There are plenty of reasons to buy the hype for this week’s Chiefs vs. Bengals game. The game holds important playoff implications for both teams, for one. A win for the Chiefs would mean a continued hold on the coveted No. 1 seed. Conversely, if the Bengals win, they clinch their first playoff berth since 2015.
Then there’s the actual football intrigue. Specifically, Sunday’s game will feature two of the best young signal-callers in the AFC. Patrick Mahomes‘ resume needs no recitation (he’s the best), while Joe Burrow has burst onto the scene this season with an excellent second-year campaign. Burrow, fresh off a scorched-earth annihilation of division foe Baltimore Ravens, will be looking to continue his impressive sophomore year.
Beyond the quarterbacks, there are some fascinating matchups to consider. The Chief’s defense has played great football over the last couple of months and will have a hefty challenge ahead of them this week. Cincinnati boasts a flurry of offensive weapons beyond Burrow. Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Joe Mixon, and Tyler Boyd round out an electric group of playmakers.
If the Chiefs can continue their stalwart ways on defense or at least limit Cincinnati enough, fans should feel even more confident about the defense as we head into the playoffs. Specifically, the Bengals’ offense will serve as an important test for the Chief’s secondary, a unit that has flourished down the stretch. If Charvarius Ward, Rashad Fenton, L’Jarius Sneed, and Mike Hughes can contain Chase, Higgins and Boyd, then Chiefs fans have to feel good about their ability to cover any playoff WR core.
The Bengals face questions, pressure to make leap to next level.
A preview of this game would be incomplete without diving into the stakes involved, particularly on Cincinnati’s side. I’ve mentioned the playoff implications already, but there’s more we can dive into to get a sense of what this game means.
The Bengals have not been to the playoffs since 2015. The Kansas City Chiefs, since the 2018 season, have reached the AFC championship, won a Super Bowl, and reached another Super Bowl the year after. Since 2018, the Bengals are 21-41-1, the Chiefs are 49-14. My point here isn’t to dunk on the Bengals, though. Instead, I want to showcase that this kind of game, a Week 17 matchup with playoff implications against the class of the conference, is an unusual position for the Bengals.
For the Bengals, a win against the Chiefs would go a long way in establishing a new era of Bengals football. It would also mean a ton for head coach Zac Taylor, who has drawn criticism during his tenure regarding schematics, play-calling and decision making. But, you know what would go a long way to muting those critics, or at least silencing them for a while? Out-dueling Andy Reid would sure go a long way. Do you want to definitively announce “we are here” to the rest of the league? Defeating Reid and Mahomes might just make that message resonate.
The Bengals can still make the playoffs if they lose to the Chiefs. But if you’re a Bengals fan, does beating a mediocre Browns team in Week 17 make the same statement that beating the Chiefs would? I think Bengals ownership, Bengals players, and Zac Taylor would all say no. The Bengals beating the Chiefs would be a vindication in a way that the Chiefs beating the Bengals is not.
The last three seasons of Chiefs football have involved huge playoff wins, super bowl wins in addition to momentous regular season victories. When you amass a resume of big wins, like the Chiefs have, you let the football world know who exactly you are. And the football world, faced with evidence of your success, recognizes it. That is precisely what is at stake for the Bengals this week. They need, in order to ascend as an organization, to stockpile big wins.
I think any preview of this week’s game must consider the kind of pressure Cincinnati faces. Sure, they can still make the playoffs with a loss, provided they beat Cleveland in Week 17. But these upstart Bengals need a statement win to enter the tier the Chiefs entered a few years back. While the Chiefs need a win to maintain the one seed, they’ve been here before. The Chiefs have won big games. We know what these Chiefs are made of, such that, even if they falter, it won’t be as strong an indictment on the team and coaching staff. The Chiefs have already answered the questions the Bengals still face, and therein lies the difference.