Tue, 31 Jan 2023

Five things to watch: Bengals vs. Chiefs

Cincinnati Bengals
03 Dec 2022, 20:58 GMT+10

Kyle Williams

The Bengals face the Kansas City Chiefs in a rematch of last season's AFC Championship game on Sunday at Paycor Stadium. The game airs at 4:25 p.m. on CBS. Here are five things to watch:

1. Offensive fireworks

There is no shortage of talent on either offense entering Sunday's game, starting with the quarterbacks. Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow rank first and second in the league, respectively, in touchdown passes, first and third in passing yards, and fourth and sixth in passer rating. They are they only two quarterbacks this season with over 3,000 passing yards, 20 passing TDs and fewer than 10 interceptions. The discussion for NFL Most Valuable Player heats up in December, and Week 13 is a prime opportunity for both signal callers to make a strong case.

From a team standpoint, the Bengals and Chiefs both rank in the top six in the league in points per game, yards per game and passing yards per game. Among the NFL's hottest offenses, Cincinnati has scored 30 or more points in four of its last six games and gets set to face a Chiefs secondary that is allowing an average of 335.5 yards through the air.

2. Second-half defense

Cincinnati's defense in the second half of games this season has been nothing short of elite, highlighted by the first seven games in which the Bengals did not allow a touchdown after halftime. Their 88 total points given up in the second half/overtime are the fifth-fewest in the NFL, and three of the seven touchdowns scored against Cincinnati in the second half came from Carolina in Week 9, when many of the defensive starters were rested in a blowout win.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo's in-game adjustments were never more evident than last season's two matchups against Kansas City. The Chiefs scored 28 and 21 points, respectively, in the first half of Week 17 and the AFC Championship. But the high-powered unit was then held to three second-half points on both occasions, allowing the Bengals to climb back from an early deficit and eventually win the game. Though they once again face a tall task in a Chiefs offense that tops the league in numerous metrics, the Bengals defense shutting down Mahomes & Co. in the final 30 minutes could be the difference between two AFC contenders.

3. Home field advantage

Ever since a season-opening loss that was marred by turnovers, Cincinnati's offense has been lights out at Paycor Stadium. The Bengals are averaging 34.7 points and 457.3 yards in their last three games at the venue, all while not turning the ball over once. Defensively, the Bengals' two most efficient games as far as yards given up and first downs allowed came in Week 7 vs. Atlanta, and Week 9 vs. Carolina. And while their second-half magic has been remarkable, the defense has also played notably strong to open the game when at home. In four contests at Paycor this season, Cincinnati has allowed a total of six points in the first quarter.

The Bengals are feeding off an unprecedented energy at Paycor, which has welcomed over 65,000 fans in four consecutive regular-season games for the first time since 2007. In fact, four of the five highest-attended home games in team history have occurred in the 2022 calendar year, including the Wild Card Playoff win over Las Vegas in January that had 66,277 people enter the Jungle.

4. Higgins goes for 100 in three straight

Though many fans are anticipating the potential return of star wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, the offense has received a boost from the stellar play of Tee Higgins in the last two wins. Higgins in Week 11 at Pittsburgh caught a season-high nine passes for 148 yards (16.4 average), and followed it up at Tennessee with 114 yards on seven grabs. He has seven games of 100 or more receiving yards since the start of last season, the eighth-most in the NFL in that span. Higgins netting 100 in a third straight game would provide a needed spark, particularly against a Chiefs defense that ranks fifth in the league against the run.

Last season, Higgins topped 100 yards in Weeks 12-14 to tie the third-longest streak of consecutive 100-yard receiving games in team history. Only Chad Johnson (2002, 2006) went over the century mark in three straight games more than one time.

5. Undefeated in the orange

Since unveiling new uniforms in 2021, the Bengals have sported their orange jerseys on three occasions and have won each game. The orange tops first appeared in a Thursday Night Football win over Jacksonville in Week 4 of last season, followed by a dominant 41-10 victory over Pittsburgh in Week 12 and then a Week 17 win over Kansas City that clinched an AFC North Division title. Sunday's game will be the lone appearance for the orange jersey this season.

While several players have put up notable stat lines in those three games, no Bengal enjoys the orange jersey like Joe Burrow. When wearing orange, Burrow has completed 78.9 percent of his passes for an average of 328 yards and a 7-1 touchdown-interception ratio. In the Week 17 game vs. the Chiefs last season, he went 30 of 39 for 446 yards and four touchdowns.

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