The Worksheet, a fantasy football overview by Rich Hribar, breaking down everything you need to know for the Conference Championship Round Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs Sunday afternoon game.
|37.40%||4||Opp. Rush %||38.94%||7|
|62.60%||29||Opp. Pass %||61.06%||26|
Against the Spread
Chiefs ATS at Home: 6-5
Bengals ATS Away: 7-2
Chiefs ATS as Favorite: 10-9
Bengals ATS as Underdog: 7-3
Kansas City is now the first team to ever host four straight Conference Championship games as they look to make their third consecutive Super Bowl. The Bengals are in a spot that has been unfamiliar to them for some time. After winning their first ever playoff game on the road last weekend, this is their first trip to the AFC Title Game since 1988.
The AFC Championship is a rematch from Week 17 in which the Bengals won 34-31 at home. The Chiefs were up 21-7 early in that game and 28-14 at the half, but Cincinnati outscored Kansas City 17-3 in the second half and ran off the final six minutes of the game to set up the game-winning field goal. The first matchup was really a tale of two halves for the Chiefs. In the first half, the Chiefs produced 292 yards and 8.1 yards per play before posting 122 yards and 5.5 yards per play after the break.
The Chiefs still ended that game with 31 points and have been back to the offensive juggernaut we have seen from them in the past despite a midseason lull. Kansas City has scored 28 or more points in in each of their previous seven games. They have averaged 46.1 yards per drive while scoring on 64.2% (43-of-67) of their possessions with a touchdown on 44.8% (30-of-67) over that span, all tops in the NFL over that span. You are still going to need points to beat the Chiefs as they scored 20 or more points in four of their five losses with 24 or more in three of them.
This game also features two of the top teams in yards after the catch. In the regular season, the Chiefs (2.700 yards) and the Bengals (2,423 yards) were first and fourth in the NFL in yards created after the reception. In the first matchup, this was a huge swing area as the Bengals produced 264 yards after the catch while the Chiefs had 107. The Bengals limited both Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to just 14 yards each after the catch while Ja’Marr Chase had 151 of his 266 yards receiving in that game after the catch.
If there is one standout weakness for each team it is the Kansas City defense and the Cincinnati offensive line. The Chiefs are the worst defense remaining in the postseason by a wide margin. They are 24th in defensive DVOA, 20th in success rate allowed per dropback (47.2%), and 31st in success rate allowed per rush (46.3%). They are 29th in yards allowed per drive (37.2 yards) and 28th in yards allowed per play (5.8 yards). They are predicated on created turnovers and we have seen the three quality quarterbacks they have faced since their bye (Justin Herbert, Burrow himself, and Josh Allen) score on 17-of-31 possessions while posting 428, 475, and 422 yards of offense.
The Bengals are 31st in the league in sack rate allowed (9.5%) and 29th in the league in sack differential (-21). No team in the league has lost more EPA on the season (-115.5 expected points) due to sacks than the Bengals have (the Bears are last on a per-game basis due to games played). On Saturday, the Bengals won while allowing nine sacks. How rare is that? Well, they were the 10th team to win a game while allowing nine or more sacks in league history on a sample of 160 games. The worst part of it all was that all of the sacks taken last weekend by Burrow were with four or fewer pass rushers. Burrow was sacked four times for -31 yards when these teams played in Week 17.
Patrick Mahomes: If you checked out the numbers above relating to the run the Kansas City offense is on then you already can assume that Mahomes has been a catalyst for that production. Mahomes is averaging 28.1 fantasy points per game over his past seven games with 20 touchdown passes to two interceptions over that span while throwing for 8.5 yards per pass attempt. In the two playoff performances, he has a gaudy 37.1 and 40.0 points scored. Mahomes has 20 or more fantasy points in each of those games, including a 20.9 point game against the Bengals in Week 17.
That first matchup was tied into that tale of two halves mentioned earlier. Mahomes was 17-of-22 passing for 209 yards (9.5 Y/A) in the first half of that game and then went 9-of-13 passing for 50 yards (3.8 Y/A) in the second half. The Bengals only played Cover 2 on 13 of his 45 dropbacks (28.8%) but held Mahomes to 4.9 Y/A on those dropbacks compared to 8.2 Y/A against all other coverages the Bengals threw at him, including 7-of-7 for 90 yards (12.9 Y/A) when the Bengals tried to go into Cover 3.
As strong as the second half of that Week 17 game was, we have to anticipate Mahomes will keep getting there for fantasy and treat those two quarters as variance over a larger sample of him being on a fantasy tear. The Bengals have also allowed 15.3 passing points per game for fantasy, which is 23rd in the league and the most of all remaining playoff teams.
