AFC championship matchups, Bengals at Chiefs: Who has the edge?

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) calls a play against the Chiefs on Jan. 2.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns against the Chiefs in a 34-31 victory on Jan. 2.
(Emilee Chinn / Associated Press)

How the Bengals and Chiefs match up Sunday in the AFC championship game for the chance to play in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13:

When Bengals have the ball

Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo turned 62 last month and began his coaching career in 1981. That’s the sort of heft that was behind his recent assessment that Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow is “Brady like.” Now, comparing a second-year player to Tom Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion, is indeed a foray into hyperbole. But Burrow is off to an impressive start in his postseason career. He completed 52 of 71 passes for 592 yards and two touchdowns — with one interception — in victories over Las Vegas and Tennessee to reach this AFC title game. The Bengals beat the Titans last weekend despite Burrow being sacked nine times after a regular season in which he was sacked a league-high 51 times. The Chiefs, however, finished 29th with only 31 sacks. Burrow, despite the pressure, has been very good with ball security. His lone interception since Dec. 5 came last week. Spagnuolo said Burrow takes “smart, intelligent sacks, if there is such a thing. He’s smart enough to know you don’t want to make a mistake.” Along with standout rookie Ja’Marr Chase, Burrow has notable targets in Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. “It’s not like they have one weapon,” Spagnuolo said. “They’re all capable of what we call ‘wrecking the game.’ We’ve got to pay a lot of attention to all three of them.” They know this all too well. Burrow completed 30 of 39 passes for 448 yards and four touchdowns against the Chiefs in a 34-31 home victory on Jan. 2.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) passes against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes completed 26 of 35 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals on Jan. 2.
(David Dermer / Associated Press)

When Chiefs have the ball

Kansas City scored as many as 42 points twice during the regular season. The Chiefs have reached 42 in each of their first two playoff games. Last weekend, they needed an absurd three-play, 44-yard, 13-second field goal drive at the end of regulation and an overtime to hit 42. But, sure enough, they did it. “Everybody was like, ‘Oh, man, there’s 13 seconds’ and probably thinking the game’s over, turning the TV off…” running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire said. “I’m looking at 13 seconds like, ‘Man, they gave us this much time to go down the field. So let’s just do it.’ ” All the production last week — 552 total yards, 30 first downs — came against a Buffalo defense that ranked first in total yards and points allowed during the regular season. The Bengals were 18th in total defense and 17th in points permitted. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is coming off a performance during which he threw for 188 yards and two touchdowns — after the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter. And to think this team had a losing record (3-4) entering November. “I saw the persistence and the championship swagger — I guess you would say — of the team we have,” Mahomes said of the Chiefs rebounding to win 11 of their last 12 games. “Guys didn’t hang their head. They just wanted to get better.”

When they kick

The oft-referenced unofficial rule regarding the Chiefs is you can’t beat them with field goals. But that’s largely how Cincinnati got here, rookie Evan McPherson going eight of eight over the last two games. He was 28 of 33 — nine of 11 from 50 yards and beyond — during the regular season. Kansas City’s Harrison Butker sent the divisional-round win over Buffalo into overtime with a 49-yarder as time expired. He’s 14 of 17 for his career in the postseason.

Jeff Miller’s prediction

The last four NFL playoff games have been decided on the final play. This one will be decided just a bit earlier.

AFC, NFC championship game predictions: The L.A. Times’ Sam Farmer predicts the home-team favorites will be in SoFi Stadium for Super Bowl LVI.

Jan. 28, 2022