The Buffalo Bills face off against the Kansas City Chiefs this week in a game of the utmost importance for both squads. For the Chiefs, they need to avoid a second straight loss in order to keep pace in their quest for the top seed in the AFC. For the Bills, they need to win in order to avoid dropping below .500 and to stay relevant in an increasingly muddled AFC playoff field.
After a week where we spent our time talking about anything but football in Bills Land, the team has to put all of their focus into their craft. That’s an increasingly difficult feat when a superstar is out on bond thanks to a domestic violence warrant and the head coach is trying to explain why he made a 9/11 analogy four years ago. However, the players have no choice but to shut out the self-inflicted distractions and focus on the task at hand.
That task is a tall one, as the Chiefs have been Buffalo’s kryptonite even in the best of times. How can the Bills avoid a second-straight loss, this one a defeat that could all but end their playoff hopes? They’ll need big performances from their best players in order to pull it off.
Here are five Bills we’re watching this week.
QB Josh Allen
The Bills’ superstar quarterback was incredible against the Philadelphia Eagles two Sundays ago, whizzing perfect passes through the wind and the rain while nearly carrying the Bills to victory. A misread on his final pass of the game was all that stood between a picture-perfect ending to the great contest, and it was instead another instance of the Bills being close, but not close enough to win. He’ll need to be dominant again against a Kansas City defense that, for the most part, Allen has been able to solve over the last few years. Admittedly, those versions of the Chiefs’ defense weren’t nearly as good as this one, but they are dealing with some injuries to the middle of the unit. Linebacker Drue Tranquill is in concussion protocol, and safety Bryan Cook suffered a pretty nasty looking ankle sprain last week, so it’s possible that both players will miss the game. If that’s the case, tight end Dalton Kincaid — and potentially tight end Dawson Knox, whose 21-day practice window to return from Injured Reserve opened this week — could have big days. Buffalo’s playoff hopes rest on Allen’s right arm, and if he can go Hercules-mode, the Bills have a great chance.
TE Dalton Kincaid
I alluded to it above, but the Bills will need someone to step up in the middle of the field. Given the injuries and Kansas City’s strength at outside corner, that’s going to be a place where Buffalo can find some favorable matchups. Kincaid has been fantastic after starting slowly this year, as he’s totaled 56 catches for 474 yards and two touchdowns on the season. In the last six games, which all came after he missed the Bills’ win over the New York Giants in October, Kincaid has caught 39 balls for 356 yards and two touchdowns. Had he been involved to that extent all year, that’s a 110/1,009/6 pace. Given that he was a near-total non-factor in his first five games, though (17/149/0), his whole-year pace isn’t quite as exceptional. Kincaid has been a weapon for the Bills, and as he continues to grow a rapport with Allen, he’s only going to become more dangerous. This would be a nice week for him to secure his third touchdown reception (better even should he find more).
WR Stefon Diggs
Let’s keep it nice and obvious here. Diggs is having another outstanding season. He leads the team in targets (121), catches (83), receiving yards (969), and receiving touchdowns (8). As Kincaid’s targets have risen, Diggs’ have declined a bit, but he has still been effective against both man and zone coverages. Interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady needs to find ways to scheme Diggs open in the middle, perhaps from the slot, so that he can occasionally move Diggs away from L’Jarius Sneed. The last time these two teams met, Diggs caught 10 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. He doesn’t necessarily need to go off like that in order for the Bills to win the game, but it certainly would help if their WR1 was able to dominate his matchup.
DT Ed Oliver
Someone needs to put pressure on Patrick Mahomes. Edge rusher Leonard Floyd has a good matchup this week, as does A.J. Epenesa and Greg Rousseau, all of whom are having strong seasons. However, it’s Oliver who has been Buffalo’s best all-around defensive lineman. He’s been outstanding against both the run and the pass. He’s done it in spite of the fact that defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, the guy who was supposed to eat those double-teams, hasn’t played since Week 5. Defensive tackles Jordan Phillips, Tim Settle, and Linval Joseph have been next to him more often than not, and frankly, Joseph has been the best one of that group, which is saying a lot considering that he wasn’t on a roster until early November. Oliver needs to push the middle of the pocket and prevent Mahomes from doing that thing he does — extending plays and making magic happen downfield — better than nearly anyone.
CB Rasul Douglas
I don’t think that Douglas is going to shadow anyone, as the Bills will likely stay true to their Cover-3 tendencies this weekend. However, if there’s someone on Buffalo’s defense that I trust to man-up on tight end Travis Kelce, it’s definitely the big-bodied Douglas, who has the size and strength to stick with the future Hall of Fame tight end. Douglas may not be the quickest of corners, but Kelce isn’t quite as swift as he once was, either. If the team has to go man-to-man, I would trust Douglas over the others to cover him. If he can cause a turnover or two, that would be extra helpful.