Does Mahomes Injury Give Bengals the Edge?

Cincinnati Bengals ER Sam Hubbard
Cincinnati Bengals ER Sam Hubbard
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Conference Championship - There are two main narratives floating around this year's AFC Championship Game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs. The first is that Cincinnati "owns" Kansas City, with three wins over the Chiefs in the last two seasons. That narrative is a bit overstated, of course. All three of those Cincinnati wins came by just a field goal, including this year's 27-24 victory in Week 13. There were plenty of turning points in that Week 13 game that could have led to a Kansas City victory if things had happened a little differently. What if Travis Kelce's shin had hit the ground before he began to lose control of the ball on a fumble early in the fourth quarter, for example? What if Harrison Butker had not missed a 55-yard field goal on the next drive?

These questions also work the other way too. Perhaps Cincinnati wins that Week 13 game by two scores if Tyler Boyd doesn't drop a wide-open touchdown pass, or if Carlos Dunlap doesn't sniff out a jet sweep handoff to Trent Taylor on fourth-and-1 from the Kansas City 4 right before halftime.

The other narrative revolves around Patrick Mahomes' high ankle sprain, suffered when Jaguars defensive lineman Arden Key fell on him in last week's divisional-round contest. Just how bad is Mahomes' ankle injury? How much will we see the Patrick Mahomes we know and love? Will he look like the Mahomes we saw in the second half of the Jaguars game? Will he look better, because we're a week out from the injury and Andy Reid has had time to prepare a game plan that accounts for it? Will he look worse, because the injury has swelled during inactivity following last week's game?

I will tell you up front that I have no idea the answer to this question. I'm going to write the usual Football Outsiders preview with all our stats based on the regular season and some of it may be moot because Patrick Mahomes just isn't the same guy. We know that Mahomes specializes in improvisation and making things happen outside the pocket when the play breaks down. Last Sunday, none of his 18 passes after the ankle injury came from outside the pocket. His time to throw was shorter and he didn't throw any deep passes (over 15 air yards).

However, our friend Will Carroll suggests Mahomes won't be as limited as people think, that he'll be more mobile than he was last week, and that his only limitation is pain tolerence. Mahomes himself has told the press that the high ankle sprain isn't as bad as the turf toe injury he had in January 2021. Clearly, the folks who set the Vegas lines are buying the idea that Mahomes will be mostly himself. After the line for this game moved as far as Bengals -2.5, it has rebounded back to favoring the Chiefs by a point. That fluctuation right around a pick 'em also emphasizes just how close this game looks on paper, even if Mahomes is able to play the same as if he were fully healthy. Cincinnati and Kansas City come into this contest with the exact same weighted DVOA.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the Football Outsiders stats, they are explained at the bottom of the page. Scroll down or click this link. Game charting data appears courtesy Sports Info Solutions, unless noted. All stats represent regular season only, except for weighted DVOA and anything else specifically noted.

DVOA 18.1% (5) 23.0% (4)
WEI DVOA 32.4% (4) 32.4% (3)
Bengals on Offense
DVOA 14.2% (4) 1.4% (17)
WEI DVOA 23.8% (3) -3.6% (13)
PASS 24.9% (7) 6.5% (20)
RUSH 7.5% (4) -6.9% (15)
Chiefs on Offense
DVOA -4.4% (11) 25.2% (1)
WEI DVOA -7.8% (11) 29.0% (1)
PASS -0.5% (12) 41.1% (1)
RUSH -9.5% (14) 1.3% (9)
Special Teams
DVOA -0.5% (18) -0.9% (19)

If you have FO+, you can click here to see all the matchup of DVOA splits for this game.


Bengals offense Chiefs defense

The Chiefs defense is probably better than you think it is, and it has improved over the course of the season. Kansas City's rank of 17th in defensive DVOA is the Chiefs' best since 2019 when they ranked 14th. Their run defense has ranked 15th in both halves of the season, but the pass defense went from 24th in Weeks 1 to 9 to 13th in Weeks 10 to 18. The Cincinnati passing game has also improved, going from 11th in the first half of the season to sixth in the second half.

