Chiefs vs. Bengals Odds, Picks, Predictions: Cincinnati Faces Its Toughest Test Of Season
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images. Pictured: Joe Burrow
- Looking for a betting edge on Sunday's marquee AFC showdown?
- Our analyst breaks down the Chiefs vs. Bengals odds and matchup in order to make his picks and predictions.
- Find out why he likes Kansas City's chances of covering this NFL Week 17 spread below, even against the roaring Bengals.
|Time||1 p.m. ET|
With only two weeks to go in the regular season, we’ve still got nearly everything to play for in the AFC.
The Chiefs are the only team to have locked up an AFC playoff spot so far. They’re the AFC West champs for a sixth consecutive season — and they’re currently in the driver’s seat for the AFC 1-seed. Win their last two games and the Chiefs will get the lone bye week and be home for the entire playoffs.
But the Bengals are one of the teams standing in their way. Cincinnati was barely expected to contend for its division coming into the season, but the Bengals will win the AFC North with a victory in either of their final two games.
They can still finish as high as the 1-seed, too, since a win here would close the gap in the standings to one and give Cincinnati the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Bengals would still need to win in Week 18, plus another Chiefs loss and a Titans loss, but it all starts here.
Suffice to say this is the biggest home Bengals game in a very long time. But the Chiefs have been the class of the AFC for years now. Kansas City had a brief midseason swoon but is back to playing its best ball, and we know the Chiefs show up for these big games.
The Bengals have had their moments and are coming off a monster Ravens win, but can Cincinnati show up against a team of this caliber in its biggest game of the season?
Click the arrow to expand injury reports
Chiefs vs. Bengals Injury Report
Kansas City has no players who are questionable, doubtful or out for Week 17. Check the Chiefs’ full injury report here.
- EDGE Cam Sample (hamstring): Out
- CB Jalen Davis (ankle): Out
Chiefs vs. Bengals Matchup
|Chiefs Offense||DVOA Rank||Bengals Defense|
|Chiefs Defense||DVOA Rank||Bengals Offense|
|Football Outsiders’ DVOA measures efficiency by comparing a team’s success on every play to the league average based on situation and opponent.|
The Chiefs Are Back
The Chiefs are flying high. Kansas City has won eight games in a row, and covered six straight. Early in the season, it looked like something just wasn’t right in Kansas City. The Chiefs started out 3-4 and had the worst defense in the league by most metrics, some of them historically bad.
So what changed? In a word: turnovers.
During that early 3-4 stretch, the Chiefs turned the ball over 17 times but forced only seven. Remember how it felt like Patrick Mahomes had a fluky red-zone interception nearly every game? Now, look at how things have flipped during the eight-game winning streak: 21 turnovers forced and just eight turnovers committed.
In Kansas City’s four losses, it lost the turnover battle 11-3; in the wins, it won 25-14. The Bengals turn the ball over slightly more than an average team, so that could be an advantage for Kansas City again.
The offense has been more careful with the ball, and some bad luck has evened out. But the big change has come in defense, where the Chiefs have transformed from the league’s worst to a genuinely good, above-average unit. For the season, the Chiefs are up to 16th in Defensive DVOA, but looking at Weighted DVOA — which gives more credit to recent games — Kansas City moves all the way up to ninth.
Kansas City’s defense has also faced the third-toughest schedule of offenses, so this is a proven, opportunistic defense. The Chiefs have allowed only 14.5 PPG over their last 10 games and only more than 17 points twice during that span.
The offense hasn’t been quite as high-flying as in the past, but there’s little question this team can move the ball and score. Travis Kelce should be a full go after missing last week in COVID protocol. Tyreek Hill cleared late last week but played only 42% of the snaps and saw just two targets.
Even scarier, then, that the Chiefs ran the Steelers off the field with 36 points even without the services of their two star weapons. Mahomes has not played at his usual MVP level, but he’s still Mahomes.
