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KANSAS CITY — Doesn’t it just feel like this game was inevitable?
Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs, Josh Allen vs. Patrick Mahomes, Sean McDermott vs Andy Reid. Yeah, this needed to happen, though it’s too bad it comes in the divisional round rather than as a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game.
Good for the Tennessee Titans who found a way to earn the AFC’s No. 1 postseason seed, and props to the Cincinnati Bengals for the season they’ve had. But the general consensus across football nation seems to be that Sunday night’s showdown at Arrowhead Stadium will feature the two best teams in the conference renewing hostilities for the fourth time in the past 15 months.
This is the game everyone wants to see, and it’s certainly a game the Bills want to play because while they exorcized some demons in Week 5 with their 38-20 victory, their thirst for revenge won’t be quenched unless they can end the Chiefs’ season the way the Chiefs ended theirs in 2020.
“I think a lot of guys had that loss in their mind all offseason, really fired them up throughout the offseason and kind of kept that energy going into the season,” safety Jordan Poyer said. “Obviously, I remember what happened last offseason. That loss definitely stuck with a lot of us coming into this season, and even up ‘til now. Nobody wants to go home yet. Great opportunity against that same opponent.”
This has everything a juicy playoff game should have, but the No. 1 attribute is the dreamy matchup of two outstanding quarterbacks. After the way Allen and Mahomes played in the wild-card round when they totaled 712 passing yards and 10 TD passes, there was talk that Allen-Mahomes could be the NFL’s next Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry. Anyone want to argue given the way they have started their careers?
There are several superstar QBs in the NFL — heck, Brady is still one of them, as is aging Aaron Rodgers. Among the new kids on the block there’s Joe Burrow of the Bengals and Justin Herbert of the Chargers.
But Allen and Mahomes — who admittedly has a much more impressive resume than Allen at this point — are two of the most electrifying players in the league. If they’re at their best simultaneously Sunday night, buckle up.
Here’s my preview of the game:
1. How can Josh Allen back up a perfect game?
It would seem virtually impossible for Allen to play as well as he did against New England when he directed seven consecutive TD drives and produced the second-highest passer rating ever recorded. The fact that he did it against a strong defense in ridiculously cold weather adds to the splendor.
“It’s tough to have a perfect game and they did a nice job with it,” Reid said. “What more can you ask from a quarterback than that, from a coaching standpoint?”
Allen was on another planet last week, but he also had plenty of help as the Bills finally had all of their passing game weapons together at once, and RB Devin Singletary continued his late-season surge with another a strong performance that helped keep Buffalo balanced and the Patriots guessing.
One of the biggest keys will be the Bills’ WRs going against Kansas City’s press man coverage. Last year in the title game, the Chiefs’ DBs were handsy all night, the officials let most of it go, and the Bills had problems winning routes.
Kansas City will try to do the same thing, and a player to watch will be WR Isaiah McKenzie. He’s clearly better at beating man coverage than Cole Beasley, and we might see Allen try to get him into favorable matchups like he did in the last two Patriots games.
And then there’s TE Dawson Knox, who hurt the Chiefs in the game in October (3 catches, 117 yards and a TD) and has become Allen’s favorite red zone target. He had a big game last week, and the Bills need another.
2. Kansas City Chiefs defense has made a big turnaround
One of the storylines this week has been that Kansas City’s defense is vastly different than the one the Bills wrecked in Week 5. That night they didn’t have star DT Chris Jones and CB Charvarius Ward, DE Melvin Ingram wasn’t on the team, and DE Frank Clark wasn’t 100%. This time, the Chiefs are at full strength and playing very well, regardless of what their season-long rankings look like.
In their first seven games this season, the Chiefs went 3-4 and allowed 29.0 points per game. In their last 11 (10 of those wins), they've allowed 16.5 which is actually less than what the Bills defense put up for the entire year (17.0).
“They’re playing with a lot more energy,” Singletary said. “The pressure that they send, they’re making a lot of guys uncomfortable. We know we’re going to have our hands full.”
One of the keys to the improvement has been the Chiefs pass rush which is generating problematic pressure, not only with coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s array of beloved blitzes, but with the four-man unit led by Jones, Ingram, Clark and Jarran Reed. However, the Bills offensive line is playing its best ball of the year and hasn’t allowed a sack in the last four games.
