The Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs are accustomed to playing each other for a spot in the Super Bowl, this time around in Week 17 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. The Chiefs who usually coast to a AFC West title this time around are having some trials and tribulations along the way having lost three of their last four games and they still need a win or some help from Las Vegas and Denver, to clinch their eighth straight AFC West title.
Basically, the Bengals must win out to have a chance at making the playoffs in the AFC, if the Chiefs win this week, they will clinch the AFC West and lock themselves into the #3 seed at worst, with an outside chance at the #2 seed. So like plenty of the games on the Week 17 slate there is plenty hinging on this contest.
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Although some of the protagonists in the game have changed if this contest plays out like it usually does between these two teams we are in for a close one. Their four games from the past two years — two in the regular season, two in the AFC Championship Game — have been decided by exactly three points. If it’s a similar scenario this time, it has to favour the Bengals. The Chiefs have been unable to rally for a win in the fourth quarter this season, although this time around the Bengals don’t have Joe Burrow at quarterback, with Burrow gone for the season and Jake Browning taking his place.
The Chiefs are a 1-3 chance with Star Sports to win the game and feature in a boosted Star Sports Special “Sunday Bankers” alongside the Eagles, 49ers, and Bills all to win at 20-21.
Without Burrow, the game doesn’t quite face the same hype that it would with him at the helm of the Bengals offence but there’s still a rivalry between this pair. The Chiefs are turning around quickly after their Christmas Day defeat to divisional rivals the Raiders while Cincinnati have had extra time to prepare for a game that could define their season having not played since last Saturday.
That game didn’t go well though as any momentum they had built up after the loss of Burrow was blown away by the previously moribund Steelers offence that raced into a 24-0 half time lead that led to a 34-11 defeat for the Bengals. That Raiders game was perhaps one of the worst performances of the season for the Chiefs despite the fact that they did not allow an offensive TD — or a completion after the first quarter, for that matter — yet still lost to the Raiders. 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.
Injuries, not uncommon at this stage of the season could well affect both sides with the Bengals having doubts about the health of All-Pro wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase due to his shoulder injury, with the Chiefs worse off with five of their starters missing from practice this week.
For the Bengals having Browning at quarterback is rather different to having Burrow playing the position although initially he did well but as is the way of things with backup QB’s who experience short periods of success they tend to get exposed as sample sizes grow and defensive coordinators identify holes on tape. That was certainly the case for Browning last week against the Steelers and he comes into Arrowhead facing a Chiefs defence that are allowing the NFL’s third fewest yards per pass attempt (6.1), 2nd in the NFL in QB pressure rate and blitz at the 5th highest rate in the league.
They will be bringing the heat on Browning, who could be without his main receiver in Ja’Marr Chase. Browning has now thrown five interceptions over the past three weeks and this will not be an easy game for him.
It may well be that we see the Bengals game lean more into the run, especially if Chase isn’t good to go (that would appear a game time decision) although it’s hard to say who is the lead running back for the Bengals at the moment as that looks to have developed into a two-man committee between the inefficient Joe Mixon and Chase Brown who has an least provided some spark of late.
If Chase can go then it will be a big help to Browning who has developed a good rapport with the Bengals main wide receiver. If he doesn’t play then Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd will be Browning’s two main targets although given the travails against the Steelers defence this is hardly a “get right” spot for the young QB against a Chiefs defence that has played well all year.
While the Chiefs have stepped up on defence this season they could have said to have regressed on offence even with Patrick Mahomes pulling the strings. In a season filled with offensive struggles, things found a way to get worse for Mahomes and his passing game on Christmas Day against the Raiders.
He averaged 3.6 air yards per attempt on Monday, his fewest in a full game over his entire career. Known for their big plays and ability to score quickly with Mahomes at QB, the Chiefs offence this year has been hampered by the fact Kansas City’s wide receivers have more dropped passes than any other team. This Bengals defence could present Mahomes and the Chiefs offence a chance to put those struggles behind them as Cincinnati’s defence ranks 32nd in the NFL in yards per play allowed. The Bengals are the only team in the NFL giving up more than six yards per play this season.
At this stage of proceedings it’s hard to know how the Chiefs backfield will shape up with Isiah Pacheco (concussion, shoulder) listed as questionable after barely practicing all week, Clyde Edwards-Helaire (questionable, illness) held out of practice on both Thursday and Friday, and Jerick McKinnon (groin) gone to injured reserve. Whoever plays at running back for Kansas City will find a soft spot, Cincinnati have given up an average of 120.3 total yards and 13 all-purpose touchdowns in 15 games to opposition RBs.
The Chiefs passing game looks to flow primarily through rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice and superstar tight end Travis Kelce, although Kelce has not had many big games recently and was visibly extremely frustrated in last week’s loss. Kelce though features in an interesting Star Sports Special where he’s grouped with two other tight-ends, George Kittle (49ers) and Trey McBride (Cardinals) at 5-2 to all go over 50+ yards receiving. If the Chiefs can protect Mahomes and they struggled to do so against the Raiders then Kelce should see plenty of the ball especially as he faces a Bengals defence giving up the NFL’s second most catches (98) and a league-high 1,020 yards to tight ends.
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All season long Mahomes and the Chiefs have been searching for a reliable wide receiver and one who doesn’t drop the ball regularly and they may have just found one in Rashee Rice who has become more and more an integral part of the Kansas City passing offence. Over the past five games, Rice now has a team-high 28.2% of the targets, which is eighth in the NFL over that span. There looks to be plenty of upside in supporting Rice and his receiving yards line set at +63.5 (10-11) by Star Sports looks very achievable.
With the Bengals without Burrow at quarterback this game looks very different to the one we would have expected with him at the helm of the Cincinnati offence. The Chiefs are likely to control this game, although it is hard to expect them to jump all over their opponent given their struggles in 2023 but they should still score enough points to win a game that will put them in the playoffs and maintain their hopes of returning to the Super Bowl.
BACK Kansas City Chiefs over 25 match points 2pts at 10/11 (⭐
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BACK Rashee Rice over +63.5 receiving yards 1pt at 10/11 (⭐
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BACK Patrick Mahomes +269.5 passing yards 1pt at 10/11 (⭐
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PROFIT/LOSS (DEC 2023): LOSS -10.69 points