The Cincinnati Bengals are back in Arrowhead Stadium for a second straight AFC Championship Game, with the road to the Super Bowl once again going through the Kansas City Chiefs.
The betting on AFC Championship odds has been a wild ride since the NFL odds came out Sunday evening due to Patrick Mahomes’ injured ankle. Kansas City opened as a favorite, swung to a rare home underdog, and is now back as slim home chalk with the weekend closing in and Mahomes back at practice.
But Mahomes or not, Cincinnati isn’t scared of the Chiefs. The Bengals have beaten Kansas City in three straight meetings — including last year’s AFC title game — and come into this rematch as the hottest team in the NFL.
I run down the spread and Over/Under odds for the AFC Championship Game and give my best NFL picks and predictions for Bengals vs. Chiefs on January 29.
For more great NFL bets, check out Rohit Ponnaiya‘s Bengals vs. Chiefs prop picks and our Ja’Marr Chase Player Spotlight by Jared Hochman!
If you listen to the Sharp 600 podcast or read my weekly NFL Underdogs column, you’ll know I’m heavy on Cincinnati in the AFC Championship Game. I bet the Bengals moneyline at EVEN money on Sunday night and grabbed Cincy +1.5 when the market swung on Mahomes’ return to practice Wednesday.
While you may not agree with that side, you must respect Cincinnati’s ability to beat up Kansas City‘s defense with a balanced attack. And after watching the Bengals’ ball carriers bully the Bills in the Divisional Round, this Cincy rushing attack is the key to crushing Kansas City — on both sides of the football.
The pairing of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine ran the ball a combined 27 times and chewed up a collective 138 yards, along with a back-breaking third-quarter touchdown from Mixon. Those running backs also helped Cincy stack up the first down, moving the chains with 13 rushing first downs.
While some will point to the slick surface in Orchard Park giving the Bengals an advantage, the bulk of those ground gains came on ruthless runs with yards after contact. The Bengals ran for 5.1 yards per carry against a Buffalo defense that ranks No. 3 in Run Defense DVOA and now face a Chiefs stop unit that has a much tougher time taking down rival running backs.
Mixon will see the most touches for this rushing attack and faces an Over/Under rushing prop of 57.5 yards on the ground in the AFC Championship Game. He rolled Over his total just like would-be tacklers last weekend, amassing 105 yards rushing against an O/U of 45.5 yards.
Mixon had finished below totals of 55.5 yards in each of the two previous matchups with Baltimore, one of the stiffest run stop units in the land (Ravens No. 7 in Run Defense DVOA/third lowest yards per carry allowed 3.8). His AFC title game competition is not so solid.
Kansas City’s defense has been extremely strong in the second half of the season but still ranks out in the bottom third in EPA allowed per handoff and 23rd in Run Defense DVOA since Week 8. On the year, the Chiefs are dead last in run stop win rate (26%) at ESPN, while the Bengals sit 10th in run block win rate (72%) and proved the make-shift O-line could still get it done on the ground last Sunday.
Jacksonville had its way with KC’s defense on the turf, marching for 144 yards and nine first downs on only 19 rushing attempts last weekend. The Jaguars, however, trailed by 10 in the second half and had to get away from the ground game in order to catch up. The RB combo of Travis Etienne and JaMycal Hasty ran for 98 yards on 14 carries — an average of seven yards per attempt.
Cincinnati exploited the Chiefs with the run in their Week 13 win, even with Mixon sidelined with a concussion. Perine put the Bengals on his back and carried the ball 21 times for 106 yards, doing the lion’s share of the 138 yards rushing from Cincy. That helped the Bengals control the tempo and the football, with more than 32 minutes of possession.
A solid dose of the run will also keep the Kansas City pass rush at bay and help out the thin offensive line when it comes to protecting Joe Burrow from a Chiefs defense that sits second in total sacks and generates the fifth-highest pressure rate per dropback.
