After an exciting Divisional Round of playoff action, the 2021-22 AFC Championship Game is set. For the fourth straight season, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs will host the AFC Championship at Arrowhead Stadium, seeking their third straight Super Bowl appearance. On the other side is a team many wouldn’t have expected heading in to the season: Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals caught fire in the second half of the season, stole the AFC North lead from a reeling Baltimore Ravens squad, and haven’t looked back since. Cincinnati’s young, electric offense has been a huge reason for the Bengals success, with Tee Higgins, Joe Mixon, and rookie Ja’Marr Chase all contributing and all just 25 years old or younger. The Bengals outlasted the Las Vegas Raiders and top-seeded Tennessee Titans so far in the playoffs, in relatively lower scoring affairs than Cincinnati had been used to.

For the Chiefs, there was times this season where it looked like the team’s era of dominance was coming to a close, namely after a 27-3 loss to the Titans that dropped Kansas City to 27-3. But the Chiefs sprung alive in the second half of the season, Going 9-1 in their last ten regular seasons and 11-1 counting playoff wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills.

But that one loss? It came against the Bengals in Week 17, with Kansas City losing 34-31 in a shootout.

Can Burrow and the Bengals beat the Chiefs a second time in a month to complete their unlikely accession to Super Bowl 56? Or will Andy Reid and Mahomes orchestrate yet another masterful playoff game after last week’s instant classic against the Bills, and reach their third straight Super Bowl?

Read on for my AFC Championship Game pick, and if you’d like to debate or discuss, join the conversation with @SakSports on Twitter.

#4 Cincinnati Bengals (12-7) at #2 Kansas City Chiefs (14-5)

Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Line: Kansas City Chiefs (-7.0)

Time: 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT

TV: CBS

Rightfully so, there will be a lot of emphasis on how the Bengals beat the Chiefs in Week 17, spoiling Kansas City’s chances to earn the #1 seed in the AFC. The Chiefs took a 28-14 lead with 2:18 left in the half, bit a quick field goal before halftime and then two more touchdown passes from Burrow allowed the Evan McPherson to kick a 20-yard field goal as time expired to seal a Bengals victory. Ja’Marr Chase had an eye-popping 11 catches for 266 yards and three touchdowns in the matchup.

But the question is, can Joe Burrow and the Bengals beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs a second time around?

If the Chiefs play like they did at the end of the Bills game, scoring touchdowns in matters of seconds with the game on the line, Cincinnati won’t be able to keep up. The Bengals offense is really good, and at its best, it’s enough to go toe-to-toe with the Chiefs over the course of a full game. But if the Chiefs turn on the fourth quarter burners like they did last week, I don’t think that’s something Burrow’s offense can match.

Different from Week 17, his game will be played in Kansas City, where Mahomes has only lost one playoff game, three seasons ago to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The Chiefs went 7-2 at Arrowhead during the regular season, and are now 9-2 at home on the year after two playoff wins.

Mahomes is an elite 8-2 in the postseason overall, losing only to Brady, twice, in the 2019 AFC Championship Game and last year in Super Bowl 55. Does Burrow have what it takes to become the second player to pull off this task?

I would love to see a blend between Week 17’s matchup between these teams and the ending of the Chiefs-Bills game last week. But for as much firepower as the Bengals offense has, I don’t think Burrow has unlocked the ability to score at will quite yet: which is fine for just his second season in the league.

After scoring 27.1 PPG in the regular season, the Bengals have averaged 22.5 PPG in the playoffs. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have scored exactly 42 points in both of their playoff wins, though they needed overtime to reach that mark last week against the Bills. Still, even counting only the 36 regulation points: is that a mark the Bengals can keep up with?

While I do hope the Bengals play a good, close game, my official prediction is that Reid, Mahomes, and the Chiefs will be in control of this one. Cincinnati beat Kansas City just a few weeks ago, but with higher stakes, in a playoff environment where Mahomes has absolutely thrived in his still young career, I see the Chiefs advancing to their third straight Super Bowl.

Chiefs win 33-24, Chiefs win ATS

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Header Photo: NFL.com

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