In the playoffs, there's no passer like Patrick Mahomes at home.
Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs welcome the Bengals in the AFC Championship game Sunday in a repeat of the 2021 title game that sent Joe Burrow and Cincinnati to the Super Bowl. But there's a significant twist.
Mahomes plansto play with a sprained right ankle and has lost three games in a row to the Bengals, including 27-24 on Dec. 4. His health and the groundswell of support for Burrow has the Chiefs as the underdog in the playoffs for the first time in Mahomes' career.
Mahomes has been at his best on the big stage with 32 touchdowns (28 TD passes, four rushing) and three interceptions in 10 career home playoff starts.
The tug of war for bettors has been evident since Sunday night, when most books had the Chiefs as favorites -- by 2 or 3 points -- only to see the Bengals favored by 2 as a consensus by midday Monday. But with Mahomes' status firmed up by the Chiefs and video evidence to support, the public forced a wild swing that had Kansas City favored by a point.
Burrow, mind you, is 19-5 against the spread in his last 24 games as an underdog. Cincinnati is 9-0 in its last nine as an underdog.
As of Friday morning, the Chiefs were a 1.5-point favorite and a low money line to win outright (-118 at FanDuel).
BetMGM's handle on spread betting as of Noon ET Friday was 70-30 in favor of the Bengals. At DraftKings, the swing to give Cincinnati points pushed more money on straight spread bets toward the Bengals. DraftKings had 76 percent of the total spread handle on Cincinnati.
Money line wagering was also leaning Cincinnati and tipped the two-thirds mark at DraftKings.
The initial sprain forced him out of the Chiefs' divisional playoff win over the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. He returned to the game with limited mobility, completing 22 of 30 passes for a season-low 195 yards with two touchdowns and was not sacked.
He's 9-3 in 12 career playoff games with 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Mahomes said the injury isn't as severe as his 2019 high ankle sprain or a toe injury two seasons ago, when he finished the season in a Super Bowl defeat at the hands of Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. The difference will be in physical limitations on his right ankle and plant leg throwing from the pocket.
Cincinnati has a 10-game winning streak and its most recent loss was to Cleveland on Halloween. Burrow would tie Russell Wilson for most wins (six) by a quarterback in their first three seasons if he can knock off the Chiefs again.
"He's got an edge to him," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said of Burrow. "I like that in our quarterback."
He hasn't been intercepted in his past three playoff games. In three starts against the Chiefs, Burrow has nine TDs (one rushing), one interception and a combined passer rating of 121.
A fumble by Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce in the fourth quarter turned the game at Cincinnati in December, and kicker Harrison Butker missed a 55-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime.
Mahomes will start his fifth conference championship game.
Chiefs WR JuJu Smith-Schuster under 46.5 yards (-110, FanDuel): With only 11 targets in the past four games combined and two in the playoff win over the Jaguars last week (29 yards), Smith-Schuster might be due. But his breakout isn't coming here. The Bengals clamped him the regular-season clash in December, when he caught three of four targets for 35 yards. Smith-Schuster has been limited to 38 yards or fewer seven times in the past nine games.
Bengals RB Joe Mixon over 58.5 rushing yards (-110, BetMGM): Only four NFL teams played more base nickel or dime defense than the Chiefs and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo isn't the type to change his stripes. He's the type to rip with the front four and vary coverage. The Chiefs could apply more pressure if the Bengals, who didn't have three starters on the offensive line at Buffalo last week, show leaks in protection. Methodical drives and a heavy reliance on plowing ahead with Mixon - 105 rushing yards last week -- worked in beating the Bills, and Mixon had 88 rushing yards at Kansas City in the 2021 AFC Championship. Noteworthy: Mixon's rushing total at FanDuel and DraftKings was set at 59.5.
Bengals LB Germaine Pratt over 6.5 tackles (-120 at BetMGM): This number includes solo plus assisted tackles. Pratt's total was bet up to -140 at other books, and this one is a soft guarantee. Soft because he had only four total tackles when the teams met Dec. 4. He had eight or more tackles in nine games this season and a physically limited Mahomes brings the chances of short and quick throws, where Pratt could be in on double-digit stops.
Butker over 7.5 points (105 at Caesars Sportsbook): Bend, don't break. That's the charge for Cincinnati against the Chiefs, a winning approach that resulted in back-to-back 27-24 wins for the Bengals. Butker missed a field goal in the December meeting that would've forced overtime - and given him nine total points for the game. With safeties deep and boundaries available, the Chiefs won't have as many explosive plays - or points - but count on Kansas City consistently moving the ball into FG range.
--Field Level Media