With the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles getting so much attention as the Week 14 Game of the Week, somewhat left out of the conversation has been the epic matchup on tap when the Buffalo Bills travel to play the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. These two have put together their share of huge performances in the past, with their January 2022 playoff game being more akin to Ali-Frazier's Thrilla in Manila than a football game. It's still Patrick Mahomes vs. Josh Allen in the late window, ready to throw thunderbolts into the evening. Scott Pianowski and Jorge Martin take sides in this game that has so many fantasy football implications.
The Case for the Bills
So it was Sunday night and I was watching Chiefs-Packers, like the rest of the sporting world. Green Bay was up by one score, and Patrick Mahomes and friends had the ball at the end of the game. We've seen this scene countless times before; the Mahomes touchdown drive feels inevitable, and somehow Kansas City will bail things out. When you go to see the magician, the magician always wins.
But this time, it felt different. I didn't expect Kansas City to score. And it's not like this Packers defense is anything special. The Chiefs moved the ball a little, there were two curious flags — one for the Chiefs, one against them — and the Packers finished off a victory that felt merited for the home team.
So it's about time we addressed a key question, Jorge. Just how much trouble are the Chiefs in?
The last five weeks, the Chiefs haven't put up much yardage: 274, 267, 336, 360 and 337 yards. Those are not Andy Reid numbers. Those are not Patrick Mahomes numbers. I do not recognize this offense.
From 2017 to 2022, the Chiefs were first or second in yards per play every season. This year, they've stumbled to eighth. Mahomes averages 8.0 yards per attempt for his career. This year, he's dropped to 7.0.
I'm reluctant to blame Mahomes — it's the pieces around him, right? Travis Kelce is still a master at finding blank spaces, but he's also looking every bit the 34-year-old that he is. Rashee Rice has finally graduated to featured wideout, but he's not exactly stretching the field (11.4 YPC). Everyone else in this passing game feels like a failed transaction or a regretful draft pick. Skyy Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney, Mecole Hardman, Justin Watson — do they inspire any confidence in you?
Maybe I'm burying the lede, because I'm assigned the Buffalo side of this debate. The Bills are 6-6, in danger of missing the playoffs. Of course, they've run terribly unlucky in close games — they're having the inverse of Philadelphia's green-light season. Buffalo's expected record by pythagorean differential is 8.5-3.5. DVOA estimates the Bills should have 7.5 wins. I know this, the entire AFC is praying the Bills don't make the playoffs. The conference is filled with several teams who could qualify for the tournament but probably don't have serious upside. Buffalo is a team that could go on a run and beat anyone anywhere.
Bill Parcells used to say that when in doubt, pick the more desperate team. That's the Bills. Buffalo is also rested off the bye, and I think it's possible the Bills are simply better. The Buffalo offense threatens more of the downfield regions of the field. Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Dalton Kincaid, even Khalil Shakir, these guys put stress on a defense. I thought Josh Allen was fabulous in the Philadelphia loss. The Chiefs already have the AFC West title in the mail; their schedule gets marshmallow-soft after this week. Buffalo has little margin for error.
Maybe Philly at Dallas is the game of the week, but the Bills and Chiefs are a perfect undercard. The line opened at KC -3, but it's been shrinking ever since. The sharps have it right. Kansas City's problems are the type that probably can't be fixed in December. There are no cards to play. Bills by at least a touchdown. — Pianowski
The Case for the Chiefs
I’m with you, Scott, on how I was expecting Mahomes to pull off some magic at the end of that game against the Packers. It was like going to see the Rolling Stones and not hearing “Satisfaction.” We were all left wanting. But I can’t imagine being left wanting twice in a row.
I was looking at the NFL’s passing leaders in preparation for this back-and-forth, when I was struck by something that I almost could not believe.
Mahomes usually resides in the penthouse on that list. Both Brock Purdy and Mahomes have played 12 games. Mahomes has even attempted 112 more passes than Purdy, which is about a month’s worth of throws for 2022’s Mr. Irrelevant. Purdy’s climbing up the favorite boards for NFL MVP. Mahomes is just the reigning MVP. Two-time MVP, by the way. That’s still in him.
These are the games when the all-time greats put a team on their shoulders and rise to the occasion. It’s in these situations where they find a little extra juice, like coming on in relief in the late innings gives a relief pitcher that much more of a rush when they started out as a middling starter. It’s what helped turn Mariano Rivera into the GOAT of all relievers. That, and “Enter the Sandman.”
That little something extra is what helped Mahomes pull out a victory when the Chiefs were just 13 seconds away from defeat in that January 2022 playoff game against Josh Allen and these very same Bills.
Coming off a disheartening loss at Lambeau Field last week, Mahomes won’t let this happen again. The way they’re being talked about, it’s almost as if the Chiefs are lucky to be 8-4. This version of the Bills has Allen, Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis, he of the 201 yards and four touchdowns in that playoff game. Yet the Buffalo defense has been gutted by injuries this year. That leaves Mahomes as a hungry lion, smelling weakness in his prey.
There’s also that magnetic force of a man, Travis Kelce, who tasted defeat in front of his girlfriend Taylor Swift for the first time last week. He’ll have that extra something along with Mahomes, at home where they play so many playoff games. These two have made so much beautiful music, including the eight-yard walk-off nearly two years ago that set off a volcanic eruption at Arrowhead Stadium.
New help has arrived in the form of Rashee Rice, that rookie wide receiver who has 19 targets and 16 receptions the past two weeks. A good chunk of those are quick shots and screens, but that’s OK because he will turn one upfield like he did on that 39-yarder against the Raiders in Week 12. The Bills just gave up 7-106-1 to DeVonta Smith most recently. Mahomes will find a crack in the Bills’ armor with the rookie.
Unlike previous years, the Chiefs have one of the better defenses in the NFL, with Chris Jones and his amigos spending plenty of time in the backfield with Allen on Sunday. Kansas City is sixth in the NFL in sacks at 39.
The Chiefs ruling out Isiah Pacheco is a huge blow, as he's the RB10 on the season. Hard to replace that, though Jerick McKinnon is a wild card here if he can even get close to his incredible run last year with nine touchdowns during Weeks 13-18. He does his best work in the passing game, where the Bills have allowed the fourth-most receiving yards to running backs at 46.6. Let's see how the man they call Jet makes Mahomes' numbers fly.
In the end, Mahomes is still Mahomes, in his prime and on his way to being an all-time great. Just like last year, he figured it out without Tyreek Hill. He’ll do it again. It could be just feeding Kelce. It could be further weaving Rice into the offense. Maybe dishing some short stuff to McKinnon. Even in a tough season, there’s always the possibility that Mahomes goes nuclear like he did two years ago.
In a shootout with Allen, it’ll happen again. The magician doesn’t fail the trick twice. — Martin