Kansas City is known for blitzing under defensive coordinator Steve Stagnuolo, but their blitz rates weren't actually that high this year according to Pro Football Reference. PFR has the Chiefs blitzing 24% of the time, which ranked 14th in the league. The Chiefs ranked ninth in pressure rate according to Sports Info Solutions, and Chris Jones tied for the most hurries by an interior lineman with 38. However, here's a surprise: Joe Burrow was not hurried very often this year. The Bengals ranked second in lowest pressure rate on offense during the regular season. We don't know what three backup linemen will do to Cincinnati's pressure rate this week, but those backup linemen certainly acquitted themselves well against Buffalo last week.

The Chiefs defense definitely performed better this year when blitzing. They had a -13.6% DVOA with a blitz (eighth) but 13.9% DVOA without a blitz (24th). Joe Burrow was better against a standard pass rush than a blitz, which would suggest the Chiefs blitz more than usual, but that requires a little bit of explanation. Burrow's yards per play was basically the same whether opponents blitzed or not. His DVOA was different: 7.8% against a blitz, 28.6% otherwise. Essentially, he had a higher success rate and was more consistent against a standard pass rush, but big plays against blitzes meant that the yards per play numbers were similar.

It's easier to look at the Chiefs' strengths and weaknesses on defense than it is to look at the Bengals' strengths and weaknesses on offense. The Bengals were pretty much good in every split without any particular superlatives where they were the best team in the league at something. For example, seven different receivers had at least 15 targets for the Bengals during the regular season. All of them had positive receiving DVOA except for Hayden Hurst, who was barely negative at -2.0% and would be positive if we include the playoffs. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd actually had higher DVOA and DYAR than Ja'Marr Chase, but let's not get confused about who is the No. 1 receiver around here. Burrow had above-average DVOA throwing left, middle, right, short, and deep. The closest thing the Bengals passing game had to a weakness is that they were 20th on second downs. The Chiefs defense, however, had the same weakness and ranked 29th on second downs.

When we look spatially at the football field, the Chiefs have a weakness to passes right up the middle. They allowed 36.1% DVOA on short middle passes, which ranked 30th in the league. Nick Bolton is a talented young linebacker but he had troubles in coverage, allowing 7.7 yards per pass with a 33% success rate. The Bengals converted two third downs in the Week 13 game with short middle passes against Bolton in coverage. Burrow likes to throw to that part of the field. He ranked third in the league in the number of passes to the short middle, and seventh in DYAR to the short middle.

When Burrow does look to throw to the outside, he probably wants to look away from rookie Trent McDuffie. McDuffie was easily the best of the Chiefs cornerbacks in coverage this season.

Chiefs CBs, 2022 Coverage Stats
Player Tgts Yd/Tgt Rk Suc% Rk aDOT YAC
Trent McDuffie 40 5.0 8 60% 19 13.3 2.9
L'Jarius Sneed 69 6.2 29 59% 23 10.4 2.9
Jaylen Watson 52 7.2 48 48% 67 12.9 2.0
Joshua Williams 38 8.7 -- 53% -- 12.2 3.5

Will the Chiefs put McDuffie on Ja'Marr Chase? The Chiefs ranked 31st in coverage on No. 1 wide receivers this year in part because they didn't put McDuffie on the other team's top receiver. We have 56 passes listed where L'Jarius Sneed or Jaylen Watson were covering the receiver we designated as No. 1. We only have nine with McDuffie in coverage! Three of those were against Chase in Week 13, however.

Joshua Williams, who gave up a touchdown to Tee Higgins in that Week 13 game, has since been faded out of the lineup in favor of fellow rookie Watson.

The Bengals are not just an efficient passing team; they're also an efficient rushing team, finishing the season fourth in DVOA. Even if the Chiefs run defense is improved over last year, the Bengals will get some yards on the ground. The Chiefs defense is better against outside runs then inside runs: they rank 27th in adjusted line yards on runs up the middle, compared to sixth on runs listed as left end or right end. Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine will also play a role in the passing game, as the Chiefs rank 28th in DVOA against running backs as receivers.

What the Bengals' running game doesn't get a lot of is explosive plays. The Bengals ranked only 29th in second-level yards per carry (5 to 10 yards past the line of scrimmage) and only 28th in open-field yards per carry (more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage). But if the Bengals do manage an explosive run in this game, bad Chiefs tackling is likely to play a role. The Chiefs ranked 27th this season in broken tackle rate and had a lot of broken and missed tackles in the Week 13 game.


