The AFC Championship Game will bring two familiar rivals to GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
The matchup of the AFC’s No. 1 seed versus No. 3 carries a lopsided advantage, but not one the average fan might expect. The third-seeded Bengals have had the top-seeded Chiefs’ number in their last three meetings, winning all three, including last seasons’ AFC title game played in Kansas City.
While the Chiefs have dominated most of the NFL, they haven’t been able to get past the Bengals. That doesn’t mean Cincinnati is taking them lightly.
“We’ve been in these spots. We have the experience,” Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said Wednesday. “We know what team we’re playing: a team that’s been to this game the last five seasons, and they’ve all been in that stadium. So, to me they’re still the team to beat, and we’re coming for them. But we know it’s gonna be tough. It’s gonna be hard fought, and we know the kind of players they have on that side.”
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Kansas City’s 2021 season was tumultuous by the Chiefs’ standards. Kansas City lost four of its first seven games before rattling off nine wins in its final 10 games. The Chiefs’ only loss came at the hands of none other than the Bengals, but when the teams met again with a trip to Super Bowl LVI on the line, the Chiefs were again seen as the favorite.
Cincinnati embraced the underdog role, vanquishing Kansas City and securing a date with the eventual champion Los Angeles Rams.
The 2022 season included a similar story, except the Bengals and Chiefs swapped roles. Kansas City rolled to a 14-3 finish and the conference’s top seed, while Cincinnati battled its own early season struggles before embarking on a win streak that began after Halloween, included a third straight triumph over the Chiefs, and still hasn’t ended.
One might say the Bengals own the Chiefs. But as the top seed entering Championship Sunday, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes isn’t leaning into the underdog narrative.
“Every time I walk on that field, I don’t think I’m an underdog,” Mahomes said on Wednesday. “Especially when I walk on Arrowhead’s field. I just go in with the same mindset of we’re gonna have to play our best football to win. We know we’re playing a great football team that’s beat us the last three times. So, we have to learn from our mistakes in the past and be better in order to win against a great football team.”
Cincinnati isn’t as eager to embrace the idea of having the upper hand on the powerhouse Chiefs, but also isn’t hiding from the reality of the last two campaigns, especially considering the difficulty of the road the Bengals — a team that pulled off a Divisional Round road upset just to reach this point — have traveled.
“There’s a lot of guys in that room, and I would say there’s a lot of guys throughout the league that have had it the hard way,” Burrow, a quarterback who had to transfer from Ohio State to LSU just to get an opportunity to continue his career at the next level, said. “I know, personally, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It’s made me who I am as a person and as a player. And there’s a lot of guys in that locker room like that. That are still trying to prove themselves, no matter how many wins or how well they play or how many contracts they sign, they’re still gonna get their work in because that’s what got them to this point.”
Familiarity is a strength both teams share entering this matchup. As they always are at this time of the year, the stakes are high, and Burrow knows the Chiefs won’t be taking his Bengals lightly, especially when considering their recent history.
“We played them twice the last two seasons, really basically a month apart each time,” Burrow said. “We know them. They know us. It’s gonna be fun.”
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