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Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cincinnati Bengals Prediction and Preview

AFC division leaders are set to face off with the red-hot Chiefs and surging Bengals both jockeying for playoff positioning

AFC division leaders are set to face off with the red-hot Chiefs and surging Bengals both jockeying for playoff positioning

Two of the best passing offenses in the league are set to face off on Sunday with incredible playoff stakes when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Kansas City Chiefs.

Riding a league-best eight-game winning streak, the Chiefs (11-4) can wrap up the AFC's No. 1 seed and lone first-round bye with a win at Paul Brown Stadium. However, they probably can't afford to drop another game, with a road trip to Denver next week.

Lose one game, and the Titans could take over the top seed. Lose two games, and these Bengals would have a shot at the bye.

Cincinnati (9-6) can clinch the AFC North with a win and will need some help to claim the franchise's second-ever No. 1 seed, the first since 1981. If the Bengals win out, the Chiefs lose in Week 18, and the Titans lose at least one of their next two, the road to the Super Bowl will likely go through Cincy.

Regardless of who wins, this game could be a potential playoff preview as well, which would be a first after 30 games in this series dating back to 1968.

Kansas City (11-4) at Cincinnati (9-6)

Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Chiefs -5

Three Things to Watch

1. The return of Travis Kelce
Kelce had his best game of the season in Week 15 with 10 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers. However, a positive COVID-19 test sidelined him last week against the Steelers, along with a solid chunk of the team, including rookie linebacker Nick Bolton, right tackle Lucas Niang, and even kicker Harrison Butker.

No Kelce, though? No problem, as it turns out. The Chiefs put up at least 34 points for the third straight game and spread the ball around to seven different players with multiple receptions. But with Kelce cleared and ready to play, Kansas City has its biggest weapon back.

The Bengals have been particularly vulnerable to tight ends this season, as well. Their 977 yards allowed to the position are the third-highest total this season, while their 84 receptions are tied for fifth. Just in the last three weeks, Mark Andrews (8 rec., 125 yds., TD), Noah Fant (5, 57), and George Kittle (13, 151, TD) have lit Cincy's D up.

2. Are the Chiefs built to stop Joe Burrow?
Burrow has been playing on another level lately — even before he passed for 525 yards last week, the fourth-highest single-game total ever.

Heading into the team's Week 10 bye, Burrow had a league-high 11 interceptions and was completing just 68.1 percent of his passes. In the six games since, he has just three picks with a 72.1 percent completion rate. In particular, Burrow has seven touchdowns without a pick and a 75.5 percent completion rate over the last three games.

Facing a red-hot Burrow will be yet another big test for these Chiefs, whose defense has turned a corner lately. Kansas City hasn't allowed 250 passing yards to a team since October, and that includes games against Dak Prescott, Justin Herbert, and Derek Carr (twice).

Is this defense for real? Especially after how bad it was earlier in the season? It seems like that may be the case. However, it is worth keeping an eye on Tyrann Mathieu, who left last week's game with a quad injury.

3. Can the Bengals eliminate Kansas City's rushing attack?
The Chiefs aren't particularly run-heavy, but the threat of the run makes their offense far more dangerous. When Kansas City isn't able to move the ball on the ground, it makes it easy for opponents to drop two deep safeties and dare Patrick Mahomes to throw into double-coverage.

Cincinnati has made large strides against the run this season, ranking fourth on a per-game (92.1 ypg) and seventh on a per-carry (4.0 ypc) basis. And they just held the Ravens to 39 yards last week.

The Chiefs will likely have to make do without starting running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who sustained a bruised shoulder last week after picking up just 27 yards on nine carries. Darrel Williams and Derrick Gore have both been serviceable in complementary roles, but neither has CEH's upside. In games with Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs are averaging 120.1 rushing yards per game, and they average 92.8 ypg without him.

If there's one silver lining, the Chiefs will get a boost with the return of Niang. They rank a surprising ninth in adjusted line yards (4.43), although Cincy's defense ranks sixth at 3.73. Keep an eye on the effectiveness of Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson, who is tied for the team lead with 92 tackles despite missing the last three games with a shoulder injury but expected to return.

Final Analysis

The Chiefs are clearly the superior team of the two, but playing away from Arrowhead Stadium may tilt this a tad towards the home team. Of course, keep an eye on the turnover battle, since both teams have gone undefeated when winning the turnover battle and winless when losing it since November. Ultimately, though, it's just too hard to bet against the Chiefs with a healthy offense.

Prediction: Chiefs 27, Bengals 24