The road to Super Bowl 56 in Los Angeles is almost over.
The Kansas City Chiefs host the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, marking a clash of two teams with dramatically different fortunes in recent years. The Chiefs will host the conference title game for a fourth straight year and are seeking their third consecutive Super Bowl trip, which would make them the fourth franchise in NFL history to stage such a streak. The Bengals, meanwhile, ended their worst 31-year playoff drought earlier in January and are looking to make it to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1988 season.
The two teams have met before in Week 17, with the Bengals picking up a surprising 34-31 win. Joe Burrow threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns to set the pace for Cincinnati, while Ja’Marr Chase set an NFL single-game rookie record with 266 receiving yards. Patrick Mahomes was limited to 259 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.
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USA TODAY Sports will have live updates, analysis and more from our NFL reporters and editors, including Jarrett Bell and Jori Epstein on stage in Kansas City. Check back often to learn more:
Tyrann Mathieu ready to play?
The Chiefs seem to have some good news on the health front.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu is set to play Sunday after suffering a concussion in last week’s divisional round victory over the Buffalo Bills.
Mathieu was listed as doubtful for the game, along with running back Darrel Williams, but coach Andy Reid was optimistic Friday that he could clear concussion protocol by Sunday.
“The badger, Tyrann (Mathieu), he’s still on (concussion) protocol,” Reid said Friday. “But he trained today, and we think he’ll be ready to ride here in a day or two. But we’ll find out.”
Mathieu led the Chiefs with three interceptions this season. His presence could be vital in trying to stop Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and the Bengals’ high-flying offense after Kansas City surrendered.
AFC Championship Game Preview
Do the Bengals have another upset in them?
A week after toppling the top-seeded Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati could face its toughest task yet as they edge out Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs for the second time this year.
The Chiefs were a unanimous pick among USA TODAY Sports staff to win the conference title on Sunday, but there may be hope for the Bengals to pull off another stunner.
Among the keys for the Bengals: Protecting Joe Burrow, who was sacked nine times in the divisional round.
For more on the game and what to watch, check out the Cincinnati Enquirer’s full key breakdown of the game.
How the Chiefs Got Here
Kansas City’s 42-36 divisional round win over the Buffalo Bills was so entertaining that it needs to be relived (except for Bills fans).
An instant classic culminated with 25 points in the final two minutes of regulation, as Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen engaged in a quarterback duel for the ages.
With 13 seconds remaining, Mahomes managed to save Kansas City’s season by pushing the Chiefs down to set up a 49-yard field goal Harrison Butker forcing overtime, where the quarterback then gave the victory to his team with an 8-yard pass to Travis Kelce. .
Was it the best playoff game ever? USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis ranked the 22 greatest postseason contests in NFL history, and the Bills-Chiefs ranked very close to the top.
It also sparked a broader conversation about NFL overtime rules and their fairness.
The contest marked a distinct change of pace from the No. 2 seed’s 42-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, which turned out to be the finale of Ben Roethlisberger’s career.
How the Bengals got here
Few Cincinnati, the expected fourth seed, make it this far.
After all, it took a last-minute position for the Bengals to end a 31-year playoff drought and beat the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19.
But Cincinnati turned heads with its division-round victory over the No. 1-seeded Tennessee Titans, even though rookie kicker Evan McPherson needed to hit a 52-yard field goal as time expired to win the game. Victoire. For McPherson, there was no doubt as to whether the kick would be good.
On Sunday, Burrow and the Bengals have yet another opportunity to shed their “outsider” tag.