Joe Burrow: Burrow did not throw a touchdown pass for just the second time this season against the Titans, but he still delivered peripherally, completing 28-of-37 passes for 348 yards (9.4 Y/A).
The Bengals once again remained aggressively offensively posting a pass rate over expectation by 8.8%. For the season, the Bengals now have had six games the entire season with a pass rate over 2.0% of expectation and four of those have come over Burrow’s past four starts. On first and second down passes outside of the fourth quarter in those four games, Burrow is 64-of-89 (71.9%) for 807 yards (9.1 Y/A) with five touchdowns and 33 first downs.
Burrow has also excelled in crunch time over that span, connecting 33-of-38 passes (86.8%) for 425 yards (11.2 Y/A) with zero turnovers in the fourth quarter in those games.
That game sample includes Burrow throwing for 446 yards and four touchdowns against the Chiefs in Week 17. The Bengals had a pass rate 14.5% over expectation in that game, while Burrow was 23-of-31 passing for 303 yards and three touchdowns on early down passes while he was also 9-of-10 for 137 yards with a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs are an aggressive defense by nature and necessity due to personnel. They blitz on 28.1% of dropbacks (eighth), and play man coverage on 34.8% of plays (eighth). We have talked about blitzing Burrow at your own peril this entire season in this weekly space, In that Week 17 matchup the Chiefs dialed down the blitz to 22.2% of Burrow’s dropbacks and he made them pay on those plays, completing 6-of-9 passes for 92 yards (10.2 Y/A). Burrow was also 10-of-14 for 156 yards (11.1 Y/A) when the Chiefs played man coverage in that game.
Burrow may not have the apex ceiling as his counterpart on a weekly level, but both passers are set up strongly to provide plenty of fantasy points here.
Joe Mixon: Mixon once again found work tough on the ground (14 carries for 54 yards) but showed why you place faith in workloads for fantasy even if the matchups are subpar. Mixon handled another 20 touches, giving him 84-of-93 backfield touches over the past four games and 20.8 per game for the season.
Mixon has rushed for 3.3 yards per carry over his past seven games with fewer than 4.0 YPC in all of those games, but a huge component in elevating his fantasy opportunity is that he has finally been used consistently in the passing game. Mixon has 23 receptions the past four weeks with at least for receptions in each game. He had 29 receptions over his first 14 games with nine of those games coming with two or fewer receptions. Mixon has been targeted on 24.3% of his routes over that span as opposed to 15.9% prior.
Mixon handled 19-of-21 backfield touches for 86 yards against the Chiefs in Week 17, catching 7-of-8 targets for 40 yards. Even if Mixon struggles with efficiency, his workload equity is the best of all running backs playing this Sunday.
Chiefs RBs: After a strong performance in the Wild Card Round, the Chiefs rode the hot hand with Jerick McKinnon last week against the Bills. McKinnon played 53 snaps (70%) and ran a pass route on 71.7% of the team dropbacks. McKinnon only rushed 10 times for 24 yards but secured 5-of-7 targets for 54 yards on 65.2% of the backfield touches.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire returned and played only 23 snaps (30%) and ran 11 pass routes (20.8%), but he did run well (seven carries for 60 yards). Darrel Williams did not play on Sunday due to a toe injury.
We will follow news this week to see if Williams will suit up on Sunday to potentially muddy the waters here. As of now, I still would expect McKinnon to have a valuable role in the passing game, even if we see Edwards-Helaire see extended work running the ball.
Kansas City backs turned 21 touches into 154 yards and a pair of scores when these teams played in Week 17, with Williams having a ton of success with 88 yards rushing and 19 yards receiving. The Bengals have only allowed one 100-yard rusher since their Week 10 bye, and that was D’Ernest Johnson last weekend in a throwaway game, but they have struggled to defend backs out of the backfield, allowing 6.4 catches per game (28th) to the position to go along with 11.9 receiving points per game (27th).
Ja’Marr Chase: After becoming the seventh rookie to ever have 100 yards receiving in his first playoff game, Chase ran it back last week, becoming the first rookie to ever have multiple 100-yard games receiving in the same postseason. Chase had just a 17.1% target rate and still produced a 5-109-0 game, his fourth 100-yard game over each of the past four full games he has played. That of course includes that massive 11-266-3 game on 12 targets that Chase put on the Chiefs back in Week 17.
You can bet the Chiefs will throw plenty of attention at Chase in the rematch, but Chase’s ability to create after the catch gives him an added out. Chase was third in the NFL in yards after the catch in the regular season (including 151 yards against the Chiefs) while 94 of his yards on Saturday were created after the catch, highlighted by a 57-yard screen.
