The Kansas City Chiefs will have another opportunity to win the AFC West on Sunday afternoon as they host the Cincinnati Bengals at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
Here are five things to keep in mind heading into game day.
1. Here's a look at the final injury report for both teams.
The Chiefs will be without wide receiver Kadarius Toney (hip) and offensive tackle Donovan Smith (neck) on Sunday due to various injuries. The status of cornerback L'Jarius Sneed (calf) is also uncertain, as he's officially listed as "Questionable" for Sunday's game. Tailback Isiah Pacheco, who entered the concussion protocol on Monday, returned to practice on Friday, but is listed as "Questionable" for Sunday. He seems to be trending in the right direction, but the Chiefs will need to monitor how he feels before Pacheco officially clears the protocol. Tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire is also listed as "Questionable" due to an illness.
As for the Bengals, they listed Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase as "Questionable" for Sunday's game due to a shoulder injury that kept Chase out of last week's game vs. Pittsburgh. Cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, who hasn't played since Week 11 due to an ankle injury, appears to be good to go. Taylor-Britt leads Cincinnati in interceptions (4) despite playing in only 10 games this season.
2. The Chiefs will need to slow down the Bengals' screen game.
Bengals' quarterback Jake Browning, who took over for the injured Joe Burrow beginning in Week 12, leads the NFL in passing yards in that span (1,515) due in large part to a lethally efficient screen game. In fact, Browning – despite those lofty passing yardage numbers – has one of the lowest average depth of target figures in the league during that time at just 6.2 yards.
Forty-one of Browning's passing attempts since Week 12 have targeted receivers behind the line of scrimmage, and on those throws, the Bengals have gained 388 yards after the catch. Notably, running back Joe Mixon (133 yards after the catch on 11 receptions) and rookie tailback Chase Brown (131 yards after the catch on seven receptions) have been particularly effective in that role.
The Chiefs have allowed the second-fewest yards after the catch (1,399) of any team in the NFL this season, and in order to slow down this Bengals' offense, they'll need to contain Cincinnati's screen game.
3. Kansas City was in a bunch of third and fourth down situations last week.
This is a rather obvious point, but one key to a bounce-back performance from the Chiefs' offense on Sunday will be their ability to gain positive yardage on first and second down.
Kansas City was in 21 third or fourth down (in which they went for it) situations last week, which was by far a season-high. They needed double-digit yardage to convert five of those third down opportunities, and on average, Kansas City needed seven yards to convert on third down. That reality made maintaining drives significantly more difficult for the Chiefs' offense on Monday, and while Kansas City remains the No. 5 third down offense in the league (45.3%), it's simply unsustainable to repeatedly move the chains on third-and-long.
Additionally, Kansas City will need to avoid the miscues that dug the offense into an early hole last week. The Raiders scored two defensive touchdowns in the span of seven game seconds on Monday, swinging a four-point Chiefs' advantage into a 10-point deficit in the blink of an eye.
The Chiefs have demonstrated an ability to string together methodical, efficient scoring drives this season, as evidenced by their 13 touchdown drives of 10+ plays on the year (which ranks sixth in the NFL). The issue has been consistency, but as much as the offense struggled last week, Kansas City has the ability to get back on track so long as it can stay ahead of the chains and avoid self-inflicted mistakes.
4. The Bengals feature one of the league's top pass-rushers in Trey Hendrickson.
Hendrickson, whose 16 sacks rank second among all players, has at least a half-sack in seven-straight games dating back to Week 10. In fact, Hendrickson has recorded at least a half-sack in all but two of his 15 games this year. Additionally, Hendrickson's 72 pressures on the season rank 10th in the NFL.
Despite Hendrickson's efforts, however, the Bengals have struggled to contain explosive offensive plays this season. Cincinnati has yielded the most plays of 10+ yards (212) and 20+ yards (73) in the NFL, the latter of which includes 59 passes and 14 runs.
The Chiefs' ability to create explosive plays – whether they be shots down the field or yards gained after the catch – would go a long way toward a victory on Sunday. For what it's worth, Kansas City leads the NFL in yards gained after the catch this season (2,444).
5. The implications of this game are pretty straightforward.
The Chiefs control their own destiny in terms of the AFC West, as one more victory (whether that be against the Bengals on Sunday or the Chargers next week) would secure an eighth-straight division title. Kansas City would also clinch the division this weekend if both the Raiders (who are playing the Colts in Indianapolis) and Broncos (who are hosting the Chargers) lose on Sunday, regardless of the Chiefs' result.
With all that being said, Sunday's matchup is akin to an early playoff game for Kansas City. A win would secure a postseason berth for a ninth-straight season, and while last week was a disappointing one, the Chiefs' goals remain right in front of them.