It’s weird how quickly we can get used to things as sports fan. The term “In the hunt” used to be so familiar to fans of the Buffalo Bills that it felt like home. In just a few short years, we’ve gotten so used to winning the AFC East that the term now feels alien. It’s barely December and the Bills are already in do-or-die mode.
As Buffalo casts its gaze toward the Kansas City Chiefs, let’s depart from the usual analysis and examine both teams’ strengths and weaknesses to get a better handle on the Bills’ chances of ending the week 7-6 rather than the very dismaying alternative.
Buffalo Bills defense vs. Kansas City Chiefs offense — Overall Stats
I didn’t have as much free time this week, so my charts won’t be as eye-catching as usual. Also, I could have calculated the NFL averages for the missing items but y’know, time.
On the yards per matchups (play, pass, and rush), this matchup clearly favors Kansas City. Overall, KC is good at moving the ball as they’re number in the league — which puts them just out of the average grouping using my rule of four. Both passing and rushing are average, but suggests a balanced offense. Buffalo is on the wrong side of the mean, but in the average grouping except for rushing yards per. If I had to make a prediction here, it’s that Buffalo will struggle to make Kansas City one-dimensional.
KC’s strong third-down percentage and completion percentage also match up well with Buffalo. Once the ball is in the red zone, the overall stats suggest a toss-up between the two teams. The Chiefs’ touchdown rate there doesn’t match the rest of their overall stats and appears to show some weakness there. The Bills’ red zone defense looks to be a relative strength.
Don’t expect Patrick Mahomes to hit the turf too often as they’re the second-best team at avoiding sacks. On the flip side, if anyone can manage a couple takedowns, the Buffalo Bills are one of the safest bets as the second best at doing so. Buffalo’s blitz rate sits at 23.2%, which is 13th in the league — and that’s good news as it means they aren’t sacrificing coverage all that often to hit home.
So yes, the best guess is that Kansas City is going to move the ball. That doesn’t count the Bills out though as KC’s interception and overall turnover rates are in the “bad” category according to my rule of four. Buffalo’s turnover rate is excellent, and the defense will likely need to prove it the rest of the season to help stack some wins.
Interestingly, when it comes to points per drive, my favorite aggregate stat, the Bills’ defense doesn’t lag incredibly far behind the Chiefs’ offense. I know fans hate the phrase, but it seems as if Buffalo’s defense will bend but rarely break (cue fourth quarter and OT comments...now).
Buffalo Bills offense vs. Kansas City Chiefs defense — Overall Stats
Flipping the script results in a pretty decent mirror match between the Bills and Chiefs. I’ll be laying some praise on pretty thick, which means it’ll have to be in both directions.
It hasn’t translated to wins as often as we’d like, but Buffalo’s offense is preposterously efficient on paper. If I were to show you these stats without a team label, no one would expect a 6-6 squad. Buffalo has a distinct advantage for gaining yards by the numbers. While the relative rankings don’t reflect it, there’s a bigger gap here than the first chart. The Bills’ offense gains almost a full yard more per play (0.9) than Kansas City’s defense allows. Going the other direction, Buffalo’s defense allows 0.3 yards more per play than the Chiefs gain.
Unlike their offense, KC’s defense seems unbalanced. While they do pretty well against the pass, their run stopping is lacking, which presents a good opportunity for Buffalo to control the clock and the game (note that this is also true for the Chiefs).
It’s possible that KC will be able to rattle quarterback Josh Allen a little bit, as they’ve been successful keeping completion percentages low and are no slouches when it comes to taking down the quarterback. Both of these have been strengths for the Bills this year though, and Buffalo has trended well the last two games against tough defenses.
The Bills are one of the best teams at scoring in football and the Chiefs are one of the best teams at stopping it. Two factors to consider if you’re hoping for a Bills win are turnovers and red zone success.