Head coach Zac Taylor specifically praised his running game and the blocking of the offensive line following the Divisional Round victory, stating, “To rush for over 170 yards in this environment, to handle the noise the way they did, to protect Joe the way that they did, I thought our offensive line was outstanding.”
Extra reps for rushers is a tactic Taylor has utilized this season when facing dangerous pass rushes — regardless of the state of the O-line. When you look at the seven teams Cincinnati has faced with similar pressure rates and sacks counts (PIT in Week 1, KC, DAL, NE, NYJ, TBY, and BUF), the Bengals have run the ball an average of almost 29 times in those games — an uptick from the average of 25 runs on the season.
If Cincinnati continues to have Kansas City’s number, it will start with a big effort from Mixon and the ground game. You can find his rushing yards total as low as 57.5, while the market is as high as 60.5 yards.
My best bet: Joe Mixon Over 57.5 rushing yards (-115)
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All eyes were on the opening line for the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, following Patrick Mahomes’ ankle injury versus Jacksonville in the Divisional Round. Adding to that intrigue was an outstanding effort by the Bengals to beat up Buffalo in Orchard Park on Sunday afternoon.
This spread opened as high as Kansas City -3 at FanDuel but lasted less than a minute. As other operators posted lines of Kansas City -2 and -1, the market consensus swirled lower, with Cincinnati action hitting the counter first.
On the heels of the Bengals’ big win in Buffalo and with bettors getting out ahead of any updates on Mahomes’ status, this spread dropped to as low as pick’em on Sunday night. By Monday morning, books were going back and forth from KC -1 to +1 and eventually climbed to Cincinnati -1.5.
From there, the spread jumped to as high as Bengals -2.5 on Tuesday, with bookies reporting 77% of bets and handle on the visitor in the AFC title game. Tuesday evening, however, saw respected sharps and gambling groups release a play on Chiefs +2.5, which dropped many markets to Cincy -1.5.
Wednesday afternoon saw a surprise announcement from the Chiefs, stating that Mahomes had participated in walkthrough and would be practicing that afternoon, which sparked KC action and slimmed this spread further to Bengals -1.
By early Wednesday evening, several shops had jumped the fence with the Chiefs sitting as big as -1.5 home favorites. As of Thursday, a few operators are still dealing Cincinnati -1 while a number are at pick’em or Kansas City -1.
That slim estimated margin seems about right, considering the history between these two teams and their current form. The Bengals have won three straight meetings with the Chiefs, most recently edging them 27-24 at home in Week 13. Cincinnati rallied for a 10-0 fourth quarter in that game and covered as a closing 2.5-point home underdog. That was Kansas City’s lone loss since Week 7.
If we look at the home stretch of the schedule, the Bengals and Chiefs sit very close in offensive output and rank neck-and-neck in many advanced metrics. Since Week 9, Kansas City sits No. 1 in EPA per play while Cincinnati is No. 4 in that measurement, and these foes rank No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in Offensive DVOA at Football Outsiders in that same span.
Measuring the quarterbacks is like comparing the Porsche 911 to an Audi R8: both look really good and will get you where you want to go in a hurry, but one of those sports cars has a janky wheel.
One of Mahomes’ greatest weapons is his mobility and ability to keep plays alive when pressure comes. He’s also an underrated running QB and has picked up plenty of key first downs with his legs during postseason performances. He was very limited when he returned to play in the second half of the Divisional Round, and the Bengals’ pass rush will want to test his movement early on in this contest.
As for Burrow, he outshone Bills QB Josh Allen and has a better group of skill players around him when stacking up the talent on these depth charts. Receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd all had an impact in the Divisional Round, as did tight end Hayden Hurst, and the rushing attack of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine was a force in the second half of the season and played with punch last weekend.
That balanced attack is a big reason why Cincinnati not only has won 10 straight outings but has gone a remarkable 8-1-1 against the spread in that stretch. The Bengals are 13-5 ATS on the year, with an NFL-best 8-2 ATS count on the road.
