Patrick Mahomes was literally hopping around the huddle after injuring his ankle last week, but it appears he's avoided major injury. He was able to return to that game, and is practicing fully this week. As a result, the line has swung back in favor of Kansas City (-1). It's essentially a pick em.

The matchup itself favors the Bengals. Cincinnati ranked 6th in scoring defense during the season, and allowed just 17 touchdown passes (two teams allowed fewer). They won the regular season encounter, and they shut down Kansas City's offense in the second half of last year's AFC Championship game, winning 27-24 after falling behind 21-3. With Mahomes probably less than 100 percent and Cincinnati having the better defense, we're thinking Cincinnati will advance to the Super Bowl.

Patrick Mahomes was practicing fully; walking normally, light jogging. But that's not the same as running and darting around the pocket extending plays as he normally does, so we're expecting something less than his usual performance. This defense has been able to slow him down anyway. He threw for 275 yards and 3 TDs in last year's championship game, true, but they were able to keep him out of the end zone in the second half, intercepting him twice and sacking him 4 times along the way.

The regular-season meetings the last two years (also won by Cincinnati) have seen Mahomes averaging 241 passing yards and totaling 4 touchdowns (3 passing, 1 rushing), below his usual output. There probably won't be much rushing (he averaged 21 yards and with 4 TDs during the season, but they won't want to expose him to extra hits). He's still Mahomes, and presuming he's able to move a little, tough to hold him under 250ish yards and maybe 2 touchdowns (even though Cincinnati allowed just 19 in its 18 games). But we like Burrow more this week.

Cincinnati was strong defending the run this season (7th), allowing just 107 yards per game, and with a better-than-average 12 touchdowns. Kansas City will come at them with a committee, with Isiah Pacheco as the main runner and Jerick McKinnon in passing situations. (For now, we're assuming Clyde Edwards-Helaire either won't be activated or won't have a big role if he is.) Both were effective running it in the earlier meeting: 14 for 66 with a score for Pacheco, 8 for 51 for McKinnon (plus 2 for 9 with a touchdown as a receiver). Should be more receiving and less running for McKinnon this time around, especially if Mahomes' ankle prompts more checkdowns.

This time Pacheco will get most of the carries, and as Ian discussed here yesterday, he could be busy, especially if Kansas City needs to work the run a little more. McKinnon was the main back in last year's playoff encounter, finishing with 95 total yards (65 run, 30 rec), but more of a committee these days. He popped up on the injury report with an ankle issue, but practiced fully both days.

Travis Kelce looks pretty certain to be the top tight end (again) this week. He caught 14 passes and 2 touchdowns last week, working for much of the game with a gimpy Mahomes (favoring quick underneath passes). He had a lesser game in the regular-season loss (4 for 56), but caught 10 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown in last year's playoff meeting. The remaining tight ends are also notable parts of their teams' passing games, but they have more competition from the wide receivers (all three teams have top-quality duos). Other players at the position (Noah Gray, Blake Bell, perhaps Jody Fortson) will sprinkle on, but 1.5 is a fair over-under for how many passes each of those players is likely to catch. Cincinnati allowed just 3 TDs to tight ends during the season, but Dawson Knox (5 for 65) was Buffalo's most productive receiver last week.

The wide receivers, in contrast, aren't reliable. JuJu Smith-Schuster had a pair of games with 9-plus catches a month back. In his other seven most recent games (including the earlier meeting) he's caught 2-3 passes in each, without scoring. Presumably he'd benefit if Cincinnati focuses its coverage on Kelce, but many teams have tried. Kadarius Toney caught 5 passes against Jacksonville last week, and has scored 3 touchdowns in his last six healthy games with the team. But they're not using him much; five straight weeks he's played under a third of the snaps.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling scored last week and went for 71 yards in the earlier meeting. But not a big part of the offense; since that contest he's caught 10 passes in six games. The same applies to Skyy Moore and Justin Watson, each of whom caught just 1 pass against Jacksonville. Kansas City might also get Mecole Hardman back for this game, crowding the situation even further (debatable whether he'd play ahead of Toney). Hardman practiced on a limited basis the last two days.

Harrison Butker has the best matchup of the teams still playing. Cincinnati allowed 34 field goals during the season, at least 11 more than any of the other teams still playing. Butker himself didn't have a great year, making only 24 field goals, including just 5 (with 2 misses) in his last five games. Not a great week for the position, but the matchup favors the Kansas City kicker.

The Kansas City Defense had 55 sacks during the season, while Joe Burrow is playing behind a line down three starters. That didn't matter a week ago (Burrow was sacked just once), but Buffalo doesn't have a comparable pass rush. They'll be coming after Burrow, trying to turn the game with a big defensive play or two. After some early struggles (13 sacks the first two games) Burrow was sacked just 28 times in his last 14 -- just 2 per game. Poor situation for takeaways (Kansas City had just 20, while Cincinnati turned it over only 18 times). Just 1 sacks and no takeaways for this defense in the earlier meeting.

Later today: Championship Game Rankings.

--Andy Richardson