the best in the league at converting on third down.

Burrow is expecting a shootout.

“They’ve been one of the best offenses in the league since (Mahomes) has been the starting quarterback,” Burrow said. “We’re going in expecting to have to score a lot of points and we’ll adapt accordingly.”

2. Turnover trouble

Kansas City’s defense has flown under the radar after its slow start when teams were averaging 26.7 points per game against it. During the winning streak, they have held opponents to 12.9 points per game and caused 21 turnovers.

Safety Tyrann Mathieu has three fumble recoveries and three interceptions to lead that effort.

“Certainly don’t see a weakness on their defense, in terms of personnel,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “They’re really good at all three levels. They do a great job up front of applying pressure. They’re really fast on the second level with the linebackers. They seem to be really instinctive. The back-end is really sticky in coverage. They can play man coverage. They can play off coverage. They can play a lot of different zone coverage. They can blitz you from a lot of different ways. They always seem to be in sync. They don’t turn guys free and when they do play man coverage, they’re all over you. So it’s a great challenge for our receivers. .”

The Bengals have cut down on theirturnovers. Burrow has gone three straight games without an interception, but the turnover battle could be key Sunday. Kansas City had 19 turnovers on offense through the first eight games and just six since then.

3. Winning in the trenches

Bengals right guard Hakeem Adeniji has grown more comfortable and confident in his role since taking over as the starter in Week 9.

Adeniji, who has started seven straight games, will be lining up across from Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chris Jones, who has 7.0 sacks and five passes defensed in 12 games.

“He’s obviously probably one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL, so just being locked in on our keys and doing what we need to do, it’s nothing that we can’t overcome,” Adeniji said.

Taylor said Jones makes a big impact on the quarterback and the run game. Joe Mixon needs just 10 yards rushing to top his career best season rushing total from 2018. He has 1,159 yards and 13 touchdowns.

4. Difference makers on defense

The Bengals should have linebacker Logan Wilson and defensive tackle D.J. Reader back, which would be key for the defense.

Wilson went through three straight full practices and wasn’t listed on the status report Friday as a possible absence. However, it’s unclear how big of a workload he is ready to handle coming back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him the last three games.

Reader, who is especially key in the run defense, returned from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday and is under no limitations. Kansas City already could be limited in its running game with Clyde Edwards-Helaire questionable with a shoulder injury.

Cincinnati could be missing linebacker Germaine Pratt and cornerback Trae Waynes after went on the Reserve/COVID-19 list this week. Taylor told reporters Friday that Pratt’s status was unclear as he would need two negative tests to clear protocols after testing positive Wednesday. Waynes went on the list Friday.

The Chiefs returned four players from the COVID list this week, and Edwards-Helaire is the only player questionable. Guard Joe Thuney, an Alter High School graduate, missed one practice this week because of illness but returned Friday and cleared to play.

5. What’s at stake

The Bengals clinch the AFC North title with a win, but they could also clinch it with a tie if the Ravens lose or tie against the Rams. If Cincinnati loses to Kansas City, the Ravens lose and the Browns and Steelers tie Monday night, that also would give the Bengals the title.

There are also several scenarios where the Bengals tie and clinch a playoff spot as at least a wild card entry, depending on outcomes of games involving the Chargers, Raiders, Dolphins, Bills and Patriots.

If the Chiefs beat the Bengals and Browns beat the Steelers, it would set up a winner-take-all Bengals-Browns game on Jan. 9 in Cleveland in the regular-season finale.

TODAY’S GAME

Chiefs at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 1290, 95.7

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