Chiefs-Bengals prediction: Will KC wild card come through on his promise vs. Cincy?
Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. Central on Sunday
Where: GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City
Radio: WDAF (106.5 FM) in Kansas City
Line: Chiefs by 1.
Jesse Newell’s prediction
The biggest unknown remains the most challenging part of this prediction.
Bookmaker Jay Kornegay told me earlier this week that the difference between a fully healthy Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and him missing the game would be about a 9-to-9 1/2-point change in the spread. That’s huge, so trying to estimate Mahomes’ effectiveness with his high-ankle sprain (and the risk of re-injury) all play into the guessing game when trying to pick this week’s winner.
In practices this week, Mahomes has probably looked as good moving on the ankle as the Chiefs could’ve hoped. Nevertheless, his mobility will likely be limited, and typical-easy throws will likely be made harder while he adjusts to having less leg power than he’s used to.
The reality still remains: a hampered Mahomes is better than no Mahomes. And if the second half last week against Jacksonville is any indication, the Chiefs’ offense probably won’t be as dynamic as usual but still can be plenty good.
Many other factors will go into swinging this week’s result, including one that will be vital on both ends: Which pass-happy team will be able to run the ball most effectively?
For the Bengals, that was key last week in a 27-10 road win over the Bills. Running back Joe Mixon was constantly effective in getting 5-10 yards, which kept the offense on schedule and enabled quarterback Joe Burrow to continue his quick-passing efficiency while working around the team’s still-shaky offensive line.
An underrated storyline from the Bengals’ previous 27-24 home victory over the Chiefs on Dec. 4 was their ground success. Mixon was out with injury, but Samaje Perine carried it 21 times for 106 yards, while Burrow also was a threat with 46 rushing yards and a score. Both kept Cincy’s offense efficient and limited possessions in a contest where the Bengals were slight underdogs.
The way to attack Cincinnati’s offensive line is to get it in third-and-longs where Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can get creative with blitzes and pressures. KC needs to get there first, though ... and that will have to start with winning first and second downs while stopping Mixon and Perine.
On the Chiefs’ side, the team’s great offensive advantage this season — compared to the offense that lost in the AFC Championship to these Bengals — is greater versatility.
If Cincinnati wants to drop eight into coverage as it did a year ago, KC has more of a power game it can utilize. Running back Isiah Pacheco brings a different edge on those types of carries, while the Chiefs also have relied heavier on under-center and multiple-tight-end setups this season that provide a more physical look if defenses try to play with smaller personnel.
KC’s offensive linemen appeared motivated to elevate their game to help out Mahomes against Jacksonville, getting downhill as Pacheco averaged 7.9 yards per carry.
There’s one more wild card: Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones.
Way back in June — unprompted — Jones spoke about his motivation for the season being last year’s AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead. If Jones had brought down Burrow on a couple of potential sacks like he felt he should have, he believed the final result would’ve been different.
On paper, this is a huge mismatch. Cincinnati’s offensive line should struggle to block Jones if he’s his usual self, and though Jones was one of KC’s top defenders against Jacksonville last week, one fact will follow him until he puts it to rest: He has no postseason sacks in 13 playoff games.
Ultimately, I don’t believe Cincinnati has some hex on KC by winning three straight. Some randomness can easily explain that, and it’s not like the Bengals have dominated the Chiefs; KC held at least a 75% win probability chance at some point in the fourth quarter of each of those three losses.
I see Chiefs coach Andy Reid working around Mahomes’ ankle limitations with an intelligent game plan, and Mahomes performing above expectations in what’s likely to be a legacy game for him. KC’s run game should be effective, and I think Jones will come through in the game he previously promised he would.
Add it all up, and I see KC ending its losing streak against Cincinnati on Sunday. Give me the Chiefs for both the win and cover.
Chiefs 28, Bengals 21
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas City
Last game prediction: Chiefs 31, Jaguars 27 (Actual: Chiefs 27-20) ✔️
This year’s record vs. spread: 10-8