Burrowhead: Bengals confident venturing into Chiefs’ venue

Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals are acting like they are the better team entering Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the host Kansas City Chiefs.

Third-seeded Cincinnati sure has plenty of reasons to feel that way after beating the Chiefs in three straight meetings, including a regular-season victory in Week 13 this season and the famous 27-24 overtime win in last season’s AFC title game in Kansas City.

The Chiefs are the top-seeded team in the AFC but the Bengals are scorching hot with 10 consecutive victories.

“In this league, it’s difficult,” Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said of winning 10 straight games. “It’s a challenge to be able to do that, and our guys have responded each and every week. They haven’t looked down the road, they just focus on what’s right in front of them.”

Burrow has been the difference-maker for the franchise, living up to that “Joe Cool” nickname and leading the Bengals to the brink of a second straight Super Bowl appearance.

After Cincinnati defeated the Buffalo Bills in last weekend’s divisional round, Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton referred to Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium as “Burrowhead,” renaming it after his quarterback.

“It might have stirred a few pots, but it is what it is,” Hilton said.

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce took exception to the comment and called on Kansas City fans to be louder than ever on Sunday.

“They’re throwing a lot of bulletin board material out there,” Kelce said.

Burrow wasn’t about to get involved in the “Burrowhead” chatter — not with the Chiefs playing in their fifth consecutive AFC title game.

“We know the team we’re playing,” Burrow said. “They have been in this spot the past five seasons. They’ve all been in that stadium. To me, they’re still the team to beat. We’re coming for them but we know it is going to be tough, it is going to be hard-fought and we know what kind of players they have on that side.”

Burrow passed for 4,475 yards and a franchise-record 35 touchdowns this season and is one of the finalists for NFL MVP honors.

He also seems immune to pressure and his calm resolve rubs off on other Cincinnati players.

“He trusts his preparation and your preparation leads to confidence,” Taylor said. “That’s what you see from Joe and all our players. They know they have prepared themselves to reach their potential as a player so when they walk on the field on Sunday, they are relaxed.”

In Burrow’s mind, last season’s upset of Kansas City was no fluke. He sees it as the beginning of the Bengals being contenders for the Super Bowl on a yearly basis.

“I think last season did help a lot of guys in their understanding how to take care of their bodies through these long deep playoff runs,” Burrow said. “That’s part of the experience that helps you win these kinds of games, not just on the field stuff and going into hostile environments but being through these long seasons and understanding where you might have been better if you had done something different off the field last year. I think guys have taken strides and taken that to heart.”

Taylor said the experience of playing in Arrowhead a season ago is a key element for Sunday’s contest. He calls Kansas City a “fun, fun atmosphere to play in,” but sees nothing easy about the venue.

“Arrowhead is one of the toughest environments to play in,” Taylor said.

Notice the coach didn’t call it “Burrowhead.” That’s Hilton’s territory.

“We know what’s at stake,” Hilton said. “We know what’s in front of us. We know we’re going to play a great team on Sunday. But we’re ready.”