It sounds crazy, and Vegas might tell bettors otherwise. But based on every storyline going into this weekend’s AFC Championship game, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs will be underdogs against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. Role reversals abound in this high-profile rematch.

Even before last weekend, the Bengals would have been a challenging, vexing matchup for the Chiefs. In three attempts, Mahomes has not yet managed to defeat Burrow in a rivalry that has already cost him a trip to a Super Bowl.

Though the Bengals were dangerous going into last year’s AFC Championship game, one could argue that they’re even stronger this year. The team has won 10 straight games, with its last defeat coming on Halloween. Burrow and Cincinnati are easily the hottest team in football and dismantled the highly touted Buffalo Bills in the divisional round to reach this game. The Chiefs’ momentum cannot compare.

Though Mahomes has repeatedly said that he’s fully prepared to play, anyone who watched him against the Jacksonville Jaguars would justifiably question those claims. After suffering a high ankle sprain in the first quarter, the star quarterback eventually returned but was noticeably limited in the pocket. He still mustered enough to secure a victory over Jacksonville and intends to do so against Cincinnati as well. But high ankle sprains take a notoriously long time to heal, suggesting it could be a serious issue moving forward in the postseason.

Between an injury to Mahomes and prior struggles against the Bengals, the Chiefs are now just one-point favorites, an advantage likely granted to them because the game will take place in Arrowhead Stadium. But with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, Kansas City seems like the team with everything to prove. It would be foolish to call them outright favorites in the matchup, but it would be just as foolish to claim that Mahomes is incapable of overcoming the obstacles ahead.

In a profoundly talented generation of quarterbacks that includes Burrow, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence, Jalen Hurts and others, Mahomes still manages to stand out for many fans. In addition to a golden arm and superb field vision, his improvisational skills and penchant for risk-taking have made him a different kind of NFL star.

Early in his career, Tom Brady became known as a dynasty maker — he set out to crush his opponents and establish a legacy. Peyton Manning was a master tactician, a player with a militant playing style who could simply prepare and adjust better than nearly anyone he faced. Aaron Rodgers has always been an angrier, grittier type of competitor, one who wanted to own opponents on every play if he could.

Because of his unique skill set, Mahomes has always been different. Many have tried to find a comparison for him, but there isn’t one. Instead of a tyrant or general or student, he’s the closest thing the NFL has to a performer. He looks good regardless of the final score more often than not. The opponent feels inconsequential when he’s directing the Chiefs’ offense at the highest level, and though he plays in America’s roughest game, his victories never feel malicious or cruel. To put it simply, he’s Patrick Mahomes and they’re not.

This theatrical reputation that the Chiefs’ star quarterback has developed may make some people forget that he is also the type that refuses to sit with a high ankle sprain. He has emphatically removed any doubt that he would not appear under center for Kansas City this weekend. Behind all the talent, Mahomes is also a fierce competitor hell-bent on finishing the job he started. But an unexpected test lies ahead, and it may prove to be the biggest of his career.

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