AFC Championship Preview: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs
Championship Sunday is finally here! Despite many obstacles, the NFL has reached its most important day of the season thus far. While it may not be the people’s choice AFC Championship game (that would’ve been the Cleveland Browns vs the Buffalo Bills), it is still an intriguing matchup nonetheless.
Buffalo hosted Kansas City earlier in the season during Week 6, a game which was moved to a Monday afternoon after originally being scheduled for Thursday night. The Chiefs won the matchup 26-17 after rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran for 161 yards to help carry the Chiefs offensive attack. Josh Allen had one of his few sub-par games of the season for Buffalo, going 14/27 passing for 122 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. Allen also added 8 carries for 42 yards.
As of early Friday afternoon, Patrick Mahomes is cleared to play and has completed the NFL’s concussion protocol. We will officially get the fantastic QB matchup that we hoped for when both teams won this past weekend. Josh Allen vs Patrick Mahomes with a berth to Super Bowl LV on the line.
Mahomes seemed to have suffered what appeared to have been a concussion during last week’s game, as he stumbled and could hardly stand on his feet after being hit by Cleveland Brown’s LB Mack Wilson. Wilson cleared the air after the game by showing some great sportsmanship. Maybe some parents of the kids I officiate in basketball could learn a thing or two.
By now, fans across the nation are pledging their support for the Buffalo Bills and their infamous fanbase #BillsMafia on social media. As many of you know, I’m a student at Baylor University in Waco, TX, but even down here it seems as if everyone I know is rooting for the Buffalo Bills.
Coming into this game, the Buffalo Bills (13-3 regular season record) are the two seed in the AFC and had to host a game in the AFC Wild Card round due to the new playoff format for the NFL, which was implemented this year. Normally, the one and two seeds in each respective conference get a bye-week to the Divisional round, but not this year. Only the one seed gets the bye week, and this year that belonged to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Bills hosted the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Wild Card round and won by a score of 27-24. The next week, they hosted the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional round and won by a score of 17-3. Now Buffalo gets back to the AFC Title game for the first time since they hosted the game back in the 1993-1994 season, where they actually took on Joe Montana and the Kansas City Chiefs (The Bills won 30-13).
On the other side, media members and fans alike had questioned how sharp the Chiefs would look in their AFC Divisional round game against the Browns. Many expected the Chiefs to be a little rusty, especially after having rested their starters during a Week 17 game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Kansas City quickly dispelled any narrative of them not being prepared or executing adequately. Despite losing Mahomes mid third quarter, the Chiefs won the game 22-17 because of backup QB Chad Henne coming in to right the ship with an injured Mahomes, prompting fans to get #HenneThingIsPossible trending across social media. Even from the locker room, an injured Mahomes voiced his support for his backup QB as he led the Chiefs to victory.
But now back to the game at hand. Buffalo is hot and should expect to win. Kansas City is 24-1 in their last 25 games, so they should expect to win. And when both teams believe they can win and are absolutely cooking, then you get one heck of a game. Let’s dive into some keys for each team to leave Arrowhead Stadium with a victory.
3 Keys for the Buffalo Bills:
- Buffalo must be sharp on 3rd down. The Bills are only converting on third down at a rate of about 27% this postseason. The defenses they played have been good, as Indianapolis and Baltimore are in the top 10 in total defense, categorized by points allowed. Kansas City comes in at #11 and is actually tied with Indianapolis in points allowed, so it does not appear to get any easier for Buffalo. However, KC gave up 3rd down conversions at approximately a 40.95% rate during the regular season. The Bills must convert 3rd downs more effectively if they are to advance to Tampa Bay.
- The Bills need to win the time of possession battle. The Chiefs can score quickly. Everyone knows this. So naturally the key to beating Kansas City is to keep Patrick Mahomes and Co. off the field. The Chiefs have won the time of possession battle in several key games this year, including victories on the road at Baltimore, Tampa Bay, New Orlando, and Buffalo. If the Bills win the time of possession, then Kansas City will be forced to adjust their play calling in order to try and strike quickly. Buffalo has the offense to matchup with KC, but they need to limit KC’s offense as much as they can. It will be a bit harder for Buffalo to do so if WR Gabriel Davis does not play in this weekend’s game, as he has been out of practice most of the week until being a limited participant in Friday’s practice. He is listed as questionable for the game, but I expect him to play. If Buffalo can win the time of possession battle, their chances of winning increase.