The Chiefs are the Super Bowl favorite again, and it’s easy to see why. Over the past six weeks, Kansas City has the league’s third-best EPA per play offensively and the No. 1 defense, per RBSDM. The Chiefs are a juggernaut. They can beat teams at both ends now. You want to beat Kansas City? You’ll have to earn it.
Bengals Set For Toughest Test of Season
The Bengals are coming off a monster win over the division-rival Ravens. Cincinnati has blown the doors off Pittsburgh and Baltimore four times this season, a stark change from how things usually go in the AFC North. Joe Burrow threw for 525 yards last week, fourth-most in NFL history, becoming the first player ever to throw for 400 yards against the same opponent twice in one season.
When things are good for Cincinnati, they’re really good. The passing game can move the ball in a hurry. Burrow ranks top five in the NFL in EPA + CPOE over the last six weeks and finally looks healthy and whole after his return from injury. Ja’Marr Chase has had a monster Offensive Rookie of the Year-caliber season, and Tee Higgins has quietly been a beast next to him. Joe Mixon is running hard and running well, a true workhorse who shows up each week.
On the surface, it feels like the offense is carrying the Bengals, but the metrics tell a slightly different story. Cincinnati has played the league’s softest schedule so far, per Football Outsiders. In particular, the Bengals offense has played the league’s easiest slate of defenses. Cincinnati has faced only four opponents all season that rank among the top 20 defenses by DVOA.
That means 11 games against the league’s bottom 12 defenses. Against those poor defenses, the mighty Bengals have roared. They’re averaging 29.9 PPG in those contests with a pristine 7-4 record. But in the four games against better defenses, the offense has sputtered to just 20.3 PPG, nearly a 10-point drop-off. Cincinnati was blown out by the Browns in one of those four games, and the other three were toss-up games that came down to the wire.
Cincinnati has blowout wins over the Steelers (twice), Ravens (twice), Raiders and Lions. Those count, but the Bengals have also played seven one-score games this season, fighting wire-to-wire against blah teams like the Bears, Jaguars, Jets and Broncos. Cincinnati was also blown out by the Browns and Chargers. Those results count too, and it’s important that we not let recency bias inform too much of our opinion on Cincinnati.
The Bengals are not elite now just because they rolled up the Ravens with a third-string QB off the street and a secondary in the hospital. What would the line have been like for this game a few weeks ago or earlier in the season? What if this game came right after the blowout loss to the Chargers or Browns?
The numbers tell us Cincinnati is mostly an average team — one that can look really good against an average or bad opponent but one that can struggle against top teams. The Bengals’ defense hasn’t faced many top offenses this year either, and they’ve allowed big yardage and solid points when they have.
And the Chiefs are the toughest test Cincinnati has faced all year.
Chiefs vs. Bengals Predictions
The Chiefs are battle-tested. This team was counted out early when the defense wasn’t good enough, but Kansas City has rebuilt itself midseason with a very good defense, an offense that’s changing with the times and continued elite special teams and coaching.
Kansas City is the finest team the Bengals will play all season. Cincinnati has not played a team currently among the top-eight DVOA teams all year. The best opponent the Bengals faced, the Packers, largely dominated Cincinnati most of the game, out-gaining the Bengals by 100 yards and only leaving things to overtime because of a comedy of field goal errors, a late touchdown and two-point conversion allowed.
The Bengals are the hot team, and the line is moving in Cincinnati’s favor as money comes in on the home team. But I’m going to have to see it to believe it.
This is effectively a playoff game. The Chiefs want to stay hot and keep the 1-seed and secure the bye. We know Kansas City shows up for these monster games against good opponents — we’ve seen it for years now. We don’t know what the Bengals look like in a game of this caliber against this good an opponent. I have to trust the team that’s proven trustworthy, especially with the line moving in our favor.
I’ll bet the Chiefs to win and cover, even on the road against a tough Cincy team. I’ll play Kansas City to -5.5 if necessary. The Bengals need to prove it.
Pick: Chiefs -3.5 | Bet to: -5.5
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