The Chiefs will do all they can to set the edge and try to keep Allen in the pocket, and if they succeed in taking some of his escape routes away, he’s going to need to stand and deliver without holding onto the ball too long and avoid trying to make the “hero” play. To that end, Singletary, McKenzie and Beasley need to be available underneath.
3. Patrick Mahomes has become a patient passer
One thing that has been noticeable about the Chiefs passing attack is the way Mahomes has relied so heavily on short passes. In his first few seasons he loved biting off big chunks of yardage, but this season he put up career lows for average yards per attempt (7.4) and completion (11.1) after never being below 8.1 and 12.2.
In establishing a career-high with 436 completions, he threw for his second-most yards (4,839) because his receivers did so well piling up yards after the catch. As a team Kansas City ranked second in the NFL in highest average yards after the catch at 6.28 per reception with Travis Kelce leading all TEs with 633 RAC yards. Tyreek Hill was ninth among WRs at 457 RAC yards. Obviously, sure tackling is a must to prevent short passes turning into explosive plays.
One big thing to watch is how the Bills hold up without CB Tre’Davious White because his absence may finally become a problem. In the Week 5 game, White played a key role in limiting Hill to 63 yards on seven catches, and Kelce was also kept under control (6-57).
Without White, the Bills will have to rely on CBs Levi Wallace and Dane Jackson to control Hill, and if they double Hill with a safety, that plays into Kelce’s hands over the middle. At least in this game the Bills will have LB Matt Milano who missed the early game.
The Bills will also have to contend with a Chiefs running game that leaned on speedy Jerick McKinnon last week, and might get Clyde Edwards-Helaire back. Like the Bills, Kansas City is a pass first team, but if it starts to move on the ground, that’s going to open up a can of trouble against Mahomes.
4. Other key points to consider in Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs matchup
► The Bills have lost eight straight playoff games away from Orchard Park dating back to Super Bowls 27 and 28. Their last postseason road win came Jan. 17, 1993 in the AFC Championship Game at Miami.
► This game will be the first in NFL postseason history featuring QBs who each threw for five TDs in their previous week’s playoff game.
► Think of all the great QBs in history as you read this note. Here are the top five in postseason history in terms of passer rating. Mahomes (105.1); Bart Starr (104.8), Kurt Warner (102.8); Allen (100.9); Matt Ryan (100.8). Passer rating is a bit of an awkward metric, but still, two of the top five are playing in this game.
► Allen’s completion percentage of 84.0 against the Patriots made him the first QB ever with at least 20 attempts in a game to have a percentage of at least 80, along with five TDs and 50-plus rushing yards.
► Allen became only the third QB with at least 300 passing yards and 65 rushing yards in a playoff game, joining San Francisco’s Steve Young (328 and 77 on Jan. 6, 1996, against Green Bay) and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson (365 and 143 on Jan. 11, 2020, against Tennessee). He’s also the first to have at least 1,300 passing yards and 300 rushing yards in his first five postseason games.
► Allen has thrown just one interception in 191 career postseason passing attempts. His interception rate of 0.52% is the lowest in NFL history among QBs with at least 150 attempts.
► Mahomes has played 16 career games including playoffs against teams that finished the season ranked top-five in scoring defense, total defense or pass defense (or any combination of the three). He's 15-1, the only loss to the Bills in Week 5.
► If Kelce surpasses 100 yards receiving, he'll become the first player with five consecutive 100-yard receiving games in playoff history.
Sal’s prediction: Kansas City Chiefs 34, Buffalo Bills 31
When you think back to the aftermath of the AFC Championship Game loss a year ago, the Bills made it no secret that their mission was clear in 2021: Beat the Chiefs because they knew in order to win the AFC and make it to the Super Bowl, they were going to have to go through Mahomes and company to do it.
They cleared that obstacle back on Oct. 10 with a resounding victory, but I just feel like doing it twice in the blood red atmosphere of Arrowhead is going to prove to be too much. The Chiefs are a better team than they were 3 ½ months ago, and just like the Bills had plenty of motivation for some revenge that night, the Chiefs have that now, probably more since the winner goes to the title game with a chance to host it.
The Bills could not have played better last week, but the Chiefs are a different beast than the Patriots. And for as undeniably great as Allen has been, as great as the Bills defense has been, let’s not forget that Mahomes is pretty awesome, too.
