AFC championship betting preview: Is Bengals-Chiefs a true toss-up?
Unlike the NFC championship, we should know what to expect in the AFC title game given that this is the fourth time the Bengals and Chiefs will have played in the past 13 months.
Of course, it's never that easy. A week after injuries to the Bengals' offensive line were the headline in their handicap, the biggest X-factor Sunday is the right ankle of Patrick Mahomes.
Bengals @ Chiefs (-1, 47.5)
We looked at the timeline for the very interesting line movement in this game earlier in the week. Since then the Bengals, have moved to as high as 2.5-point favorites before moving back across pick'em after a prominent pick service revealed they were on the Chiefs +2.5. Plus, there's been optimism about Mahomes' ankle.
Think about what we've seen and heard about Mahomes' ankle. We saw him get rolled up on but stay in the game for a play. He complained about needing to get looked at. We saw him get a large wrap on the ankle, which would hamper anyone's mobility. He returned to the game and played very well, including a mobile touchdown pass. We saw him celebrating after the game, and we haven't seen him on the injury report as early as Wednesday.
So, how worried should we be about the Chiefs' offense? Kansas City rebuilt its offense in the offseason in order to be more varied, and it averaged 6.5 yards per play against Cincinnati earlier this season. The Bengals' secondary still features Eli Apple, and I trust Andy Reid to keep coming up with different ways to counter what Cincinnati defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has done to slow the Chiefs in the past.
The Bengals are getting a big boost in the market, as many bettors seem uninterested in acknowledging how close they were to a loss to Tyler Huntley and the Ravens. They'll instead cite the Bengals' three straight wins over the Chiefs, as though victories by three, three, and three are solid evidence of what would happen in a fourth game. Kansas City also had leads of 18, 14, and seven in those contests, two of which were played in Cincinnati.
Even though we saw the Bengals' offense have trouble with the Ravens, bettors seemingly think it's fixed because of one game. However, the Bills finished 19th in sack percentage as it dropped from 7.16% to 6.47% following the loss of Von Miller. The Chiefs were in the top five. It's commonly understood that snow is good for offenses because of the unstable footing it creates for pass-rushers, something Buffalo couldn't deal with. Chris Jones and the eight other Chiefs with multiple sacks won't have the same slippery conditions that vexed the Bills.
We know projections for this line with a healthy Mahomes were between a field goal and a touchdown in favor of Kansas City. That's in line with Chiefs -2 in Cincinnati in Week 13. We're left with picking a winner, and while either team can win a high-stakes game, betting is still about searching out value. This could close closer to a field goal.
Pick: Chiefs -1
Player prop best bets
Patrick Mahomes over 279.5 passing yards
Mahomes is regularly lined at over 300 yards and was as high as 315.5 last week. This total has dropped 12% primarily because of concerns that he may not finish the game. Even a troublesome ankle that forces Mahomes to stay in the pocket and throw should lend itself to more yards, especially in what the line suggests should be a close game. Andy Reid is anticipating that this injury isn't as bad as the last time Mahomes played through this ailment - in Week 2 of 2019 when he threw for 443 yards.
Jerick McKinnon over 58.5 rushing + receiving yards
With D.J. Reader locking down the interior of the line of scrimmage for Cincinnati, look for the Chiefs to use the outside run game, screens, and swing passes to Jerick McKinnon to create easy yardage for Mahomes.
Joe Burrow under 37.5 longest pass completion
The first of two "back to the well" bets that were successful as part of a 10-2 prop run last week, Joe Burrow should be looking to make quick throws again, with little time to fire deep balls. The Bengals' offensive line issues didn't go away after one week, and Cincinnati should know that.
Samaje Perine over 15.5 receiving yards
We'll also try this winner from last week due to Burrow's necessity to dump off to the tailback to keep the pressure at bay. Perine cleared this number in the first half last week and had a long touchdown on a screen pass in last year's AFC title game.
Anytime touchdown best bets
Travis Kelce's price has a minus in front of it every week, but not this week, presumably because of concerns surrounding Mahomes. Chad Henne threw Kelce a touchdown last week, so we're getting an unwarranted discount on the most likely player to score Sunday night.
Tee Higgins had 100-plus yards and a touchdown in this game last year. He was also a wide-open dropped pass away from a two-touchdown day against the Chiefs earlier this season. L'Jarius Sneed should see a lot of Ja'Marr Chase, and while 5'11 rookie Trent McDuffie is good, he doesn't match up well against the 6'4 Higgins.
Kadarius Toney needed to be dragged down at the 4-yard line last week, but you could see why the Chiefs want to get him the ball. At +275, that's good for someone we expect to get another chance.
Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there’s a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.
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