There will be no favourites, no underdogs and nothing to choose between the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs when they face off in the AFC Championship game on Sunday with a place in the NFL’s Super Bowl on the line.
“We know them. They know us. It’s gonna be fun,” said Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow as he reflected on the re-match of last season’s game at the same stage of the season.
The Chiefs were 21-3 up at half-time in that game but led by Burrow, running-back Joe Mixon and wide receiver Tee Higgins, the Bengals fought back for a 27-24 overtime win on the road at Arrowhead Stadium.
It was an upset result which stopped the Chiefs from advancing to a third straight Super Bowl, and while the Bengals lost the big game to the Los Angeles Rams they have proven that win was no fluke.
In December, Cincinnati defeated Patrick Mahomes and company again, this time at home, but by the same 27-24 scoreline.
Indeed, the Bengals have won their last three games against the Chiefs but despite the swagger that has accompanied their run of ten straight wins, including playoff triumphs over the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills, Burrow is cautious when talking about Sunday’s opponents.
“We know the team we’re playing, we’ve played them a bunch. We know that they’re going to be studying all three of these games just like we are. So we’re going to have to be ready for anything,” he said.
While the Bengals have the momentum and the recent success in this match-up, the Chiefs have the consistency shown by reaching five straight AFC Championship games.
“To me, they’re still the team to beat and we’re coming for them, but we know it’s going to be tough,” Burrow said. “We know it’s going to be hard fought, and we know the kind of players they have on that side.”
Not everyone on the Bengals team has bought into that message though with defensive back Mike Hilton caught referring to Kansas City’s famous stadium as ‘Burrowhead’.
The Chiefs’ outstanding tight-end Travis Kelce was quick to respond to that bravado.
“They’re throwing a lot of bulletin board material out there,” he said.
Mahomes, working his way back from an ankle injury picked up in last week’s Divisional Round win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, is well aware of the tough, physical team up against him, but despite their head-to-head record he isn’t buying into any talk of the Chiefs being underdogs at Arrowhead.
“Every time I walk on that field, I don’t think I’m an underdog,” Mahomes said.
“Especially when I walk on Arrowhead’s field. I just go in with the same mindset of we’re gonna have to play our best football to win. We know we’re playing a great football team that’s beat us the last three times. So, we have to learn from our mistakes in the past and be better,” he added.
Victory for the Chiefs would could mean their coach Andy Reid facing his old team, the Philadelphia Eagles, in the February 12 Super Bowl in Arizona.
Purdy defies expectations
The NFC’s top seed host the league’s number one defense in the San Francisco 49ers, who have reached this stage with a rookie seventh-round draft pick as their quarterback.
Brock Purdy has defied expectations with performances of impressive maturity and control after stepping in for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 14, helping the team extend a winning streak to 12 games.
But the Eagles will present his toughest test yet having made a league-high 70 sacks this season, including 16 from linebacker Haason Reddick.
Philadelphia’s offense is led by a quarterback who can cause as much damage with his legs as his arm.
Including the post-season, Jalen Hurts has thrown for 3,855 yards with 24 touchdowns while also adding 794 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.
San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan says his side’s defense will have to be ready for both threats.
“We are expecting this quarterback to run it. We are expecting him to lower his shoulder, so we always have to come out and treat him like a running back until he gives himself up,” he said.
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