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Five Things To Watch: Bengals at Chiefs

WR Tee Higgins runs the ball during the Bengals-Steelers game on Saturday, December 23, 2023 at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
WR Tee Higgins runs the ball during the Bengals-Steelers game on Saturday, December 23, 2023 at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Bengals try to stay in the playoff hunt when they travel to Kansas City to face the Chiefs on Sunday. The game airs at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS. Here are five things to watch:

1. Orlando's KC Return

The Bengals took a full swing during free agency when they acquired Orlando Brown Jr., who was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons and a Super Bowl LVII title with the Chiefs. Brown started all 33 regular-season games and six postseason contests he suited up for with Kansas City, serving as the stalwart left tackle of an offense that ranked in the top-three leaguewide in yards per game each of the past two years.

While Brown told reporters there is no animosity on his side as he makes his return trip to GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, his contribution for the Bengals will be crucial as they attempt to keep their postseason hopes alive. Brown figures to see one-on-one matchups against capable edge rushers in Mike Danna (6.5 sacks this season) and Charles Omenihu (5.5).

Brown finds himself on the other side of what has become one of the AFC's top rivalries over the past two seasons. If he can help protect Jake Browning while opening holes in the run game, it will provide Cincinnati with a key advantage against a Kansas City defense that has allowed just 405 total yards over the last two weeks.

2. Bengals Secondary vs. Chiefs Wide Receivers

The Bengals' young crop of defensive backs will face a significant challenge against a Chiefs offense that ranks fourth leaguewide in passing yards per game this season (253.5). While future Hall of Fame tight end Travis Kelce remains a focal point of the Kansas City air attack, rookie Rashee Rice (811 yards, seven touchdowns) has emerged as a go-to target for Patrick Mahomes.

Cincinnati's DBs have combined for eight of the team's 15 interceptions, and the group will receive a boost when Cam Taylor-Britt (team-leading four picks) makes his return. How the Bengals perform against the Chiefs' playmakers on the outside could prove to be the determining factor in this pivotal AFC matchup.

3. Holiday Higgins

With Ja'Marr Chase's status up in the air, Browning may again look to Tee Higgins to shoulder a bulk of the targets. Higgins is coming off a 140-yard outing in Week 16 that continued his remarkable run in the month of December.

Since entering the NFL in 2020, Higgins ranks fifth leaguewide in receiving yards (1,209) and second in receiving touchdowns (10) during the calendar's final month. Five of his 12 career games with 100-plus yards have occurred in December. In the Bengals' four December games this year, Higgins has three TDs and is averaging 22.1 yards per catch. Another dose of holiday magic from the fourth-year receiver would provide chances for Browning to take shots down the field against the Chiefs' third-ranked passing defense.

4. O-Line Takes On Chris Jones

Kansas City's defensive line is bolstered by four-time Pro Bowler Chris Jones, who although is listed at defensive tackle, is known to move around the entire defensive line. Jones this season ranks second on Kansas City with 8.5 sacks, and his 60 pressures are the third most among all NFL interior defensive linemen. Cincinnati has faced no shortage of elite pass rushers through 15 games, with names like Myles Garrett, T.J. Watt, Aaron Donald and Nick Bosa lining up across the line of scrimmage. That experience may prove useful as Browning's protective unit is confronted with yet another challenge.

5. Game Of Turnovers

Both teams are coming off a Week 16 loss in which they committed multiple turnovers, as Cincinnati saw three of its passes intercepted at Pittsburgh and Kansas City gave up two touchdowns in a span of seven seconds against Las Vegas via a fumble return followed by a pick-six.

The Steelers game aside, Cincinnati's ability to keep control of the ball has been a strong point this season. The Bengals' 15 giveaways are the sixth fewest in the league, and their two fumbles lost are the fewest. In the nine games that the Bengals have won the turnover battle, they are 7-2.

On the other side, Kansas City has turned the ball over 26 times, the sixth most leaguewide. Six of those have come over the past three games. If the Bengals can continue that trend and gain an edge in the all-important turnover differential, they will be in strong position to bring home a monumental victory entering the New Year.

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