Bengals vs. Chiefs picks, predictions against spread: Why Cincinnati will advance to Super Bowl 56

The Chiefs will host their fourth straight AFC championship game against a fourth opponent when they take on the Bengals (3 pm ET, CBS) on Sunday. Kansas City opens as a 7-point favorite (over/under 54.5 points), according to FanDuel bookmaker.

The game is a rematch of the Week 17 matchup in Cincinnati, won by the Bengals in comeback fashion, 34-31. There should be another shootout in store when elite young quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow duel for the second time.

Here’s a full breakdown of Bengals vs. Chiefs in the 2022 AFC Championship Game, including our pick to win and make it to Super Bowl 56.

Bengals vs. Chiefs picks, predictions

  • Bengals offense vs. Chiefs defense

Burrow is red-hot in his last five starts, becoming a late MVP candidate as well as the favorite for Comeback Player of the Year. He has some great running help from Joe Mixon, who is coming off his best season as the Bengals’ lead running back. They also have a great trio of wide receivers in dynamic rookie Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgns and Tyler Boyd.

The Bengals’ bugaboo has been pass protection. Burrow was sacked 51 times in the regular season and 9 times last week against the Titans. But when Burrow has time to throw a frequent, aggressive passing game, he can disrupt seven coverage. Mixon faced a difficult situation against the Titans last week and still looked great running. The Chiefs aren’t robust in that area in the front seven and also developed a lot of secondary concerns with the rise in injuries against the Bills.

Kansas City will charge by nature, but it also doesn’t want to get burned by big plays from Burrow to Chase. The problem is that Chase is also dangerous after the catch and Higgins can also stretch the field out. Boyd in the slot, Mixon out of the backfield and tight end CJ Uzomah in the seam are comfortable alternatives for Burrow to get the ball out quickly as well. The Chiefs have Chris Jones and other impact players, but they couldn’t stop Josh Allen from throwing all over the field last week. Burrow will have more success after throwing for 446 yards against the Chiefs for the first time.

  • Chiefs offense vs. Bengals defense

The Bengals have a good pass rush led by ends Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. They can stop the run pretty well with DJ Reader as the lynchpin of their interior defensive line. They have active young linebackers in Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt. Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple have exceeded expectations as their outside cornerbacks, while safety Jessie Bates III and slot Mike Hilton have been outstanding inside.

All that said, they have enough issues in pass coverage and can be inconsistent against the run, filling in some but also giving up big plays. There’s enough in there for Mahomes to exploit. The Bengals will guard against the big play with zone looks, but they’ll also mix it up with heavy drives. Mahomes has evolved where either will work for him, whether it’s to be patient with handoffs and shorter pitches or let him tear up the field in front of one-on-ones.

The Bengals struggle to cover tight ends, so Travis Kelce can be difficult for them. Tyreek Hill’s speed to stretch the field and quickness after the catch are also cause for concern. They were limited to 11 combined receptions for 65 yards and a TD on 17 targets in Week 17. That won’t happen again. The Chiefs should also feel confident that they can pull off more long runs.

Boyd and Uzomah are good places to start for the Bengals. Chase destroyed the Chiefs everywhere in Week 17 with 11 receptions, 266 yards and 3 TDs. The Bengals can anticipate a lot of attention on him (like the Chiefs gave Stefon Diggs) and Burrow would like their matchups to play out elsewhere.

The Chiefs have their own key complementary offensive skill players, like running back Jerick McKinnon, wide receivers Byron Pringle and Mecole Hardman and even backup tight ends Noah Gray and Blake Bell.

The team that gets a big game out of one of those players (à la Bills wide receiver Gabriel Davis lighting up the Chiefs) will prevail. The Chiefs also have a knack for playing interesting formations. The Bengals, however, have more frontline playmakers to rely on.

The teams have money kickers in Bengals rookie Evan McPherson and Chiefs veteran Harrison Butker. Punting games are also pretty good with Kevin Huber and Tommy Townsend. The coordinators, Dave Toub and Darrin Simmons, are very experienced. But the Chiefs get the upper hand here because of HIll’s use of key returns.

Andy Reid is 63 years old and a future Hall of Famer. Zac Taylor is 38 years old and making his first playoff appearance. Reid has the most experienced staff with Toub, Eric Bieniemy and Steve Spagnuolo. Taylor has help from Brian Callahan, just 37, on offense and Lou Anarumo, 55, on defense. It’s hard to walk away from Reid’s experience, though Taylor has shown he’s a star in the making.

The Chiefs are a dynamic and experienced team. They are prepared for these big game situations with Mahomes. But the Bengals have been building momentum and playing with unwavering confidence. Burrow has the same championship pedigree as Mahomes and his team is playing on house money. The Bengals will come to Kansas City motivated to surprise and remain steadfast and fearless. The Chiefs need to be prepared for an all-out attack team. They will also be tired of playing overtime on Sunday while the Bengals played early on Saturday.

AFC Championship Game Prediction

Burrow vs. Mahomes will come down to which team will make the most big plays in the passing game and run the ball effectively when needed. While Mahomes will be up to the task of putting up more big numbers in the playoffs, Burrow is a worthy opponent and the Bengals have been playing better defense overall, including forcing key points. Kansas City will do whatever it can to push to frustrate Burrow, but that’s his only defensive asset. Cincinnati pulls off another upset to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in 33 years.