The Buffalo Bills head to Arrowhead Stadium for the third consecutive season, and for the fourth time in their last five meetings against the Kansas City Chiefs, for a huge early season AFC matchup. The winner will be 5-1 and in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs. The loser will be 4-2, down a tiebreaker, and chasing for that ever-important home-field advantage and playoff bye week.
Is it too early to talk about playoff seeding in October? Perhaps, but when it comes to Buffalo and Kansas City, it never feels like an “if” they’ll meet again, but a “when” they’ll see each other in the playoffs. Just like Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts and Tom Brady’s New England Patriots of the aughts, Josh Allen’s Bills and Patrick Mahomes’s Chiefs seem destined to stand in each other’s way annually.
So, while it may be early in the 2022 NFL season, the importance of this week’s game can’t be overstated. Each play, each player, each unit, each series—everything—will be under a microscope starting at 4:25 PM Eastern this Sunday. Each team’s top players will need to be on point if they want to come out with a victory.
With that in mind, here are our five players to watch this week.
QB Josh Allen
He hears all the noise, whether he admits that he hears it or not. Allen was otherworldly against Kansas City last year in the playoffs, throwing for 329 yards and four touchdowns in the game. Two of those touchdowns came in the game’s final two minutes, and they would have given Buffalo a win had the defense been able to hold on for just 13 measly seconds. Of course, that didn’t happen, and now Allen has to hear all the talking heads—and not even the good ones—discuss his inability to beat the Chiefs. In his career, Allen is just 1-3 against Kansas City, with that lone win coming last year in the regular season. As our own Bruce Nolan will tell you, though, wins are not a quarterback stat—so it’s more appropriate to note that the Bills are 1-3 against Kansas City over the last few years. After that victory last year, it felt like Buffalo crowned themselves a bit, and they sputtered for the better part of the following month. That won’t happen again, as Allen seems more mature and focused, the team has more experience together, and the staff is out for blood this year. If Allen can handle the pressure dialed up by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, maintain his poise, and find the open man against what should be a heavy man-to-man defense, Buffalo should have no problem scoring against a Kansas City defense that is weaker than previous versions. Hero-ball Josh has to be replaced by take-what-they-give-you Josh, and if that guy is in Kansas City on Sunday, Buffalo is in good shape.
WR Isaiah McKenzie
Wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis are too obvious, as Diggs is always the focal point of the passing attack, and Davis absolutely shredded the Chiefs last year in the playoffs. Rookie wide receiver Khalil Shakir had a great game last week, but we talked about him last week, too. Enter McKenzie, who is the Bills’ answer to pressure man defense via crossing routes more often than not. He missed last week’s game with a concussion, but McKenzie is on track to play this week, and if Kansas City gives their outside corners extra help to stop Davis and Diggs, that means that Lil’ Dirty will be one-on-one in the middle. He is the man beater, the John Oates to Allen’s Daryl Hall, and if the Chiefs don’t watch out, he will chew them up.
OG Rodger Saffold
Last week, it was Ryan Bates in the spotlight, and this week, with another star defensive tackle in Chris Jones, we’ll go with Saffold. The big veteran was signed to add some physicality to Buffalo’s line, and while the pass protection has been good, the run blocking has been awful. If Saffold can handle Jones with minimal help from center Mitch Morse, then that will be a big plus for the Bills, who will also have to contend with defensive end Frank Clark. However, if Buffalo has to give help on both Jones and Clark simultaneously, then that will spell trouble against Kansas City’s heavy blitz packages, which are sure to come given Spagnuolo’s aggressive nature. This week, Saffold needs to be the guy Buffalo signed him to be for the line.
EDGE Von Miller
Miller was literally signed for this moment, as the only way to beat Mahomes is to pressure him without blitzing and continuously switch coverages. Sure, defensive end Greg Rousseau has had a great year—and he also played quite well against the Chiefs last year—and defensive end A.J. Epenesa has been excellent this year, too. It’s Miller time this week, though, and he needs to step up and pressure Mahomes in his pass rush snaps. Miller has four sacks, six tackles for a loss, and six quarterback hits this year. He needs to add to all of those totals this week in order for Buffalo to leave Arrowhead with a win.
CB Kaiir Elam
Last week, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett picked on Elam, completing 10 of 13 passes for 126 yards when Elam was the closest defender. Elam did manage an interception, but the game plan was clear: throw the ball to whomever Elam covers. This week, the quarterback on the other side is much better than Pickett, so Elam will have to show that he learned a lesson in a hurry. I have a strange feeling that he will end up on tight end Travis Kelce at times, as he has the size, strength, and speed to match up with the elite tight end athletically. However, if that’s what does end up happening, he’ll definitely have some help, and he’ll also have the unenviable task of defending Kansas City’s best offensive weapon. This is a big week for the rookie.