The Buffalo Bills are playing the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday. I’m only writing that sentence because I’m unbelievably excited that I can write that sentence and not be referring to some YouTube watch party for a game I distinctly remember watching as a seven year old. While that matchup featured two Future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the back part of their careers in Jim Kelly and Joe Montana, Sunday’s matchup features two of the best quarterbacks in the league today.
The Bills and Chiefs have met twice before in a game that would send the winner to the Super Bowl. In the 1966 AFL Championship Game, the Chiefs defeated the Bills 31-7 at War Memorial Stadium. Kansas City went on to lose the first Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers. In the 1993 AFC Championship Game, the Bills defeated the Chiefs 30-13 at Rich Stadium. Buffalo lost their fourth consecutive Super Bowl, and second straight to the Dallas Cowboys, two weeks later.
This is the first time that the Bills and Chiefs will meet in Kansas City for the right to go to a Super Bowl, and by the time this one kicks off, the NFC representative will already have been decided. If the Bills want to continue the quest for their first ever Super Bowl championship, they’ll need big performances from their key players.
Here’s our five players to watch this week.
QB Josh Allen
Sure, Allen didn’t have gaudy overall numbers in last week’s 17-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, but it’s what he didn’t do—turn over the ball—that’s just as important as what he did do, which was throw for 206 yards and the game’s only offensive touchdown. Allen has been outstanding all season, but he played arguably his worst game of the year (with honorable mention going to the Bills’ 24-21 Week 8 victory over the New England Patriots) when the Bills and Chiefs met in Week 6. In that game, a misty, miserable rain fell for most of the night, Allen was nursing an injured left shoulder, and he looked massively uncomfortable all night. The Chiefs held Allen to just 14-of-27 passing for only 122 yards. He threw two touchdowns and an interception, as well, and he added eight rushes for 42 yards. Buffalo was banged up in that contest, and they are much healthier for this game, though Allen could be without rookie toe-tapping sensation Gabriel Davis thanks to an ankle injury. One thing Allen seems to do just about as well as any player I’ve ever followed closely is learn from his mistakes, and he’s proven so far this postseason that the moment isn’t too big for him. I expect Allen to come out firing, as the Bills can and should look to exploit the intermediate middle of the field, where Allen’s passer rating this year is 155.8.
WR Stefon Diggs
The Bills acquired Diggs to give Allen an “Alpha” receiver who is open even when he’s covered. Diggs responded by leading the NFL in receptions and a receiving yards this year, becoming the first player in franchise history to accomplish either feat. In the playoffs, nothing has changed: Diggs leads the league in receptions (14), receiving yards (234), and receiving touchdowns (2). Against Kansas City in the first meeting, Diggs caught six passes for 46 yards, including a brilliant touchdown reception in the front corner of the end zone. There were plenty of times when he was open deep, too, with Allen just missing him more than once. They can’t miss this time around if they have the opportunity.
TE Dawson Knox
The Chiefs did not defend tight ends very well this year, and the Bills were without Knox in the first game between these two squads. We’ve already mentioned that the intermediate middle is a strength of Josh Allen’s, and it’s a weakness of the Chiefs’ defense—the Las Vegas Raiders beat Kansas City repeatedly over the middle, as did the Carolina Panthers in a tight matchup earlier this year—and while Knox is nowhere near the seam threat that Darren Waller is, he definitely has the ability to do some damage if he can find space sitting down in soft zones. The other way the Panthers beat the Chiefs was with flat combinations, which is a particular strength of Knox’s. Kansas City will look to take Cole Beasley away underneath, which could leave Knox with some room to operate in some catch-and-run situations over the middle. The Chiefs allowed 71 catches (4.4 per game) on 102 targets (6.4 per game) to tight ends during the regular season for a total of 852 yards (53.3 per game) and nine touchdowns. Last week, the Cleveland Browns’ tight ends combined for six catches and 75 yards on nine targets. Knox has never had more than four catches or more than 67 receiving yards in a game in his career. While he caught three touchdowns this season, one more than his rookie-year total, it was a disappointing season overall. This would be an ideal time for a breakout.
DT Ed Oliver
I’m not sure if you’ve heard, as it’s been a fairly well-kept secret, but quarterback Patrick Mahomes is dealing with some injuries this week, as he is in concussion protocol and he has a toe injury on his left foot. What doesn’t a quarterback want when he has a lower-body injury that’s limiting his mobility? Pressure right up the middle. Enter Oliver, who had three tackles against Kansas City in the first meeting, but zero quarterback hits or pressures. The Bills will probably be hesitant to blitz, meaning that their front four will have to generate pressure. After the defensive line played its best game of the year against Lamar Jackson last weekend, they’ll need an encore performance to send the Bills to the Super Bowl. An early Oliver sack would be nice.
S Micah Hyde
If Buffalo does blitz a bit more this week, they’ll need their safeties to play lights-out on the back end, as Kansas City can score at will from anywhere on the field. With Hyde and Jordan Poyer in the back of the defense, it opens up the Bills to do some things that other teams wouldn’t be able to do to the Chiefs. I’d consider bringing a little more heat this week, especially early, to see just how mobile Mahomes is. I imagine that Hyde will be the deep safety in most of those blitz packages, as defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier has dialed up plenty of blitzes from the secondary of late with players like Taron Johnson, Siran Neal, and Poyer (and even corners Levi Wallace and Tre’Davious White). Hyde will have the added responsibility of watching for tight end Travis Kelce over the middle when he isn’t trying to keep Tyreek Hill in front of him.