Chiefs offense Bengals defense

Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is known as a master tactician. He won accolades for his game plan against Mahomes in last year's AFC Championship Game, flustering the Chiefs quarterback by constantly dropping eight into coverage. The Bengals defense hasn't looked superb by DVOA over the last two seasons, but they have a habit of playing better against the league's best quarterbacks than the average defense would. Over the last two years, the Bengals have a -1.4% pass defense DVOA against top-10 pass offenses, but a 6.7% (worse) pass defense DVOA against other pass offenses.

Anarumo is not locked into any one strategy; the Bengals only dropped eight on five pass plays when the two teams faced off in Week 13 this year. He'll now need to figure out how to adjust his game plan to take advantage of Mahomes' lack of mobility—assuming that the ankle injury does sap Mahomes' mobility. Does that possibly mean more blitzing?

During the regular season, the Chiefs were only 26th in offensive pressure rate allowed. (The Bengals defense ranked 15th; look for defensive tackle B.J. Hill, who had a surprising 21 hurries.) However, the Chiefs were also second in DVOA on pass plays with pressure, trailing only Buffalo and Josh Allen. Does that (relative) success under pressure continue if the ankle injury affects Mahomes?

There's a pretty simple law about playing Kansas City: Never, ever, ever blitz Patrick Mahomes. For three years, Mahomes just destroyed opposing defenses when they sent extra pass-rushers at him. Believe it or not, this was not the case in 2022! This year, Mahomes had a lower DVOA when blitzed. The Chiefs offense had a 29.6% DVOA with a blitz (6.6 yards per play) and 44.9% DVOA without a blitz (7.7 yards per play). (These are team offensive DVOA numbers; they're so high because rushing stats are included in the baselines.) I still wouldn't blitz Mahomes, normally. But this may not be a normal case. And the Cincinnati defense was better with a blitz this year: -14.8% DVOA with a blitz, 3.1% DVOA otherwise.

If Mahomes can't move around like usual, the Chiefs may need to keep a running back in to block, or perhaps go with more two-tight end sets. That keeps them from fully spreading out the Bengals defense, which keeps them from taking advantage of one of Cincinnati's defensive weaknesses this year. It's not the world's biggest sample size, but the Bengals were awful on 160 plays in dime personnel: 30.8% DVOA, 7.0 yards per play. (Performance in base and nickel were about the same.) I don't know if there's a specific player responsible for this, if this an issue of "pick on Tre Flowers when he comes in" or maybe a third safety, or perhaps this is just something schematic. In Week 13, the Bengals played dime on seven plays and gave up four completions in five attempts: a 2-yard touchdown, 5 yards on fourth-and-4, 18 yards on third down, and 29 yards on third down. They also gave up two runs for 19 yards.

There's another Bengals defensive weakness that the Chiefs may not be able to take advantage of, and that is coverage on slot receivers. The Cincinnati defense this year ranked 30th in DVOA against receivers lined up in the slot, allowing 9.1 yards per pass. However, they were fifth in DVOA against receivers lined up wide, allowing 6.4 yards per pass. Note that this is all receivers, not just "wide receivers." The Chiefs offense ranked third in DVOA when receivers were lined up wide but 12th in DVOA when receivers came out of the slot. And if you remove Travis Kelce and only look at "wide receivers" coming out of slot alignments, the Chiefs drop to 23rd in DVOA.

Speaking of Kelce, the Bengals are much, much better against tight ends than last week's opponents the Jaguars. Cincinnati ranked fifth in DVOA against tight ends this season. Kelce in Week 13 had only four catches (on six targets) for 56 yards with no touchdowns. The Bengals used some zones as well as their linebackers, who had strong numbers in coverage this year. Logan Wilson allowed 4.7 yards per target according to SIS charting with a 66% success rate. Germaine Pratt allowed 5.9 yards per target with a 56% success rate. We also see Pratt and Wilson's talents, as well as Cincinnati's discipline in zones, when we look at the numbers for running backs against the Cincinnati pass defense. The Bengals were second in DVOA and allowed only 28 receiving yards per game to opposing running backs. In the first game, Isiah Pacheco had two catches for 16 yards while Jerick McKinnon had two catches for 9 yards, although McKinnon did have a touchdown on a third-and-goal where he crossed beneath the other Chiefs receivers and Wilson couldn't keep up with him.

