With their dramatic overtime win over the Buffalo Bills last week, the Kansas City Chiefs become the first National Football League team to host four consecutive Conference Championship Games.
Their opponent on Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals, snapped a 31 year streak of not winning a postseason game two weeks ago with a narrow triumph over the Las Vegas Raiders and advanced to Sunday’s showdown at Arrowhead with another close win, this one over the AFC top seed Tennessee Titans, 19-16.
In that game, Bengals second-year Quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked nine times by the Titans defense. Without checking the stats, I suspect this is the first team to win a game while being sacked that many times since the evolutionary chart has humans walking without being hunched over.
How do you win a game while allowing nine sacks?
Your opponent throws three ill-advised interceptions and has a team counting on a runningback that hasn’t played in two months and would normally be brought back to game action gradually instead of thrown into the fire in a playoff game.
The Chiefs don’t have any such liabilities.
Three years ago, they were an offside call away from advancing to their first Super Bowl in 49 years in a loss to Tom Brady and his New England Patriots. Two years ago, Kansas City beat the Titans en route to winning their first Super Bowl in 50 years. Last season, a win over the Buffalo Bills sent them to their second consecutive final battle for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
On Sunday, they host their fourth consecutive AFC Championship Game and their opponent appears overmatched from this side of the result.
How does a team that allowed nine sacks last week stand a chance against Patrick Mahomes and his dynamic supporting cast?
Instead of pointing fingers at an offensive line that allowed their quarterback to be sacked nine times, we should pause and ask the other side of that scenario … just how good is Burrow and his team if they are able to win on the road in a playoff game against the conference top seed while being sacked nine times?
Maybe, magically good.
The Bengals opened this month with a victory over the Chiefs to clinch the AFC North Division title. The Chiefs wanted that game too, they needed it to stay ahead in the race for the top seed in the AFC and the coveted first week of the playoffs bye. It was a competitive game at Paul Brown stadium with Burrow and his mates outscoring Mahomes and his squad by a field goal, 34-31.
Now, the betting world thinks the Chiefs may have lost as a road favorite in that game but will have an easy time at home this week to advance to their third straight Super Bowl.
I see it different.
This Bengals squad has won the past two weeks in games that were more challenging to them on a motivational and physical scale than this week’s contest in Kansas City. Against the Raiders, the team was looking to win their first postseason game since 1990 and playing a Raiders squad that was getting a generous touchdown on the point spread.
And the Bengals both won the game and covered the line.
Last week, after their emotional first win in postseason play in three decades, they were on the road against a rested Titans team that had met all challenges during the regular season to emerge as the conference top seed … and the Bengals beat them even while Burrow was thrown for losses nine times.
Now, they visit Arrowhead as decided underdogs, getting seven points on the spread, and most expect their magical season to end against the defending AFC Champions.
I see it different.
After allowing nine sacks, the unit most prepared from a motivational perspective to play their best is the Bengals offensive line. If Burrow can lead a road win under heavy pressure, how is he going to do when they protect him?
Very well, I suspect.
It is worth noting that the Chiefs struggled in a game they needed to keep their hopes alive for a top seed finish in the AFC after their week 17 defeat in Cincinnati. At Denver, Kansas City needed a fumble returned the length of the field to eke out a 28-24 win at Mile High Stadium. Since that win, Kansas City blew out a Pittsburgh Steelers team that had stretched the Ben Roethlisberger career wins as far as it was going to go with emotional victories over the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens before they visited Arrowhead to open the 2021 postseason.
The Chiefs took advantage of the spent Steelers with a 42-21 victory.
Last week, the Chiefs went toe-to-toe with the Buffalo Bills and pulled a win from the jaws of a loss with a 13 second game tying field goal drive at the end of regulation and a win in overtime.
Now, off that emotional win, they coast into Sunday’s title tilt with as much confidence as their fans that a third straight Super Bowl trip is just 60 minutes of game clock away.
I don’t think so.
I like the Bengals chances for an upset win … and will take the seven points on the spread as an insurance policy on a game I think will be in doubt all afternoon while the point spread winner won’t.
Qoxhi Picks: Cincinnati Bengals (+7) over Kansas City Chiefs