Here we go!
After an outstanding Divisional Round of the 2022 NFL Playoffs, including an insane ending to Sunday night’s game between the Chiefs and Bills, there are only four teams still standing and by the time Sunday’s games are over, we will know the two teams that will square off in Super Bowl LVI.
The AFC Championship Game will feature the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Cincinnati Bengals and there are a handful of potential free agents Detroit Lions fans should be paying attention to.
Here are 4 potential FAs Lions fans should watch closely in the AFC Championship Game.
S TYRANN MATHIEU, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
When Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith signed his four-year, $64 million extension shortly before the 2021 season, the deal had to have gotten the attention of veteran safeties league-wide. The Smith deal is one of the strongest contracts for a player in recent memory, with the signing keeping him under contract through his age-36 season. Mathieu is several years younger than Smith, and if he can lead the Kansas City Chiefs defense to a much stronger second half of the season than the first, the versatile defensive back may be able to cash in once more.
Mathieu brings leadership, energy and the ability to make plays from multiple positions to any defense he’s on.
CB CHARVARIUS WARD, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Ward is playing the 2021 season on a second-round restricted free agent tender and continues to show he can hold up as a man cover corner with good size at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds. If Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis and New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson were to be franchise-tagged or extended by their current clubs, Ward would have an argument as the best cornerback available due to his ability to play out wide in a man coverage scheme.
Ward also excels in an area that every defensive coordinator will love: tackling. His 5% missed tackle percentage is the lowest rate among the top 75 outside cornerbacks in total tackles since 2019.
A former undrafted free agent, Ward boasts the size and speed to play press-man coverage on the outside. Given his career production, he projects better as a No. 2 option, particularly in a man-heavy scheme on a team that dictates matchups.
S JESSIE BATES III, CINCINNATI BENGALS
Bates was looking for an extension this past offseason, but the Bengals instead chose to prioritize the player they drafted one round after Bates in 2018 — edge defender Sam Hubbard. The Cincinnati defense has taken a step forward in 2021, with recent free-agent additions such as edge defender Trey Hendrickson and interior defender D.J. Reader wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks and cornerback addition Chidobe Awuzie outperforming the man he replaced in Washington Football Team cornerback William Jackson III. Will Bates get his due from the Bengals, or will he be the latest homegrown player to depart?
A year ago, Bates was coming off a career year and looked like the best safety in the game, but it represented a major outlier from the rest of his career and regression hit this season. He is still an impact coverage player at the position who fits in some way in pretty much every scheme in the league.
DI B.J. HILL, CINCINNATI BENGALS
The Giants inexplicably traded Hill and a seventh-round pick for Cincinnati Bengals center Billy Price right before the 2021 season, and Hill has excelled with more opportunities on a less-crowded defensive line alongside nose tackle D.J. Reader. Hill is a solid all-around three-technique with the ability to generate relatively consistent pressure on the quarterback from the interior. With increased playing time, he has a career-high 76.6 overall grade through Week 12, and his five quarterback hits are one fewer than he had in his first three seasons combined.
The fact that Hill hasn’t started many games in his first four seasons doesn’t mean he can’t be a starting defensive tackle for a team with a need at the position. He’s a plus run defender who isn’t a non-factor in the passing game.