What about the Bengals cornerbacks? Well, Chidobe Awuzie barely qualified for our cornerback rankings by starting eight games—but he topped all qualifying cornerbacks with a 78% success rate in coverage in half a season. Unfortunately, Awuzie is gone now, although it's noteworthy that the Bengals defense didn't really get much worse when Awuzie got injured. During the regular season, the Bengals had -0.8% pass defense DVOA with Awuzie and -0.2% pass defense DVOA after his injury.

Bengals CBs, 2022 Coverage Stats
Player Tgts Yd/Tgt Rk Suc% Rk aDOT YAC
Eli Apple 71 8.3 61 56% 37 14.1 4.2
Cam Taylor-Britt 48 9.3 74 50% 61 14.8 5.2
Mike Hilton 46 6.5 -- 59% -- 11.3 2.8
Tre Flowers 16 8.4 -- 50% -- 10.1 3.6

You might be surprised at Hilton's numbers given the stats above about the Bengals covering receivers in the slot. The answer to that question is that Eli Apple and Cam Taylor-Britt combined to allow 11.8 yards per target when they were covering receivers in the slot. (That includes receivers lined up in tighter alignments similar to slot receivers, even if they were the outside receiver on that side of the field.)

In fact, it's a little strange given the quality of coverage from both Hilton and the linebackers, but the Bengals were better in DVOA against deep passes (sixth) than against short passes (16th). That's a problem because Mahomes led the NFL in DYAR on short passes. Then again, what happens if that's all he can throw because he can't plant his foot correctly to get the ball downfield for the deep throws? It changes the way the Bengals play coverage, which in turn cancels a lot of these stat trends.

I haven't talked much here about the Chiefs' running game, and that's because the Chiefs don't really run the ball that much compared to other offenses. They still have a small advantage over the Bengals when they do run, but they won't do it much. However, the Chiefs did have a problem this year using their running game to convert short-yardage situations. They ranked just 31st in power success on runs, converting 55% of those opportunities. Frankly, they weren't much better passing the ball in short yardage, converting just 56% of the time (which ranked 13th). Still, if I'm the Chiefs, I would rather put the ball in Mahomes' hands on third-and-short than trust in the running backs—or worse, trust in Noah Gray or somebody trying to run a Wildcat sneak.

One other stat to sneak in: the Bengals are a very good tackling defense. They ranked first in broken tackle rate by the SIS charting this season. The Chiefs were average on offensive broken tackle rate.


Both of these teams are overall pretty close to average on special teams, which suggests special teams won't play a big role in the AFC Championship Game. Then again, we're talking about special teams, so we're talking about a lot of random variation and unexpected events.

Cincinnati punting has gotten much better since Drue Chrisman took over for veteran Kevin Huber. Bengals' net punting was worth -7.4 points of field position below average with Huber as the punter. Since Chrisman took over, including the two playoff games, the Bengals' net punting has been worth +3.3 points. Everything else about the Bengals' special teams is close to average. Kicker Evan McPherson was a big part of last year's Super Bowl run but had a very mediocre 2022 season. However, he does give the Bengals enough leg that they can try field goals over 50 yards. He was 5-for-5 on those field goals this year and 12-for-14 last year (including the playoffs).

I'm going to stick this here since I have nowhere else to write about it: Kansas City special teams came out just below average in DVOA but dead last in Rick Gosselin's special teams rankings. Gosselin ranks teams in 22 categories and then gives points based on where teams fall. Not all of those categories are included in special teams DVOA and frankly, not all those categories should be worth the same weight. So here are my theories about why the Chiefs are so much worse in the Gosselin rankings than in DVOA:

  • Kansas City had an above-average number of special teams penalties, 16 accepted penalties compared to an NFL average of 13.
  • Kansas City was 31st in opposing field goal value, which is random except for blocked field goals.
  • Kansas City was 23rd in opposing gross punt distance, which is mostly random.
  • Kansas City was tied for 26th in raw total of field goals, which seems like a strange category to count separately from field goal percentage. The Chiefs had few field goals in part because they score so many touchdowns!
  • Kansas City had no blocked kicks of any kind.