- The Bills need to turn the Chiefs over twice or more. Mahomes is 7-4 in his career when he turns the ball over twice. Now that does not guarantee anything for Buffalo. In fact, that is still an pretty good record in games for having turned the ball over twice or more, but I firmly believe that Buffalo needs to create turnovers. The forecast calls for a 70% chance of sleet and 32 degree temperatures, so maybe the Bills defense is able to get a couple deflections or one of the Chiefs WRs/RBs barely touches the ball and deflects it up and into the arms of someone like safeties Jordan Poyer or Micah Hyde or cornerback Tre’Davious White. If the Bills can come away with two or more turnovers, I like their chances of playing for the Lombardi on February 7th in Tampa.
3 Keys for the Kansas City Chiefs:
- The Chiefs need to run the ball effectively. Buffalo tried to take away Kansas City’s passing attack in their first meeting, as Patrick Mahomes threw was 21/26 for 225 yards and 2 TDs, but rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran all over the Bills as he rushed for 161 yards. I expect the Bills to try and pay a little more attention to the Chief’s rushing attack, but if the Chiefs can run the ball effectively, I like their chances because I don’t think the Bills can stop the Chiefs on the ground and through the air at the same time, especially if the Chiefs RBs are healthy, which looks like that will be the case.
- Chris Jones must be a factor. Jones is as disruptive a force on the interior DL as anyone in the entire league not named Aaron Donald. Jones just got a fancy new contract this past offseason which was for 4 years and $85 million ($60 million guaranteed), so the Chiefs are expecting big things from their star defensive lineman. If Jones can disrupt the Bills offensive line and generate several pressures and QB hits/sacks, then the Chiefs defense rises to another level. Should Jones be at his full potential on Sunday night, I like the Chiefs chances to limit the Bills on offense, especially if Buffalo cannot find a consistent running game without RB Zack Moss. The Chiefs don’t need Jones to do well to win, but it certainly would go a long ways in helping the Chiefs’ chances.
- The Chiefs need to win the time of possession battle. Similar to themselves, Buffalo has an explosive offense. They aren’t afraid to go with a passing only attack (see the Bills first 25 plays or so against Baltimore, as they were ALL passing plays) and can put up points in a hurry. The Chiefs realize that Buffalo is great on offense but I think if the Chiefs can slow this game down and win the time of possession battle, then their chances of winning go way up. Last time they met, Kansas City won the time of possession in what amounted to a 26-17 victory.
Final Thoughts and Prediction:
This game is going to be a tight game. I really think the difference will be anywhere from 3-6 points either way. As it stands right now, the Chiefs are -3.0 point favorites with an O/U of 54 points. As I said earlier, the forecast calls for sleet and temperatures of 32 degrees, which leads me to believe that could favor Kansas City as I like their slightly more consistent rushing attack. I like Kansas City’s defense a bit better than Buffalo’s defense right now, but that does not mean that Buffalo’s defense is bad. They gave up 375 points this year, which was good for 16th best in the league (remember Kansas City gave up 362 and was ranked 11th). The Bills secondary is full of playmakers that have the ability to impact a game. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde are one of the best safety duos in the league. But I think Chris Jones needs to show up for the Chiefs. Jones and the rest of the Chiefs DL will make their mark on this game in one way or another. Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes will provide for an excellent QB matchup, but I could easily see Allen turning the ball over twice trying to do too much on this big of a stage. Mahomes and the Chiefs have been here the last two seasons and have experience playing on this big of a stage. Buffalo is good enough to potentially get it done, but for this game, I’m rolling with the Chiefs, picking them win 31-27. Patrick Mahomes has scored 31 or more points in every playoff game he has started and finished. I believe Buffalo needs to get to 30 to have a chance win and while I believe they can do it, I’m not going to predict that to happen. I will not be shocked if this result is flipped and Buffalo wins because I am truly torn on this game. It can go either way and I’m just super excited to sit down and watch it for the full 3 hours plus. Give me the Chiefs to move on to Tampa Bay to meet the winner of the Packers/Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV.
Last week’s prediction: KC 34-20 over Cleveland (actual: KC 22-17)
As always, let me know your thoughts and follow me on Twitter @bradyvaughan30 for more sports related content.