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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Bengals sticking with underdog mantra ahead of AFC championship vs. Chiefs: ‘They’re still the team to beat’

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For the first time in his playoff career, Patrick Mahomes enters Sunday’s AFC title game as an underdog. Just don’t tell that to the Bengals. 

After the betting lines shifted toward Cincinnati on Monday, the Bengals entered unfamiliar territory. A team that has thrived on its underdog status is finally facing high expectations despite going into one of the NFL’s toughest environments.

Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow pushed back on that idea during his media availability Wednesday, telling reporters: “To me, they’re still the team to beat. And we’re coming for them.” 

MORE: How Burrow vs. Mahomes compares to Brady vs. Manning & other QB rivalries

Burrow doesn’t have much choice but to insist the Bengals are still underdogs. Their idea that the odds — and the rules — are stacked against them has helped get them to this point.

Cincinnati felt slighted by the NFL’s reworking of the rules after Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest cancelled the team’s Week 17 game against Buffalo.

MORE: Why are the Bengals favorites against the Chiefs?

The Bengals didn’t see the need for a coin toss to determine where their wild-card game against the Ravens would be played, and while that scenario didn’t play out, the team hasn’t forgotten it. 

They also took issue with the NFL touting its ticket sale success for a potential neutral site AFC championship between the Chiefs and Bills in Atlanta. While there wasn’t much of a gripe considering it’s standard practice for tickets to be sold ahead of time for hypothetical playoff matchups, it clearly helped light a fire under Cincinnati.

MORE: Limp-free Mahomes ‘feeling good,’ practices ahead of Bengals game

Burrow said the league “better send those refunds” during his postgame interview after the win in Buffalo, and coach Zac Taylor sarcastically apologized for ruining the NFL’s plans. 

The Bengals were also certainly aware that they were 5.5-point underdogs heading into their divisional round matchup with the Bills. Cincinnati was better in every facet of the game in winning 27-10. 

MORE: Bengals players irk Chiefs with ‘Burrowhead’ nickname for Arrowhead Stadium

With Mahomes battling a high-ankle sprain and the Burrow having such a strong track record against the Chiefs, Cincinnati will have to grapple with its status as a slight favorite heading into Sunday’s game.

If that line flips back in favor of Kansas City, beware of the Bengals.

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