The Buffalo Bills play the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend. A win would not only avenge Buffalo’s Week 1 loss to Pittsburgh at the start of the 2021 regular season; it would also put the Bills at 4-1 after five games for a fourth straight season. Their focus seems to be, exclusively and rightfully, on the next opponent—and coming away with an important home win.
The team could be forgiven, however, for also thinking a bit about the opponent after the Steelers: the Kansas City Chiefs.
Josh Allen appeared on the Kyle Brandt’s Basement show this week and insisted that he wasn’t even aware Kansas City followed Pittsburgh on Buffalo’s schedule: “I honestly—hand to bible, hand to God—didn’t know we were playing them next week.”
That seems hard to believe. Not that Allen hasn’t earned the right to be taken at his word—his play of late suggests that he takes each game, and its opponent, very seriously—but it’s the Chiefs. If Allen himself didn’t have that date circled on the calendar when the schedule was released back in May, then someone else at One Bills Drive certainly did.
In most cases, rivalry weeks are intra-divisional. In Buffalo’s case, right now, their biggest rivals are the reigning kings of the AFC West.
Kansas City’s ascent within the AFC power structure began when Andy Reid took over as head coach in 2013, but started to reach its apex in 2018, when Patrick Mahomes replaced Alex Smith as the team’s starting quarterback. The Chiefs have reached four consecutive AFC title games, winning two of them to advance to the Super Bowl, and they already have a championship to their name.
Buffalo’s ascent within the AFC power structure began a year later, in 2019, when then-second year quarterback Allen led the team to a 10-6 record and its second playoff appearance in three years. Since then, the Bills have also established themselves as an AFC powerhouse—though they are not at the Chiefs’ level yet.
With each team on division-title streaks—Kansas City’s is at six seasons and counting in the West, with Buffalo having won two straight East crowns—the teams have had the opportunity to trade regular-season blows, as well. The Chiefs came to Orchard Park in 2020 and, in front of an empty stadium thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, secured a 26-17 victory that would eventually afford them a higher playoff seed than Buffalo. Last season, the Bills handed the Chiefs one of their two regular-season home losses with a 38-20 win at Arrowhead in Week 5.
But really, it’s about the playoffs, and the potential impact that next week’s game will have on what feels like an inevitable playoff rematch in this budding rivalry. Each of Buffalo’s last two playoff runs ended in Arrowhead Stadium—the first a conference championship game loss in January of 2021, followed up by last year’s divisional-round epic.
Focus on the Steelers first. Naturally. Pretend the Chiefs don’t exist until the final whistle blows on Sunday, if you must. One way or the other, though, next week is rivalry week.