The best part of the Chiefs special teams, by far, is punting, where Tommy Townsend was elected first-team All-Pro and the Chiefs finished second in net value (but first in net value per punt). The worst part of the Chiefs special teams are kick returns, where Isiah Pacheco has a bad habit of getting tackled before he even reaches the 20. Punt returns aren't much better. The Chiefs finished dead last in placekicking value this year but a lot of that came from injury replacements when Harrison Butker was out for a couple of weeks. Butker was also below-average (-5.5 points of value) but has gotten healthier over the course of the season and has a strong career record even if this year was bad.


I know which way the line has gone, and I know what our friend Will Carroll has said about the Mahomes injury. I know that Andy Reid is going to have a week to draw up a game plan that puts an emphasis on the things that Mahomes can do despite the ankle. But I can't get the image of Mahomes limping around the field last Saturday out of my head when I think about how this game is going to go. These two teams are very evenly matched, and normally I would give a small edge to the Chiefs because of home field and because they're the better offense (which is more predictive). But with that injury, it's just too much of a question mark. This is a very tight matchup that either team could win. It will probably be another close game. But if you make me choose, I would pick the Bengals as the more likely winner.





DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here. Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative DVOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.

Team DVOA numbers incorporate all plays; since passing is generally more efficient than rushing, the average for passing is actually above 0% while the average for rushing is below 0%.

SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average. Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances. All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense. Those numbers are explained here.

Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses. (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.) We also list WEIGHTED DVOA (WEI DVOA), which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here).

Each team also gets two charts showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to offensive and defensive DVOA. In addition to a line showing each game, another line shows the team's trend for the season, using a rolling average of the last five games. Note that the defensive chart is reversed so upwards is a more negative defensive DVOA (which is better).


22 comments, Last at 29 Jan 2023, 12:56pm

#1 by Murphquake // Jan 27, 2023 - 10:30am

Will Carroll says a heavy "use the whole box" tape job will limit his mobility but not significantly; makes me wonder why he doesn't regularly play with a "use half the box" tape job, if the support-to-immobility ratio is that good?

Points: 1

#2 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 27, 2023 - 10:36am

If Cincinnati wants to blitz, do you hunker down, or stay in 5-wide and force them to declare who could possibly be rushing and/or force them into cover-0?

Points: 0

#3 by RickD // Jan 27, 2023 - 11:14am

My biggest concern about the Mahomes injury is that an ankle that is already injured can easily become more seriously injured in a football game. I have sad memories of RGIII's playoff debacle that essentially ended his career as a mobile QB.  (That was a knee, not an ankle, but the same principle applies.)

Watching Mahomes limp/hop to a first down last weekend made me cringe.  I selfishly want to see him stay healthy for many years to come, because I enjoy watching him play, but I don't particularly care who wins the AFCCG.

Points: 2

#10 by rh1no // Jan 27, 2023 - 3:07pm

Yeah, it was pretty gross watching him hand the ball off while hoping on one leg. I'm glad Reid pulled him from the game amd forced him to get an MRI, though I wish thr Head Coach would have left Henne in for another drive or two to see if Mahomes was actually needed.

Points: 2

#4 by theslothook // Jan 27, 2023 - 11:40am

This may sound like the most overly simplified statement, but I truly believe If you can take away Kelce, that will get you most of the way there to beating this offense. A lot of Mahomes' late in the down decisions seem locked into Kelce, who keeps roasting defenders over and over. At this point, taking Kelce away isn't a mystery but few teams are able to actually execute it. 


Points: 3

#7 by BillHouston // Jan 27, 2023 - 1:49pm

The Bengals did indeed take Kelce away the last time they met.  This is why I think it's important that the Chiefs lean into Pacheco and try and ride him to victory.

Points: 2

#16 by kcmiz24 // Jan 27, 2023 - 7:15pm

Kelce was actually realtively absent down the stretch for the Chiefs and the offense didn't miss a beat.  Most teams were torched by Jerrick McKinnon. 

Points: 2

#21 by BillHouston // Jan 29, 2023 - 12:06pm

Mckinnon is more of a receiving threat - and a big one!  To provide Mahomes maximum protection I think it would be wise to channel the Chiefs offense through Pacheco. He's coming off a big game against the Jags and the Chiefs barely used him in the Chiefs last encounter with the Bengals. 

Points: 0

#5 by BillHouston // Jan 27, 2023 - 12:23pm

Love this analysis.  Have not had time to read it all yet.  I see the biggest factors for the game to be:

1. Mahomes ankle (covered to ad nauseum)

2.  Clark, Karlaftis, Dunlap, and Mike Danna against the Bengals backup OL

3.  Pachecho.  I predict Pacheco gets over 15 carries and out gains Mckinnon.  If Pacheco has success and the Chiefs can ride him (which is asking alot of Andy Reid to run the ball consistently) the Chiefs win.

