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Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cincinnati Bengals Prediction: AFC Championship Game Rematch on Tap

Joe Burrow and the defending AFC champs are looking for a third straight win over Patrick Mahomes and company.

For the third time in 11 months, the Chiefs and Bengals will meet in a high-stakes affair. Kansas City was favored in both matchups last season, but Cincinnati came out on top each time en route to a Super Bowl appearance.

Once again, the Chiefs are favored — this time by just two points for Sunday afternoon's game — as both teams hope to kickstart their return to the Big Game.

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The Bengals won both matchups last season — in Week 17 and in the AFC Championship Game — on last-second Evan McPherson field goals. The Chiefs led by multiple touchdowns in both games, only for Cincinnati to outscore Kansas City a combined 34-6 in the second half and overtime.

The personnel is a tad different, but the teams are largely the same. Two of the biggest contenders in the AFC, even if the Chiefs are the No. 1 seed and the Bengals are just a wild card for now. Only two games separate them in the standings, and a head-to-head tiebreaker is on the line as well.

Given that each team is among the top five in scoring offense and in the middle of the pack on defense, this has the makings of a classic shootout. So can the Chiefs get revenge on the team that ended their season last year? Or will the Bengals continue to have their number and make a run at the conference's top seed?

Kansas City (9-2) at Cincinnati (7-4)

Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 4 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Chiefs -2
Tickets: As low as $171 on*

Three Things to Watch

1. Will the Bengals' offense truly be at full strength?
Cincinnati has put together a four-game winning streak without No. 1 wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, and he's expected back from a hip injury that has sidelined him since Week 7. But he's been limited at practice this week, so it's unclear if he'll be full-go. Regardless, his impact has been clear.

Despite facing weak pass defenses the past four weeks, Joe Burrow has seen a drop-off in numbers without Chase. His completion rate is down from 68.9 percent to 66.9, and his yards per game are down from 299.6 to 265.7. He's also had to throw more conservatively, with a drop-off in intended air yards per attempt from 6.9 to 6.6.

With Chase playing, even partially as a decoy, that will help stretch the defense and make it easier on whoever is running the ball. Joe Mixon missed last week's game due to a concussion and is still in the protocol but he's listed as questionable. In his absence, Samaje Perine has 28 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown, plus eight receptions for 87 yards and three scores.

Still, having Chase and Mixon healthy and effective will be crucial, considering how tight the margins were the last two times around. And they were both crucial parts of the wins. Chase totaled 17 catches for 320 yards and four scores while Mixon racked up 201 yards on 43 touches.

2. Will the Chiefs continue to blitz?
Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo wields a blitzing hammer, leaving almost every opponent looking like a nail against which he needs to send an extra defender. That has certainly worked at times (the Chiefs rank third in the NFL with a 26.1 percent pressure rate), but it could spell trouble against Burrow and Co.

The Chiefs blitzed double-digit times against Burrow in each game last season, and he made them pay. His strength against the blitz was highlighted by a 30-yard pass to Chase on third-and-27 while facing seven rushers. Burrow went a combined 53-of-77 for 696 and six touchdowns with just one interception in the two games. Crucially, they only sacked him five combined times as well.

Kansas City will need to find a way to bring pressure with just four pass rushers because Burrow has shown that he can burn man defenses and get the ball out quickly when needed. That puts a lot of pressure on Chris Jones to keep up his hot play after racking up eight sacks in his last six games.

3. Can Patrick Mahomes keep up his play in the second half?
The Chiefs have been well-known for second-half comebacks in the playoffs, but they've had two big meltdowns of their own against the Bengals. One of the problems has been Mahomes' lights-out play in the first half before a quiet second half.

Mahomes went 17-of-22 for 209 yards and two TDs in the first Bengals game last season and then went 18-of-22 for 220 yards and three scores in the AFC title game. But in the second halves and overtime, he combined to complete just 17-of-31 passes for 105 yards and two interceptions.

Second-half play hasn't really been a problem for Mahomes this season, though. His completion percentage (66.3 vs. 66.1) and yards per attempt (8.9 vs. 7.6) actually tick up in the second half, although he's thrown more interceptions (6 vs. 2) despite fewer attempts (193 vs. 239).

But with several banged-up skill-position players — JuJu Smith-Schuster's health will especially be worth monitoring — he'll need to avoid those costly mistakes. It's worth noting that the Bengals haven't forced any turnovers the past two weeks, but Von Bell remains a dangerous presence in the secondary with four interceptions, tied for third in the league.

Final Analysis

So much of this game will depend upon the health of key playmakers. And with so much unknown, it's usually fair to side with the best quarterback. Burrow may be great, but Mahomes remains the best in the game. It's hard to imagine him taking his foot off the gas for a third straight game against this team.

Prediction: Chiefs 30, Bengals 27

*Price as of publication.