NFL betting, odds: Here are two ways to attack Chiefs-Bengals AFC championship game
Last February, Joe Burrow was one quarter away from becoming a Super Bowl champion in only his second year in the NFL. A 20-16 lead slipped away as the Rams hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after a three-point win over the Bengals. The orange and black confetti stayed on the shelf and packed in boxes, while Rams players, fans and coaches swam in blue and yellow.
Burrow is one win away from getting the opportunity to avenge that loss. He is so close, yet so far away. That's because Patrick Mahomes, the most talented quarterback of our era, is standing in his way. We should get used to these two. This is Brady vs. Manning for this era, and Burrow's three straight victories over Mahomes have cultivated Sunday's AFC championship into another chapter of the next great quarterback rivalry. Bettors on both sides are far from comfortable betting against either man, and I don't blame them one bit. Personally, I could never let a game like this pass without having some action on a side.
Here's why I bet Burrow finds his way back to the Super Bowl, and also a wager with +550 odds that makes a lot of sense considering these two teams' past performances.
Cincinnati Bengals +1 (-110)
I question every season whether Mahomes is human and have landed on "no" more times than "yes." I still can't believe he is going 100% with full mobility for this game. And that's a problem against an underrated Bengals defense. Mahomes doesn't need to use his wheels to be a successful quarterback, but it has certainly been an ace up his sleeve in high-leverage situations. The Bengals' do an excellent job of eliminating the boundaries and keeping everything in front of them. If Mahomes' ability to create big plays off-platform is restricted, it makes it much easier for Cincinnati to drop more in coverage to disrupt passing lanes.
The Chiefs will get their points, but — against a Bengals defense that ranks second in EPA per play allowed and first in opponent completion percentage — not having Mahomes 100% matters. There is also an additional risk he re-aggravates the injury, which, of course, will plummet the Chiefs' chances the second he starts hobbling to the sideline.
On offense, the Burrow-to-Chase connection should look like the old LSU days. Kansas City has been miserable covering opponents' No. 1 receivers (ranking 31st), and Ja'Marr Chase dropped 97 yards on them earlier this season.
The question is whether the Chiefs' offense can keep up without Mahomes being 100% healthy. It's a real possibility his ankle gets progressively worse during the game. It doesn't help that he is facing a defense that gets stronger as the game progresses and has been spectacular in the fourth quarter this season. Also, in a close game, turnovers loom large. A late-game fumble was the difference when these teams played in the regular season, and it's an area that's plagued Kansas City all year. The Chiefs are -3 in turnover differential, while the Bengals are just outside the top 5 with +6 on the season. Those plays are usually the difference when two elite teams play, and the Bengals are playing clean and confident football right now. I bet Burrow gets the best of Mahomes, and his legend and the rivalry will continue to grow.
Halftime/Final: Chiefs/Bengals (+550)
There are two lingering questions surrounding Sunday's AFC title game. First, can Mahomes' ankle hold up? And second, can the best quarterback in the NFL figure out Lou Anarumo's defense? I'm not sure about the first one, but the second hasn't really been a problem in the previous three meetings. It's not that Mahomes can't take Anarumo's punch, it's more the counterpunch that frustrates him.
In the previous three games against Cincinnati, Mahomes connected early and often with haymakers. The Chiefs went into halftime with 28, 24 and 10 points on the board. The 10 came this season, so while you can contend it should hold the most weight, the game was not played at Arrowhead. I am also confident Andy Reid will have some rocket fuel in the playbook to counter, and the chess match will continue.
I am already on Cincy to win the game. Getting +550 for the Chiefs to head into halftime with a lead, and banking on a Burrow comeback, is awfully appealing at those odds. In last year's AFC championship, Kansas City led 21-10 at the half. Reid should be much more aggressive knowing his quarterback is one hit away from hobbling around like last week.
Stats provided by teamrankings, rbsdm (based on 10-90 WP), footballdb.com.