Points: 0

#6 by big10freak // Jan 27, 2023 - 12:54pm

Based on the games I have seen Trey Hendrickson owns Orlando Brown.  He beats that poor SoB every which way.  Cincy is going to work to get Trey as much one on one as possible and if PM cannot move to his usual standard KC will have a huge problem.  

MVS always managed to make some plays for GB in bigs games.  He was the only skill guy who showed up against the Bucs in the NFC championship.  Chiefs could use him not having shaky hands 


Fundamentally I think Cincy has more paths to victory.  With KC they need all their best guys to show on Sunday and in a major way.  Cincy may not have all the headliners but that is a deep team.  And well coached.  

Full credit to Andy , Steve and the KC crew.  But Zac and Lou are no slouches.  

Points: 4

#8 by rh1no // Jan 27, 2023 - 3:01pm

The Cincinnati Bengals' offensive line continues to be the biggest x-factor in all their matchups, so I'm a bit surprised that Aaron mentioned it only in passing.

When their offensive line plays well, the Bengals are capable of dominating. When their offensive line plays poorly, it's more of a crapshoot; sometimes Burrow can escape pressure and make magic happen, and sometimes Burrow holds onto the ball too long in a failed attempt to make magic happen, forcing bad throws into pressure and taking sacks. During the Bengals' 10 game win streak, Burrow has reduced his time to throw and increased his willingness to give up on plays, understanding that losing a down is much better than losing yards or losing possession.

The Bengals' rout of the Bills also showed us how dangerous Mixon and Perine can be if the offensive line gives them a couple of yards before contact. So I think if the offensive line produces a similar performance to last week, the Chiefs will have a very narrow path to victory even if Mahomes is close to 100%. But if last week's Bludgeoning in Buffalo (TM) was just an aberration, Kansas City can win with a hobbled Mahomes sitting in the pocket and making great throws.

I'm leaning into the Cincinnati offensive line putting together another good performance as long as Center Ted Karras isnt impacted too much by the knee injury he suffered last week. The entire Bengals team -- including the coaching staff -- seems to have progressed from last year, so why not believe that Adeniji and Carman are genuinely better, too? Hell, it's not like they could've gotten worse. They've both returned to playing tackle after spending the 2021 Super Bowl run at guard, so I'm betting their comfort level at their college positions is contributing to their improved play.

Points: 3

#22 by TomC // Jan 29, 2023 - 12:56pm

Agreed. If the Cincy OL plays anything like it did in Buffalo, the Bengals will score on most drives, and it will be very hard for KC to keep up, regardless of how close to 100% Mahomes is. But I'm leaning the other way from you, because I think the snow had more to do with the performance last week than people are generally acknowledging. Buffalo's D is built on speed, with very little lead in their backsides, and (as I know all too well as a Bears fan) a subpar and inexperienced OL is often still able to work if they can just fire out and push people downhill. I don't see that happening on a sunny day in Arrowhead.

Points: 0

#9 by OmahaChiefs13 // Jan 27, 2023 - 3:04pm

Fundamentally I think Cincy has more paths to victory. 

This is probably the best, most succinct analysis.

The question is always whether Cincinnati is the better team than KC. I think that's the wrong question, because Cincinnati is fundamentally the more flexible team.

Between two teams this close, that flexibility is usually going to be the determining factor.

I think Mahomes is going to be at 75%, and 75% of Patrick Mahomes is still scary. But it does limit our flexibility even further, and removes a few options if (when) we're forced to adjust.

And that's not good.

KC can certainly still win this game with a 75% Mahomes. But it's going to take everything being optimal in a way we haven't done a ton of this season.

Points: 1

#11 by rh1no // Jan 27, 2023 - 4:05pm

How do you define "better?"

Cincinnati has the higher ceiling but the lower floor. Their patchwork offensive line leaves them vulnerable and their playmakers have periods of extreme variance, but they're young and hungry and capable of amazing performances. You're spot on that they're flexible, too; teams figured out how to mitigate the Burrow-to-Chase deep threat, so the entire offensive philosophy has shifted to from last year's boom-or-bust tactics to a much more methodical, clock eating style of physical play.

