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Bengals Visit Chiefs in AFC Title Game Rematch as Both Teams Fight for the Playoffs


By Dave Skretta


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs are accustomed to playing each other for a spot in the Super Bowl when the snow begins to fly.

On Sunday, they are merely playing to get into the playoffs.

The Bengals (8-7) have won three of their last four games to keep their AFC wild-card hopes alive, but they desperately need to beat Kansas City (9-6) to give themselves a good shot at making the postseason field.

And the Chiefs have lost three of their last four and still need a win, or some help from Las Vegas and Denver, to clinch their eighth straight AFC West title.

“It’s so unpredictable year to year what teams are going to rise up,” said Bengals coach Zac Taylor, who has managed to keep his team in the hunt for a third straight playoff appearance despite losing Joe Burrow just 10 games into the season.

“You look around the AFC, across the board and the teams still in it,” Taylor continued, “it’s just going to come down to who can figure out how to win and keep the momentum going a little bit.”

The Bengals’ momentum was stanched last week in Pittsburgh, where they allowed the Steelers to race to a 24-0 halftime lead in a 34-11 defeat. Jake Browning, who has played well in Burrow’s place, threw three interceptions in the game.

“Obviously it’s been a different quarterback,” Browning said, “but we’ve gone on runs before, and had to play before where it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s focus on one game at a time.’ So we just have to focus on playing the Chiefs and whatever happens, happens.”


While the Bengals believe momentum is still on their side, they Chiefs are as devoid of it since Andy Reid took over as coach.

Unless it’s momentum in the wrong direction.

Perhaps the worst performance in Reid’s decade in Kansas City was their latest, when they did not allow an offensive TD — or a completion after the first quarter, for that matter — yet still lost to the Raiders on Christmas. Las Vegas returned a fumble for a touchdown and got a pick-6 thrown by Patrick Mahomes on consecutive plays in the 20-14 win.

Now, the defending Super Bowl champions no longer have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the AFC with two games to go.

“We’re still in first place in the AFC West. We have one more game to win the division,” Mahomes said. “We understand it’s not going to be easy. But if we continue to work, we win this game and go to the playoffs, we know we can do what we set out to do at the beginning of this season, and that’s get to the Super Bowl.”


The Bengals could be without Ja’Marr Chase, their Pro Bowl wide receiver, who missed practice earlier in the week to rehab his ailing shoulder. Chase has shredded the Chiefs over the years, including a game in January 2022 in which he caught 11 passes for a franchise-record 266 yards and three touchdowns.

Cincinnati was also waiting to see how top cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt fared in practice this week. He was cleared to return from an ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve, opening a 21-day window to active him or end his season.


Injuries are also a concern in Kansas City, where five starters were missing from practice early in the week: CBs L’Jarius Sneed (calf) and Jaylen Watson (illness), RB Isiah Pacheco (concussion), LT Donovan Smith (neck) and WR Kadarius Toney.

The Chiefs could get WR Mecole Hardman back this week. He has been practicing, but has not been activated off IR.


Bengals left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who spent two Pro Bowl seasons in Kansas City, celebrated the birth of his son, Sonny, moments after stepping off the field in Pittsburgh last week. Brown watched the birth over FaceTime from the locker room.

“For me, football is kind of everything right now. You don’t really get this opportunity back. You don’t get the opportunity to see a birth, either,” he said. “For me, it was important to be there with the guys in Pittsburgh and to be out there with them.”


The Chiefs’ offense has been known for its big plays over the years, but Mahomes is averaging just 6.6 yards through the air per attempt this season, the sixth-worst mark in the AFC.

And thanks in part to the fact Kansas City’s wide receivers have more dropped passes than any other team, his average completed air yards is better only than Bears backup Tyson Bagent.

But the Bengals could offer a chance for Mahomes, who already has thrown a career-worst 14 interceptions, to open it up. They allowed the Steelers’ George Pickens to have TD catches of 66 and 86 yards last week.


Several times this season TV cameras have caught Chiefs players in moments of frustration. It was Mahomes charging after an official after an offside penalty on Kadarius Toney in a loss to Buffalo, and it was Travis Kelce last week, when their star tight end chucked his helmet at the bench and Reid refused to give it back to him.

“When you’ve won a lot of games,” Reid said, “your tolerance level for not doing as well as you should goes down. Things happen. That’s the great part about it: This is emotional. The game of football is an emotional game.”