AFC title rematch is QB duel: Joe Burrow vs. Patrick Mahomes

They’re arguably the top two quarterbacks in the NFL, Super Bowl proven and in their mid-20s.

Patrick Mahomes has led the Kansas City Chiefs to two Super Bowls, one championship and five straight AFC championship games.

Joe Burrow led the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl last season and is preparing his team for a potential return.

So Mahomes and Burrow will be key players on Sunday when the Chiefs host the Bengals in the AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium.

Or as Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton called it: “Burrowhead”.

That’s the nickname Hilton gave the venue based on the Bengals’ recent win over the Chiefs.

The Bengals, under coach Zac Taylor, have defeated the Chiefs and coach Andy Reid three games in a row. That includes a 27-24 win in overtime in last season’s league game and a 27-24 win this season on December 4 in Cincinnati.

That success, and a right ankle injury sustained by Mahomes in last week’s divisional round win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, made the Bengals early odds-makers favorites.

Burrow, 26, is extremely confident but he didn’t sound entirely convinced of his favorite status.

“We know what team we’re playing against – a team that’s been at this game for the last five seasons and they’ve all been at this stadium,” Burrow told reporters this week. “So for me they’re still the team to beat and we’re coming for them.”

The Chiefs have won six straight games since losing to the Bengals in December. Mahomes, who had the league-best 5,250 yards and 41 touchdowns in the regular season, walked out of the Jan. 21 divisional round game against the Jaguars after suffering a sprained ankle. He returned and finished the 22-of-30 pass for 195 yards and two touchdowns in the 27-20 win.

Mahomes, 27, is leading an offense that features Travis Kelce – who had 14 catches against the Jaguars – and wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Kadarius Toney. Running back Isiah Pacheco is the top rusher.

How the ankle problem affects Mahomes’ mobility will only be seen when he is forced to dodge the pass rush. That puts extra pressure on the offensive line to control Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard, the Bengals’ sacked leaders.

Mahomes, a two-time All-Pro, looks forward to the challenge as the Chiefs attempt to advance to the Super Bowl for the third time in four seasons.

“If you’re not looking to play a team that has beaten you three times in a row and in the AFC championship game,” he told reporters this week, “then you’re not going to be excited for any game.”

Burrow is playing even better than last season when his team came close to beating the Rams in the Super Bowl.

This season he rushed for 4,475 yards and 35 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.

The Bengals, winners of 10 straight games, have perhaps the NFL’s best receiving corps with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Tight end Hayden Hurst, receiver Trenton Irwin and running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine are other targets.

Burrow completed 23 of 36 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns in last Sunday’s 27-10 win over the Buffalo Bills while Mixon rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Burrow will work against a Chiefs defense that includes rookie cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and Jaylen Watson.

Chiefs All-Pro tackles Chris Jones and veteran Frank Clark will lead the charge against Burrow.

“He’s got that Peyton Manning in him,” Clark told reporters, adding, “He knows how to read safeguards and he knows how to read defenses. … If you’re a defense who can’t really cover up coverage or cover things up, he’ll pick you apart every time.

Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo put it differently when describing Burrow’s ability to maintain his poise and make plays.

“The word that comes to mind is sophisticated,” he said. “He never panics in the bag. It feels like he has six eyeballs around his head.” AFC title rematch is QB duel: Joe Burrow vs. Patrick Mahomes

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