As for Kansas City, that Week 13 loss to Cincy is the lone blemish in the back half of the slate. The Chiefs are 11-1 straight up in their last dozen outings but just 3-7-1 ATS in that span. On the season, KC is 6-11-1 ATS with a 2-6-1 ATS mark as a host.
This Over/Under has seen just as many up-and-down movements as the spread this week.
The total opened as high as 51 points at FanDuel on Sunday evening. Regardless, the market played it safe with Mahomes’ injury, and other operators went low, with totals of 49 and 48.5 points popping up in the minutes after the matchup was finalized.
Under money continued to come in early, and some offshore shops dropped the number to 47 points — a key stop in Over/Under for NFL betting. Many books tried to hang on around that total, but the appetite for Unders bumped this O/U as low as 46.5 by Tuesday afternoon.
However, once the sharp play on Kansas City +2.5 came through on Tuesday night, books followed suit by upping the total to 47 points — knowing that those respected bettors likely had good info on Mahomes’ health heading into the week. Those moves were right, as Mahomes was back on the practice field Wednesday, and the total market moved to an industry consensus of 47.5 points.
This Over/Under is still significantly lower than the past three closing totals between these foes, with numbers of 51, 53, and 54.5 points. The Chiefs and Bengals produced twin scores of 27-24 in two of those outings, staying just Under the number.
There’s no denying the scoring prowess of either offense, as highlighted above. That said, these teams would not be competing for a spot in the Super Bowl if not for some formidable defense. Both the Cincinnati and Kansas City stop units get overshadowed by their star-studded counterparts on the other side of the ball, but both defenses enter Sunday playing at a very high level.
The Chiefs’ defense is very much following the blueprint of past seasons, with a disruptive defensive line creating pressure on opposing passers and helping make up for some inefficiencies elsewhere. The defense boasts a pressure rate of 24.9% (fifth highest) with an AFC-high 55 sacks on the season.
Since Week 9, Kansas City is 11th in EPA allowed per play and 15th in Defensive DVOA, doing a great job slowing down opposing passers with that pressure and a solid secondary of improving young talents. Yet, there is a glaring weakness on the ground, where KC ranks 21st in EPA per handoff and 23rd in Run Defense DVOA.
A high-level look at the Bengals’ defense during its winning streak sees a very solid unit up front as well as the secondary, with the talented defensive line not only making rival QBs uncomfortable but slamming the door on opposing rushing attacks. Cincinnati’s pass defense doesn’t give away any easy yards either, holding the lowest completion percentage allowed in the NFL.
The Chiefs are 5-7 Over/Under in their last dozen games with an 8-10 O/U mark on the year, including 2-7 O/U inside Arrowhead Stadium. The Bengals are 5-5 O/U on their current winning run and sit 7-10-1 O/U on the season, with a 3-6-1 O/U count on the road.
According to BetMGM, 69% of the bet count is on the Over, while the handle for the total has drawn 58% of the money on the Over.
The Bengals are a dynamic offense that can play up-tempo or suck all the energy out of the stadium with a plodding pace. With the Chiefs’ defense getting gashed on the ground, I see Joe Mixon leading the way with a big day rushing which helps Cincy play keep-away and chew up the clock. That limits Kansas City’s touches and compounds things against a very strong Cincinnati defense.
SGP odds: +245 at Unibet
Learn how to bet a same-game parlay with these helpful tips and strategies.
The Chiefs are 1-8-1 ATS in their last 10 home games, while the Bengals boast an 8-2 ATS record in their 10 outings away from home this season. Find more NFL betting trends for Bengals vs. Chiefs.
|Location:||Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO|
|Date:||Sunday, January 29, 2023|
|Kickoff:||6:30 p.m. ET|
|Opening odds:||Chiefs -3, 51.5|
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