The Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs squared off four times within a 13-month span from January 2, 2022 to this past January. The Bengals won the first three, including the 2021 season AFC Championship Game. Kansas City finally got over the hump in a rematch this past season and followed up by winning the Super Bowl.
Many would take that as enough to categorize this as a rivalry, with two (potentially) consistently good teams frequently appearing on one another’s schedules, including in the postseason, participating in competitive contests, the past three games decided by three points.
And the Bengals fired a shot by signing their left tackle, Orlando Brown Jr., to a big contract this offseason—with a caveat, which I’ll get into. But it doesn’t sit well with some Chiefs to watch Brown go to the team they’ve had a harder time beating than any over the past year and a half.
“It hurts. It hurts my soul, man. Hurts my soul. It’s like watching your best friend just turn evil on you”, All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce recently said about Brown signing with Cincinnati, on the New Heights podcast. “The past two years we’ve struggled beating the Bengals”.
Prior to the end of the 2021 season, the Chiefs and Bengals had only played three times since the 2009 season. There is a simple explanation for that: the way the schedules are made, they were never forced to play except when required. Like teams play like teams more.
As the schedule is structured, each team plays its own divisional opponents twice, then one intraconference division and one interconference division, on a rotating basis so that you play each division in each conference in a three- (in the case of your own conference) or four-year (in the case of the opposite conference) basis.
The additional games on the schedule are determined based on where teams finish within their division. Teams who win the division play the other division winners. The Chiefs have consistently been atop their division in recent years, while the Bengals have not—hence, they haven’t played much unless required by the schedule. And the Bengals haven’t qualified for the postseason or advanced far enough to have to play the Chiefs much.
It takes like teams to form a non-divisional rivalry. The Chiefs and Bengals are both among the top teams in the league at the moment, representing the conference in the finals in the past two years. One expects that they will be getting in each other’s way again in the near future. And so it adds more sting when you lose one of your own players to the other side.
“There’s been a lot of like build up in emotion of not necessarily hate but just dislike towards the Bengals because they keep beating us”, Kelce conceded, “and they keep talking about it every time they do. So it’s like, to see him go to the dark side, it’s an awkward feeling”.
Granted, the Chiefs had their chance to retain Brown and they actually passed on it. The day before he signed with the Bengals, Kansas City had already agreed to sign another tackle, Jawaan Taylor, on an even bigger deal. So perhaps Kelce’s bigger beef should be with his own front office. If they were able to afford Taylor, logic suggests they were able to afford Brown. While Taylor is a right tackle, they couldn’t reasonably have both under contract, so it was a matter of one or the other.