AFC Divisional Round preview: Can Burrow’s Bengals topple the Bills?

Preview

After a Super Wild Card Weekend that lived up to its name, it’s time for the Divisional Round to take centre stage.

The Chiefs are officially joining the conversation. Winners of the AFC’s No. 1 seed and the bye week that comes with it, Kansas City is coming off a week of rest to host a Jaguars club dripping with emotion and momentum after an astounding comeback at home against the Chargers.

Emotions will run high in Buffalo, too, as the Cincinnati Bengals come to town after their first meeting was cancelled in the wake of Damar Hamlin’s traumatic medical emergency on the field in Week 17.

We’re in a golden age of elite young quarterbacks who are changing the game before our very eyes. To see four of them competing for a spot in the AFC Championship will be a sight to behold.

We’re teeing up both Divisional Round matchups in the AFC. Let’s dive in.

No. 4 JAGUARS @ No. 1 CHIEFS | Saturday @ 4:30 p.m. ET

How the Jaguars got here: Nothing to see here, just the third-largest playoff comeback in NFL history. After throwing four touchdowns in a disastrous first half against the Chargers on Wild Card Saturday, Trevor Lawrence set his club up for the walk-off field-goal win with four TD passes in a post-season debut to remember.

How the Chiefs got here: Rather than seeing his passing game take a step back in the wake of Tyreek Hill’s departure for Miami, Patrick Mahomes got even better, posting career highs in yards (5,250) and completion percentage (67.1) while guiding the Chiefs to a 14-3 record, a seventh straight AFC West crown, and the club’s fourth first-round bye in the Mahomes era.

Storyline to watch: Can Mahomes keep Chiefs’ streak alive?

Last year, the Bengals got the best of them. This year, the Bills are once again hot on their tails. Surely, at some point, the Chargers will make a run, and now the Jaguars have an opportunity to send a message to the Chiefs that they, too, are ready to challenge for the title of top team in the AFC. Since we last saw Trevor Lawrence and Mahomes go head-to-head in Week 10, their numbers have been remarkably similar:

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In addition to officially being granted access to the exclusive club that is today’s top young QBs, a win over Mahomes would see Lawrence keep his Saturday win streak alive – seriously, he’s never lost a football game on a Saturday. Meanwhile, it feels like Kansas City is playing for something bigger. Mahomes has never not made it to the AFC Championship, and last January fell just shy of guiding the Chiefs to their third straight Super Bowl appearance. Saturday marks the start of another chance to achieve dynasty status with a second Super Bowl win for the trio of Mahomes, Andy Reid, and Travis Kelce.

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Matchup to watch: Jaguars’ offensive line versus Chris Jones & Co.

L.A.’s secondary feasted on Lawrence’s passing game in the first half last week, but against Kansas City the threat is… closer. The Chiefs have struggled to defend the pass all season, their secondary allowing the most touchdown receptions in the league. That puts the pressure squarely on the pass rush – a unit that has been more than up to the task, boasting the second most sacks all season thanks to their fearless leader, Chris Jones. Few QBs know that as well as Lawrence does – his Week 10 loss to the Chiefs was his roughest outing of the year in terms of sacks, having been taken down five time (including 1.5 by Jones). We know what a confident Lawrence can do when he’s got time – and, like Mahomes, he’s not lacking in offensive weapons to throw to – but time will be key. The Jaguars’ offensive line held strong against an impressive Chargers pass rush led by Joey Bosa last week. Can they do it again?

No. 3 BENGALS @ No. 2 BILLS | Sunday @ 3 p.m. ET

How the Bengals got here: All eyes were on Joe Burrow as he opened his post-season campaign to get Cincinnati back to the Super Bowl, but it was a hometown hero who stepped up with a score that ultimately won them the game: Sam Hubbard. The Cincinnati-born defensive end lived out every local kid’s dream when he scooped up a goal-line fumble and ran it 98 yards in the opposite direction for the unlikeliest of touchdowns to extend what was an eight-game win streak to sprint into the playoffs to nine.

How the Bills got here: Buffalo, too, is riding an impressive win streak into this matchup – a streak that was almost snapped in dramatic fashion by Miami last week. After surging ahead to a big early lead, the Bills let the Dolphins climb all the way back. Buffalo’s resilience, as it has all season, saw them hang on for their eighth straight win – but too many turnovers showed they’ll need to clean things up if they’re to make it to the conference championship.

Storyline to watch: Hamlin will be in both teams’ hearts as they meet after cancelled game.

The events of these teams’ last meeting, a Week 17 matchup in Cincinnati, will forever be etched in the minds and hearts of all who were there on the field and watching even from afar as Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest. With the game postponed, and later cancelled altogether, this contest between two of the top AFC teams will be an incredibly emotional affair. Hamlin is now back at home after nearly a week in hospital in Cincinnati, and able to join his Bills teammates at their Buffalo facility over the course of this past week but still has a long way to go in his recovery. It’s unclear if he’ll be able to be present at the game to see his team compete in person, but his presence will certainly be felt by both sides regardless.

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Matchup to watch: Ja’Marr Chase vs. Tre’Davious White

This game has no shortage of key matchups – and with news of two of Burrow’s bodyguards being ruled out, the QB-versus-Buffalo’s-pass-rush will be one to watch – but when you have a playmaker like Chase going up against a gamebreaker like White, that’s gotta be the focus. Chase has wreaked havoc on opposing secondaries all season, but Buffalo’s is no ordinary unit. The Bills’ pass defence is one of the game’s best, and White is major reason why. He was in top form against Miami last weekend, allowing just four catches combined when lining up against Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. Chase, too, was in at his best in the wild-card round, catching nine passes for 84 yards and a touchdown.

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