After a slow start to the season, the Bengals are finally getting back on track, winning seven of their last nine contests following an abysmal 0-2 start to the season. Things may be looking up for Cincinnati, but this upcoming game may be their toughest challenge this season.
The Kansas City Chiefs are a team that the Bengals are very familiar with. They met twice last year-- once in Week 17 and again in the AFC Championship-- with the Bengals winning both games. However, this is a different season, and just because the Bengals beat them twice last season doesn't guarantee them a win on Sunday.
They've looked rocky at points, but the Chiefs have cemented themselves as the best team in the AFC, sporting a conference-best 9-2 record heading into this matchup. Besides their records, the odds say they're the better team too as, even though the Chiefs are the away team in this game, they are favored by -2.5 points.
That's not to say it's a guarantee for the Chiefs either, though. If there's one thing this Bengals squad has shown this season, it's that they can overcome adversity. Whether it be a bad start to the season, injuries to key players or demoralizing losses to their in-state rival, the Bengals have powered through it and find themselves in a favorable position to make the playoffs.
No matter how this game ends, it's always fun to speculate, so here are some of my bold predictions for the game.
Hayden Hurst has 50+ receiving yards and 2 TDs
Assuming Chase does return for the AFC Championship rematch, everyone understandably will likely pick him to have the big game. After all, in his two games last year he combined for 320 yards and four touchdowns, most of those coming in their Week 17 matchup. However, after missing over a month of play, it's not unfathomable to think that he'll be a little slow to start.
On top of that, I have to imagine Steve Spagnuolo (Defensive Coordinator for KC) would be keyed in on him during this matchup after watching him torch that secondary last year. Not to say that's cause for alarm, because if there is one thing the Bengals-- and Joe Burrow specifically-- proved the last month is that they can thrive even when they're missing their speedster stud at WR.
I'm looking for someone else to have a big game, and that someone will be Hayden Hurst. He's only gone over 50 yards receiving twice this season (against the Titans and Ravens), and he's never scored multiple touchdowns in a game in his career, but with the Chiefs' intimidating pass rush unit (fifth in sacks and third in pressure percentage), a unit that includes former Bengal Carlos Dunlap, we'll see Burrow dumping it off more to Hurst this game to offset it.
Even if the offensive line has improved considerably in the last couple of weeks, this will be their biggest challenge since Week 2 against the Cowboys, and we saw how that went. Give me a 50-yard, two-touchdown performance for Hurst, who Burrow will be looking to a lot in this game.
Burrow throws his first pick to a non-AFC North defense
Something you may or may not have picked up on is that Burrow has not thrown a single interception to a defense outside of the division. All eight of his picks this year have come in divisional games with six of those coming against the Steelers, and one to the Browns and Ravens each. Burrow throwing a pick against the Chiefs might be a long shot, but it's a bet I'll unfortunately take.
Burrow has shown that he both can extend plays with his legs, but also that he'll make the rare mistake when the pressure gets to him. Case in point, the intentional grounding penalty he committed against the Titans last Sunday.
The pressure from the Chiefs' defensive line will force him into a bad pass that will lead to an interception, or the ball will get tipped at the line and caught by a "right place, right time" guy. Fingers crossed it'll be no more than one.
Game comes down to a field goal
Whether this is an offensive shootout like their first game against the Chiefs last year was or a defensive battle (most likely the former), this game will come down to the same ending as the first two -- By the legs of a kicker.
Both matchups against the Chiefs last year came down to a field goal, one as time expired in Week 17 and one in the AFC Championship in overtime. These are two of the top teams in the AFC, and one could argue that the Bengals could easily be 9-2 like Kansas City if not for a few game-losing mistakes.
Hopefully, it'll be Money Mac-- who, thankfully, has looked more like himself after the BYE-- but whenever I predict the Bengals will win, they crush my heart, so I'll keep my mouth shut and just go into this one blind.
Even if the Chiefs are superior in record and many positions, they arguably had a better team last year and the Bengals not only kept up with them but beat them as well. While I don't know if the Bengals will win, I do think this one will come down to a field goal, and hopefully, it's McPherson's leg we'll be relying on to make it, instead of relying on Harrison Butker to miss.