With the NFL playoff divisional round coming to a close this weekend, the AFC Championship game looks set to be an absolute cracker of a game. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs looked completely free of rust following their bye week as they dismantled the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Cincinnati Bengals looked incredible as they went into Buffalo and blew away my team, the Bills. This matchup will see the two best quarterbacks in the league go head-to-head for the second season, with the Bengals winning in Kansas City one year ago to seal a first super bowl berth for the first time in 33 years. The question now is whether Patrick Mahomes will get his revenge and take the Chiefs to the title game for the third time in five years.
Kansas City’s win over the Jaguars to get to this point is more impressive than it may look on paper. The Chiefs won by seven points in a 27-20 home game against a very unfancied Jaguars team, which may portray this win as an underperformance. But the Jaguars are no slouches, and I would not have been surprised if they’d managed to walk out of Missouri with a win. Since Thanksgiving, Trevor Lawrence has statistically been the best quarterback in the league. Even on his bad days, we have seen that he has the ability to completely flip a game on its head whenever he so chooses. The wildcard round is a great example. The Jaguars were down 27-0 to the Chargers at the half after Lawrence threw four first-half interceptions, only for Lawrence to turn into prime Drew Brees in the second half as the team came back to win 31-30 late in the fourth quarter. He was at it again in Kansas City, dragging the Jags down the field (seemingly by himself at times) with a passer rating of 74.4.
Patrick Mahomes is simply different. Playing through a first half injury, he threw for a pair of crucial times and could be seem running for first down yardage on one leg repeatedly. That toughness is ultimately what got the team over the line, with Mahomes throwing what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown with just over seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. It also helps to have one of the best tight ends in history on the roster, with Travis Kelce accounting for almost 100 receiving yards on 14 yards, a career high. In the end, the defense came up big to seal a crucial win with cornerback Jaylen Watson intercepting a Lawrence pass to seal the game with 3:48 to play.
The Bengals will not be an easy game for the Chiefs by any stretch of the imagination. They look to be the best team in the league at this moment in time, as they steamrolled past the Bills this week 27-10 in the Buffalo snow. Burrow’s boys went up 14-0 early and never looked back. Joe Burrow was his usual calm and collected self as he marshaled the Cincinnati offense like a ten year veteran, throwing for 242 yards, two touchdowns, and completing 2/3 of his passes along the way. Joe Mixon also stepped up, running for over 100 yards as the Bengals dominated the Bills’ defensive line.
Buffalo on the other hand struggled mightily. All season long, Josh Allen has been able to drag the offense to just enough points to win games without having a running game to supplement his arm strength, but against a great defense like the Bengals’, he never had a chance. He managed to throw for 265 yards, but couldn’t find a receiver in the end zone all game long. He also continued his poor run of interceptions with a pick in the second half. I don’t mean to slander the Bills’ quarterback by any means either; he played his heart out against the Bengals, scoring their only touchdown of the game himself on a quarterback run. He was also actually the team’s leading rusher that day with 26 yards on eight carries of the football. But for as many receiving weapons as Allen has, with no one to take over some of the load on the ground, the Bills will continue to fall short.