How to watch, listen to Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs game
When: 6:40 p.m. Sunday
Where: Arrowhead Stadium
TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson, Jay Feely)
Satellite radio: Sirius 82, XM 225
Radio: 96.5 FM/950 AM
Series: Bills lead 27-23-1 counting playoffs
Tipico betting line: Bills +1.5
► Chiefs coach Andy Reid on pursuing another Super Bowl title: “If you like chocolate cake and you eat a piece, and then you have one dangling in front of your face, you’re probably going to want to eat that, too. Not much is going to stop you, so that’s how you feel about the Super Bowl. That is the chocolate cake with the ultimate frosting and you’re going to try to go get it if
you can, the best you can.”
► Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes on Tyreek Hill’s play: “It’s been incredible. The way he’s able to run routes in between coverages – I mean pretty much every coverage he has two people on him or two people kind of shadowing over the top of him and he’s still getting himself open, making tough catches over the middle of the field. He’s really evolved his game and at the end of the day, whenever he gets into those man coverage situations like he did this last
weekend, you can always hit him over the top for touchdowns.”
► Chiefs DE Melvin Ingram on Allen: “Man, he’s one of the elite quarterbacks in this league, and you’ve got to try to cancel out every phase. You’ve got to play assignment football because when you’ve got a quarterback that can run, that can throw, that can do everything, you’ve just got to play assignment football and not try to do too much.”
Regular season NFL rankings
Total offense: 381.9 yards (5th); 396.8 (3rd)
Rush offense: 129.9 yards (6th); 115.0 (16th)
Pass offense: 252.0 yards (9th); 281.8 (4th)
Points scored: 28.4 (3rd); 28.2 (4th)
Total defense: 272.8 yards (1st); 368.9 (27th)
Rush defense: 109.8 yards (13th); 117.6 (21st)
Pass defense: 163.0 yards (1st); 251.4 (27th)
Points allowed: 17.0 (1st); 21.4 (8th)
Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs regular season individual leaders
Bills: Devin Singletary 188 carries, 870 yards; Josh Allen 122-763; Zack Moss 96-345; Matt Breida 26-125; Isaiah McKenzie 9-47; Emmanuel Sanders 2-31; Mitchell Trubisky 13-24.
Chiefs: Darrel Williams 144-558; Clyde Edwards-Helaire 119-517; Patrick Mahomes 66-381; Derrick Gore 51-256; Tyreek Hill 9-96; Jerick McKinnon 12-62; Mecole Hardman 8-46.
Bills: Josh Allen 409 of 646, 4,407 yards, 36 TDs,15 interceptions.
Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes 436 of 658, 4,839 yards, 37 TDs, 13 interceptions.
Bills: Stefon Diggs 103 catches, 1,225 yards; Cole Beasley 82-693; Dawson Knox 49-587; Emmanuel Sanders 42-626; Devin Singletary 40-228; Gabriel Davis 35-549; Zack Moss 23-197; Isaiah McKenzie 20-178; Tommy Sweeney 9-44; Matt Breida 7-72.
Chiefs: Tyreek Hill 111-1,239; Travis Kelce 92-1,125; Mecole Hardman 59-693; Darrel Williams 47-452; Byron Pringle 42-568; Demarcus Robinson 25-264; Clyde Edwards-Helaire 19-129; Jerick McKinnon 13-107.
2021 Buffalo Bills schedule
9/12 vs. Steelers, L 16-23
9/19 at Dolphins, W 35-0
9/26 vs. Washington, W 43-21
10/3 vs. Texans, W 40-0
10/10 at Chiefs, W 38-20
10/18 at Titans, L 31-34
10/24 Bye week
10/31 vs. Dolphins, W 26-11
11/7 at Jaguars, L 6-9
11/14 at Jets, W 45-17
11/21 vs. Colts, L 15-41
11/25 at Saints, W 31-6
12/6 vs. Patriots, L 10-14
12/12 at Buccaneers, L 27-33 OT
12/19 vs. Panthers, W 31-14
12/26 at Patriots, W 33-21
1/9 vs. Jets, W 27-10
1/15 vs. Patriots, W 47-17
1/23 at Chiefs, 6:40 p.m.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs: Predictions, keys to the game