In one of the early reveals of the 2023 NFL schedule, the Bengals found out Wednesday morning that their AFC championship game rematch in Kansas City with the Super Bowl champion Chiefs has been saved for the next-to-last game of the season on New Year's Eve in the 4:25 p.m. national window of CBS.
It's nearly two years to the day when in another 4:25 p.m. Week 17 game, this one at Paycor Stadium, the Bengals and Chiefs ignited the AFC's hottest rivalry. As Cincinnati clinched the AFC North by wiping out three 14-point deficits to knock off the two-time AFC champs, 34-31, wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase set the NFL rookie record and Bengals record hauling in 266 yards and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow offered the third 400-yard game of his career.
But the best was yet to come. Three of the four games have come down to the last play and the teams have split the last two AFC title games. In the Bengals' Dec. 4 win over the Chiefs last season at Paycor (another 4:25 game), Burrow joined Tom Brady as the only quarterback to beat the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes three times.
Mahomes broke the ice in last year's AFC title game at Arrowhead Stadium on the way to the NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP awards when he took 30 seconds to drive the Chiefs for what amounted to a last-snap field goal in the 23-20 win.
Since that day both clubs have taken on a different look.
Orlando Brown, Burrow's new left tackle, was Mahomes' left tackle for the previous four games. The Chiefs have moved on from edge rusher Frank Clark and while tackle Chris Jones returns after he wrecked the last title game, he'll be facing a new Bengals offensive line that last time didn't have Brown or the starting right side that was out with injury.
With the departures of Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell, Mahomes is staring at a different safety tandem than the one that has limited him to three second-half touchdowns in the four games. He won't have wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman.
It marks the third time in Bengals history they've played on New Year's Eve and the first two had play-off implications in what were regular-season finales.
In 2006 the Bengals lost a playoff berth on the final play of the season when the Steelers won in overtime at Paycor. In 2017, the Bengals knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs on basically their final play of the year in Baltimore on Andy Dalton's fourth-and-12 49-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyler Boyd with 44 seconds left.