Buffalo has given the ball away like Halloween candy this year and could desperately use a clean game. Kansas City may be the ticket, as that’s their biggest weakness this season. While they’re average in red zone stops, KC has to face off against a dominant Buffalo unit in that area of the field.
The big question should be getting to the red zone in the first place. The yards-per-play metric and third-down-conversion rates strongly suggest the Bills can move into range. That will be great news if they can continue to capitalize in red zone opportunities like they have been this season.
These charts look nicer, as they come straight from the NFL. Feel free to dive in, and I’ll share a few quick notes. This takes some of the efficiency matchups to a more granular level, exploring if certain areas of the field can be exploited.
For Kansas City’s passing offense, they’re completing a lot of passes in the short zones. Toward the short right, this is also leading to higher-than-average gains. Deep zones are pretty much average in all regard except for average gain in the middle and comp % deep right. Both of those sneak into the “bad” category according to my rule of four.
Buffalo’s defense is incredibly fascinating. Passes short left, short middle, and deep middle are representative of an excellent-to-elite defense. To contrast, short right and deep shots to both left and right have been a disaster. This strongly suggests great safety, linebacker, and slot play with trouble at the corner spots. Weird, right?
Aside from passes to the short right, Kansas City may struggle to exploit the Bills’ weaknesses. At least on paper. Single-week game plans could certainly mitigate some of these global traits, but may cause ripples elsewhere on the field.
Heading the other direction, Buffalo’s offense is like a funhouse mirror of KC in the short passing game. Just like the Chiefs, they’re quite good in the short zones, but the funhouse mirror amplifies this. Buffalo is elite. Buffalo should also be considered closer to average for deep shots, but it’s more spotty than KC. Left and right, the Bills shade close to above average. Deep right they’re the worst in the league. In fact, on 12 attempts they’ve completed precisely zero.
The Chiefs’ defense matches up well short middle, so that’s a toss up. They’re good at limiting gains short left, but will allow completions. Short right passes heavily favor Buffalo. On the deep side of things, it’s a toss up to the left and middle. It’s possible KC’s weakness there will allow the Bills to finally land one in this zone of the field. Deep right passes look like they’ll be tough for Buffalo.
In the rushing game, things are pretty straightforward for KC’s offense vs. Buffalo’s defense. The Chiefs’ biggest weakness (runs off left end) still looks stronger than the Bills’ ranking there. Runs toward the right end are the only rush direction where Buffalo should be favored. Runs toward both tackles are close to a toss up. Essentially, nothing here dispels the idea that KC will have rushing opportunities.
Once again it’s the Bills data that’s weird. Answer honestly. Did you expect that Buffalo is the BEST team in football running it right up the middle? It’s no fluke either, as they’ve ran there more than anywhere else this season. They’re overall average elsewhere, with runs toward the right guard actually being in the bad range.
Kansas City is unfortunately stoutest in the middle (and off the right tackle). The Bills can still gain yards there, but it might not be an “easy” button this game. Runs toward the right side at the Chiefs aren’t always fruitful. Toward the left side though, they’re incredibly vulnerable. There’s nothing to suggest Buffalo shouldn’t be able to take advantage of that matchup.
The Final Straw
A Buffalo Bills win will almost certainly have to come as a result of the defense finding ways to mitigate clear weaknesses in the run game and three of the six zones in the passing game. The data suggests that Buffalo’s defensive woes steer toward personnel gaps more than global, philosophical weaknesses. You can’t just sign a few All-Pros tomorrow to fill that gap — the Bills need a good game plan.
Similarly, on offense Buffalo can lean into some of their strengths like the short/quick passing game that’s led to dominance on numerous drives. They shouldn’t be expected to get away with that exclusively, though, as a dynamic Chiefs defense can try to force the Bills toward weaker areas.
Like many people this week, I like the Bills’ odds. They’ll need to be ready with a good plan to win but that’s the case most weeks. This is a winnable game against an unusually vulnerable Chiefs offense with a shockingly strong defense.