Here's How the Bengals Can Upset the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game

Here's how the Cincinnati Bengals can upset the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.
Here's how the Cincinnati Bengals can upset the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

The Cincinnati Bengals have been the best Cinderella story in the league this year, even if Joe Burrow is tired of the media framing it that way. Apologies to Burrow, but that underdog label isn't going away anytime soon, as Cinderella has a date with NFL royalty this weekend.

The Bengals are 7-point underdogs against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship, per FanDuel Sportsbook. But don't expect the Bengals to go down without a fight. This Cincinnati team is built to give Kansas City fits – on both sides of the ball.

Here's what the Bengals need to do to upset the Chiefs for the second time this season.

3. Don't Allow Big Plays

This will be a lot easier said than done. The Mahomes-led Chiefs generated the fourth-most explosive pass plays in the league this year (67). That's a recipe for disaster for a Bengals defense that allowed the NFL's third-most explosive pass plays (67). Cincinnati cannot let Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill generate chunk plays, as that's exactly what brought down the Buffalo Bills this past weekend. The Bengals need to turn Kansas City into a death-by-a-thousand-cuts offense, and the pass-rush needs to show up to pull that off. They'll have a fighting shot to do that, as Cincinnati generated the eighth-most pressures in the league this season (170).

2. Exploit Kansas City's Run Defense

The Chiefs don't have many obvious holes – they wouldn't be going to their fourth straight AFC Championship if they did. But they are vulnerable against the run. Kansas City's defense ranks No. 20 against the run by DVOA and surrenders 4.8 yards per carry – the second-worst mark in football. The Bengals will need Joe Mixon to take advantage of that group to come away with a win. Getting Mixon going would allow Cincinnati to control the clock and keep Mahomes off the field for long stretches at a time. Establishing a dominant rushing attack could also help neutralize Chris Jones and the Kansas City pass-rush, which might be the most important aspect of this game.

1. Protect Joe Burrow

Protecting Burrow has to be the Bengals' top priority. The franchise QB was sacked a whopping nine times against the Tennessee Titans last week. It doesn't matter how many gritty, impressive throws he makes – Cincinnati has no chance if Burrow is under that kind of pressure this week. Unfortunately, Kansas City is built to make quarterbacks uncomfortable. The Chiefs generated pressure at the sixth-highest rate in the league (26.4%) and forced a hurry at the third-highest rate in football (13.0%) this season. If this pass-rush looks like it usually does, it could be a long day at the office for the Bengals. But if this OL can hold up, Cincinnati is capable of going toe to toe with anyone – including the Chiefs. Burrow is pretty much unstoppable when he has time to dissect the defense. When kept clean, Burrow is PFF's highest-graded QB (96.6) and also owns the NFL's third-best passer rating (113.0). The Bengals are going to have to put up a ton of points to keep pace on Sunday, and this offense is way more potent when Burrow is properly protected.

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Max Staley is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Max Staley also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username mstaley1212. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in their articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.