By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Against the backdrop of Arrowhead Stadium, the site of the last four AFC title games, Sunday's AFC Championship bout between Burrow's Cincinnati Bengals and Mathieu's Kansas City Chiefs will be a momentous event:
Beyond an obvious storyline of "new kid on the block" Cincinnati attempting to steal Mahomes and co's 2 year stranglehold on the AFC, fans of Louisiana State University's Fighting Tigers will be treated to one of the most anticipated showdowns of recent NFLSU memory:
Burrow vs Mathieu....the offensive and defensive equivalents of each other...like looking into a G.O.A.T mirror, a reflection of pure greatness bouncing back from one another....
If you can crown two Tigers with providing the most LSU football influence nationally, Joe Burrow and Tyrann Mathieu are the two best guesses, OBJ trailing in third; however unlike other Tigers, what Burrow and Mathieu mean to LSU, and represent still to this day, looms large as they take to the field against one another, battling directly for a spot in Super Bowl LVI.
Both Burrow and Mathieu enjoyed a great 2021 season:
Tossing 4,611 yards, 34 TDs and 14 INTs (QBR of 108.3), Burrow will easily win the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year Award, leading the Bengals to their first AFC North crown since 2015, their first playoff victory since 1990, and their first championship game appearance since 1988, flirting with history at every turn;
Coming off consecutive Super Bowls and playing in his fourth straight AFC title game appearance with Kansas City, headlined by a title in Super Bowl LIV, Tyrann Mathieu was named 2021's Walter Peyton Man of the Year for his philanthropy off the field; while racking up 76 tackles (60 solo) and hauling in 3 interceptions, including a pick six vs Baltimore, Mathieu had yet another Pro Bowl year.
The Chiefs' star defender had his status under a cloud of uncertainty after a concussion knocked him out of the Divisonal round vs the Bills; now, after a week of steady practices, nothing looks to be holding the Honeybadger out of this game.
Each team contain additional Tiger Legends on roster, repeating a predominately 2019 Tiger theme:
Clyde Edwards-Helaire will suit up for the Chiefs after an injury hampered second year, while former LSU RB Darrel Williams, on the back of his best season as a professional, will also be active to face the Bengals.
For Cincy, 2019 Tigers Ja'marr Chase and Tyler Shelvin get ready for their biggest game as pros, as another 2019 Legend, Thad Moss, will sadly watch on the sidelines on injured reserve.
There's a bevy of former Tiger talent on display, each former LSU hero possessing a chance to be a game changer.
But it all comes back to Mathieu vs Burrow, Burrow vs Mathieu....the chess match over the middle of the field between Chase, Mathieu, other members of the secondary, and future LSU defensive coordinator Matt House's linebackers will play an ultimate role in deciding Sunday's outcome.
Mathieu has to have help from his teammates in the secondary to make plays against Burrow's intermediary passing spree or it could be a very long night of chasing (pun definitely intended) for KC's defense. If their defensive struggles against Josh Allen and the Bills from last Saturday's shootout is any indication, Steve Spagnuolo's unit may rely far more on Mathieu than anyone realized...something Joe understands how to exploit.
Which Tiger Legend will win the battle against the other?
Burrow or Mathieu?
Which supporting Tigers will come up big time down the stretch?
Ja'marr, Darrel or Clyde?
Will Tyler Shelvin supply a medieval dent along the front for Cincy's much improved defense?
Regardless of who wins, the 2022 AFC Championship Game promises to be a grand stage for the purple & gold brand:
Arguably the two greatest Tigers squaring off directly against one another, while Ja'marr Chase, during his Rookie of the Year campaign, takes the field after becoming the first rookie WR to ever notch consecutive 100 yard playoff outings, Clyde Edwards-Helaire aims to restart his playmaking engine (which made him KC's most productive offensive weapon during Super Bowl LV), Darrel Williams continues his best season yet, Tyler Shelvin continues his evolution as a professional...
For a football fan, this is can't miss television; for an LSU fan, this is history.
But make no mistake....the battle between Joe Burrow and Tyrann Mathieu will be worth the price of admission alone.
Got yer popcorn, ready?
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2022 Uninterrupted Writings Inc