Tyreek Hill: Hill caught 11-of-13 targets for 150 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, giving him his fourth game with 30 or more PPR points in a game this season. After some uneven usage to close the season, Hill’s 30.9% target share was his highest in a game since Week 11 and we saw him tap into that explosive ability with the ball in his hands on his 64-yard catch and run to give the Chiefs the lead with a minute to go in the game. It was the longest touchdown that Hill has scored since Week 1 while also just his fourth touchdown scored from outside of the red zone this season.
Hill was held in check for a modest 6-40-0 line when these teams played in Week 17, but he did still receive 10 targets in that game and left some yardage on the field. We will always take what we get when a player of Hill’s caliber flirts with double-digit targets. The Bengals also have allowed plenty of splash plays this season through air, ranking 23rd in completion rate allowed on throws 15 yards or further downfield (42.9%) while ranking 27th in the percentage of completions to gain 20 or more yards (15.5%).
Tee Higgins: After one catch for 10 yards in the Wild Card Round, Higgins bounced back to catch 7-of-8 targets for 96 yards against the Titans on Saturday. Higgins has found the end zone in just one of his past six games and has scored single-digit points in three of those weeks, but he remains attached to a strong passing game and is running a pass route on 88% of the team dropbacks. That cocktail can always create high-scoring opportunities for fantasy and we have seen Higgins have three top-five scoring weeks at the position already this season.
With Chase going bananas the first time that these teams played, Higgins had just five targets (3-62-0) come his way, but if the Chiefs are dedicating more resources to Chase this time around, Higgins will be a good bet to get more involved, even if he fails to replicate what Gabriel Davis did last week with so much emphasis defending Stefon Diggs.
Tyler Boyd: Boyd’s four-game touchdown streak came to an end last week, which also reminded us that he does carry a low floor when he fails to get into the end zone. Boyd ended up catching 2-of-3 targets for 17 yards, the 10th time this season that he has failed to reach 40 yards receiving in a game this season, including in each of his past three.
Boyd still has outs mentioned with Higgins, even though his ceiling is not nearly as high. Boyd has also run a route on 88% of the Cincinnati dropbacks. The Chiefs are 27th in points allowed per game (12.3) to opposing wideouts from the slot. Boyd caught 4-of-6 targets for 36 yards and a touchdown when these teams played in Week 17.
Byron Pringle: Pringle sustained his grasp on the WR2 role last week, catching 5-of-7 targets for 29 yards and a touchdown while running a route on 81.1% of the team dropbacks. Pringle has cleared 56 yards in just one of his past 10 games, but he does have at least five receptions and seven or more targets in four of his past five games. That one game without either was against the Bengals (3-35-0 on four targets), but if throwing a dart here, the Bengals are no defense to hide from on the back end, allowing a 65.7% catch rate (27th) and 8.0 yards per target (18th) to opposing wide receivers.
Mecole Hardman: Hardman made two big plays on Sunday, turning in a 31-yard touchdown run while tacking on a 26-yard reception in overtime that set up the game-winning score. Hardman has shown he still can create splash plays, but unfortunately, Hardman still is forced to do a lot on minimal opportunity as he had just one target in the game and ran just 19 pass routes (35.9%). The Bengals were 26th in the league in the rate of plays allowed to gain 20 or more yards (6.1%) and Hardman himself had a 53 yards catch on his lone reception in Week 17, but we are grasping on hitting that big play.
Travis Kelce: Kelce stayed hot on Sunday, catching 8-of-9 targets for 96 yards and the touchdown that won the game. Kelce has now found the end zone in each of his past five games with six scores in those weeks. That includes Week 17 when these teams played, although the Bengals did limit Kelce to 25 yards on five catches with a long gain of just eight yards.
That yardage bar is a low one clear for Kelce in the rematch and although that was a bright spot for the Bengals, they still have allowed a 72.7% catch rate (26th), 8.2 yards per target (27th), and a 6.1% touchdown rate (22nd) to the tight end position.
C.J. Uzomah: Uzomah has been a standout in the two postseason games, posting games of 6-64-1 (six targets) and 7-71-0 (eight targets). Uzomah has now seen 6.1 targets per game over the past seven weeks with 17.6% of the team targets over that span. He has at least 15% of the team targets in all seven of those games. Uzomah managed just 4-32-0 on six targets when these teams played in Week 17, but there still is underlying matchup appeal for Uzomah as Kansas City allowed 7.8 yards per target (23rd) and a 5.2% touchdown rate (18th) to tight ends this season.
More Conference Championship Round Fantasy breakdowns from The Worksheet:
CIN at TEN | SF at LAR