Kansas City, meanwhile, has played at a consistently high level for the past five years. They have the best QB in the league surrounded by a HoF tight end and other talented playmakers ... and the whole outfit is led by a HoF coach. These guys know what it takes to win a Super Bowl and they don't give their opponents much margin for error.

For most of the season, I picked the Chiefs over the Niners in this year's Super Bowl. Rightly or wrongly, I saw the Bills as too inexperienced and too high-variance to knock the Chiefs off their pedestal, and I figured that the Chiefs are just too darn good to lose to ANY team four times in a row, let alone the Bengals; a fumble, an injury, a gust of wind ... something was bound to tip the scales towards Kansas City in one of these games.

But after this year's divisional round match-ups, the Bengals and Eagles look like two extinction-level asteroids on a collision course with each other. Hopefully we get some GREAT games no matter what happens.

Points: 4

#12 by OmahaChiefs13 // Jan 27, 2023 - 4:27pm

I figured that the Chiefs are just too darn good to lose to ANY team four times in a row.

The above is the only argument I have. I don't think that's the case.

I think every KC/Cincy game for the foreseeable future is going to essentially be a coin flip. Local variance will make it more 45/55ish in favor of one team or another (maybe a 75% operational Mahomes puts Sunday's game as far as 60/40), but over time, it'll essentially be a coin flip with a very low standard deviation.

If that's the case...hitting tails 4 times isn't very probable, but it's hardly into "vanishing" territory yet.

5 in a row? Let's compare notes before next season's regular season game (it's at Arrowhead again, thankfully). But I'd be agreeing with the above statement if the Bengals weren't as good as they are themselves.

Points: 1

#13 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 27, 2023 - 4:30pm

I don't know if they even have the higher ceiling.

KC's ceiling is terrifying. It's easy to overlook how much of last year's game was KC utterly forgetting how to play football starting with 0:05s left in the second half. If they had waited to forget how to play football until the locker room, they would have won!

Points: 2

#15 by rh1no // Jan 27, 2023 - 6:52pm

That's fair.

I think the Chiefs were a more terrifying team last year, and the Bengals were a little fortunate to come out ahead in both of our games against them. Cincy was a talented team and played hard, but -- as you noted -- they needed KC to make a few mistakes in order to pull off the upsets.

The Chiefs are better this year by pretty much every metric, but I don't think of them as terrifying. They played pretty darn close to their best against the Bengals back in December and the Bengals still looked like the better team.

Don't get me wrong ... I certainly think it's possible for the Chiefs to come out and manhandle the Bengals on Sunday evening. Cincinnati was lucky to come away from games in Tampa Bay and New England with wins; if they play like that in Kansas City, the Chiefs will bury them.

If the Bengals play as well as they against Buffalo, though, I don't see the Chiefs keeping up. Either way, can't wait to see how it all shakes out!

Points: 1

#18 by SandyRiver // Jan 28, 2023 - 4:57pm

First half.  :)

If Mahomes, instead of tossing the ball to the crowded left, had pulled it down and headed for the right corner, it's 28-3 and I don't think they would've suffered a 2nd half Atlanta.

Points: 1

#19 by occams_pointed… // Jan 28, 2023 - 6:34pm

There was a column about how the Bills were #1 and didn't make the final four. But this final four has some of the top DVOA teams.


Then I wondered about STRENGTH of SCHEDULE.

The final four look like this:

Bengals 4th 4.2%

KC 29th -3.6%

SF 31st -5.8%

Philly 32nd -5.9%


Is this normal? How often do the final four teams look like they've had schedules that (excepting Cincy) were not something to "battle test them"?




Points: 0

#20 by neverfox // Jan 29, 2023 - 10:47am

Will the Chiefs put McDuffie on Ja'Marr Chase? The Chiefs ranked 31st in coverage on No. 1 wide receivers this year in part because they didn't put McDuffie on the other team's top receiver. We have 56 passes listed where L'Jarius Sneed or Jaylen Watson were covering the receiver we designated as No. 1. We only have nine with McDuffie in coverage! Three of those were against Chase in Week 13, however.

But how much of McDuffie's success comes from not having to cover No. 1s (and, vice versa, how much of the others' more modest stats come from having to)? Is that accounted for?

Points: 1

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