60 minutes of game time. That is all that separates the Buffalo Bills from their 5th AFC Conference title and 5th Super Bowl appearance. One thing is for sure. If the Bills are to win the AFC on Sunday evening, nobody will be able to say they aren’t deserving. After sweeping their division, finishing 13-3, defeating Philip Rivers, and beating the reigning MVP in the playoffs, the Bills will face their toughest test yet: the defending world champions. But as they say, to be the best you have to beat the best, and that is exactly what the Bills will look to do this Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium.
The Last Five
Chiefs 26 Bills 17 (2020)
Bills 16 Chiefs 10 (2017)
Chiefs 30 Bills 22 (2015)
Chiefs 17 Bills 13 (2014)
Chiefs 23 Bills 13 (2013)
While these two teams haven’t played each other a lot in the past five years, that will certainly begin to change. Sunday’s game will be the second game between these two teams this season, and because they both won their divisions, they will play each other next year at Arrowhead as well. (A quick schedule prediction if the Chiefs go on to win the Super Bowl, I’d bet this rematch will be the Thursday night opener next season.) The game that many fans are referencing this week is the game from Week 6 this year, where the Bills lost by nine points. This is a totally different Bills team than the one we saw nearly three months ago, and I suspect that will reflect in the score. It’s also worth mentioning that these two teams typically play close games, and I don’t think anyone expects that to change this weekend.
What To Watch For: Bills
Wanted: Regular Season Offense – The Buffalo Bills offense from the regular season has gone missing. The reward for finding it? A trip to the Super Bowl. While the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens have two of the better defenses that the Bills faced this year, their production level is down considerably from how they ended the season. Despite scoring 27 points against the Colts, the offense appeared lackluster for most of the game, especially the first half. Last week the weather played a factor, but the offense was only able to muster up one touchdown drive. If I were to knit pick, I will even say that the first team offense was also a little slow out of the gate in the regular season finale against the Dolphins. If the Bills are to win this game, they will have to find the offense that we last saw in Gillette Stadium, in a 38-9 cathartic domination of the Patriots.
Defensive Gameplan – To me, one of the biggest questions of the week is how the Bills plan to defend Patrick Mahomes and the high powered Chiefs offense. Last week, Leslie Frazier and his staff drew up one of the best gameplans of his tenure as they nearly shut out the Ravens. As we all can remember from the Week 6 game, the Chiefs ripped through the Bills run defense to the tune of 245 rushing yards. After the game Sean McDermott acknowledged that the game plan was to sacrifice the run defense in order to prevent Patrick Mahomes from beating the Bills over the top. While his strategy worked in theory, the Bills offense didn’t hold up their end of the bargain that night. I will be interested to see if the Bills do something similar this week. A big difference from the last time these two teams met are the players that McDermott has available to him. Remember that Matt Milano did not play in that game. Neither did Levi Wallace. Tremain Edmunds was not playing anywhere near the level he is now, as he was working through a shoulder injury. A.J. Klein started in that game before he became “defensive player of the week” A.J. Klein. And Tre’Davious White had just missed the previous week with an injury. One can look at all that and consider the 26 points given up to the Chiefs that night as a massive success given the circumstances. Given a full compliment of players this week, there is reason for optimism that the Bills defense can slow down Patrick Mahomes.
Special teams need to be special – So, it turns out my “what to watch for” for the Bills is the offense, defensive, and special teams. How original. But the truth is, it is going to take a complete effort from all three phases to win this football game. While these two teams are exceptionally close in the league-wide rankings, one area where they are not close is special teams. Andre Roberts is yet to break a return for a TD with the Bills, and this week he should have some chances. According to football outsiders DVOA rankings, the Chiefs are a below-average kickoff and punt coverage unit, while the Bills are a top-5 unit in those categories. Any opportunity that Roberts has to shorten the field for the offense will go a long way in improving the Bills chances in this game.
Loving the grass! – After the Bills defeated the 49ers while playing in Arizona, Cole Beasley contributed his career-best game to the playing surface, saying, “It’s the grass man. I love the grass.” Well, he’s not the only one. The Bills have played 6 games on natural grass this year. In those 6 games Josh Allen averaged 331 yards passing per game, threw 16 TD’s, 4 INT’s, and rushed for 3 TD’s. Stefon Diggs averaged 118 receiving yards per game. Cole Beasley averaged 84 receiving yards per game. Needless to say, Arrowhead Stadium has a natural grass field.
What To Watch For: Chiefs
Mahomes’ Health – This is the question on everyone’s mind this week. There is no doubt that Patrick Mahomes will play, but his effectiveness considering the two injuries that he is nursing is drawing the attention of fans. The first alignment was an obvious one as it was clear to see Mahomes hobbling around the field last week against the Cleveland Browns with a turf toe injury. Mahomes mobility is a strength of his, and one of many weapons that opponents must prepare for. If Mahomes is anything but 100% on his feet, look for the Bills to exploit it. If I am the Bills, I would almost dare him into some runs if it is clear that he is not feeling 100% on his feet. As we all know, Patrick Mahomes is in the concussion protocol this week with what many believe to be a nerve injury. You can read more of an assessment from our injury guru here. To score on the Bills defense, it requires a quarterback who is on his best game. If Patrick Mahomes is not, which many believe to be the case, the Chiefs could be looking at a disappointing result come Sunday night.
Travis Kelce – Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has been a match up nightmare for team after team this year. We all know that Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs lead the league in receiving yards this season. Second on that list? Surprisingly, it was not another receiver, but a tight end. In fact, with his 1,416 yards in just 15 games this year, Kelce is now the NFL single season leader for receiving yards by a tight end. Kelce has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in five consecutive seasons, something that most wide receivers can’t say. In Week 6, the Bills held Kelce to his third lowest output of the year with 65 yards, but it was his 2 TD’s that ended up being more damaging to the Bills. Kelce will draw the attention of Matt Milano on Sunday, which will be one of the tougher matchups that the All-Pro tight end has seen this year.
Play Action – Attacking a defense that held Lamar Jackson to 3 points will be a challenge for Kansas City. Andy Reid might find success using play action. The Chiefs have used play action 180 times this year, which is good for 3rd in the league. The Bills defense is middle of the pack when defending against play action, ranking 18th in the league while yielding a 101 passer rating. On an offense that fields Patrick Mahomes, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins, I would expect to see a heavy dose of play action to keep the Bills honest and eventually open up a game-breaking play over the top.
Bills 31 Chiefs 30 After Josh Allen led the Bills down the field in a come from behind win over the Rams in Week 3, I said that this team was Super Bowl caliber. As they have moved throughout the season, and now the playoffs, it has become apparent that this team is special, and I truly believe this is a team of destiny. From an X’s and O’s standpoint, the Bills defense is peaking at the right time for them to beat the reigning champions. If the offense can return to what we saw most of the year, then the Bills have a very real possibility of winning this football game. It is tough to pick against the defending champs, but this Bills team is worthy of that pick. Sean McDermott has spent 4 years crafting a team from the bottom up, and he is ready to take the AFC title from his mentor Andy Reid this weekend.