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Bills vs. Chiefs: 17,000 fans will present a new challenge

Buffalo hasn’t played in front of this many fans in quite some time.

With so many storylines emerging during the lead up to the Buffalo Bills taking on the Kansas City Chiefs in this Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, it’s easy to forget that this has been anything but a normal NFL season. Bills Mafia is EXCITED—throes of fans have never seen their Bills anywhere near a chance to play in the Super Bowl, yet one game stands between them and said game. One very big game. A game featuring the NFL’s current World Champion. Already down a game to them thanks to a Week 6 defeat under challenging circumstances and adverse weather, Buffalo now gets a shot at redemption. To win, they’ll have to rise above the storylines favoring the Chiefs, and they’ll have to tune out and quiet down a fairly sizeable crowd.

The Bills have played in front of hostile crowds a few times this season, not counting their two home playoff wins (figures via Pro Football Reference):

Quickly adding it up, Buffalo heard the noise from a total of 23,678 fans during the regular season. That’s a low figure for a normal preseason game, and it’s the fifth-lowest away-game total among the 32 teams. Needless to say, the Bills aren’t used to playing offense against the NFL’s 12th man this season. Looking closer, almost half those fans came via South Beach—a crowd still small compared with what the team will see and hear in Arrowhead Stadium. Somewhere between 16-17,000 fans are expected and, thankfully, some of them will be cheering on the Bills. Still, it represents a new challenge for the team, playing in front of a crowd that’s almost three times the size of their own home crowds the last two weeks. It’s interesting to note Buffalo went 1-2 on the road versus crowds. Not necessarily a harbinger of doom, but it’s noteworthy.

You may be wondering where Kansas City sits in these metrics. Well, the Chiefs faced the 14th-most fans for away games, coming in at a total of 37,321 folks cheering against them in person all season. They had the third-most fans in attendance for home games, trialing only the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys. Relative to the Bills, Kansas City went 4-0 on the road against crowds.

Much has been made of Josh Allen’s ascendance this season, becoming one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks—one who has been in conversations as an MVP candidate for months now. While acknowledging that Allen has become an elite QB, adding to his potent arsenal of abilities from the pocket and outside it, and with the game slowing down for him—it’s also possible that Allen has benefitted from the lack of crowd noise in 2020. I don’t necessarily think a loud crowd would have significantly lowered Allen’s trajectory in 2020. He’s clearly shown abilities most didn’t see coming, and his progress likely transcends situations where the crowd would affect the outcome. But, it is possible he’s ahead of his own curve thanks to the Zen-like atmosphere in most stadiums this season.

Yes, Josh Allen and every player top to bottom on Buffalo’s roster has played in front of large crowds during either their college or NFL careers. So, hopefully a gathering of 17,000 fans won’t sidetrack their game. Still, it’s worth at least considering that what the Bills are about to walk into is unlike anything they’ve faced this season. The NFL’s World Champions are bringing one of the league’s largest crowds to battle. Let’s just hope a Cinderella story lulls them all to sleep.