The Kansas City Chiefs are in the race for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. The Buffalo Bills are clinging to slim playoff hopes. Both teams have been at the top of the AFC for the last few years, with the Chiefs achieving the kind of success that the Bills can only dream of at this point.
If Buffalo wants to keep their Super Bowl dreams alive, they need to come out of Arrowhead with a win this week. That’s no easy task, as the Chiefs have lost just five times at home over the last three seasons. Two of those losses, however, are against the Bills.
Here are our five Chiefs to watch in this weekend’s pivotal matchup.
QB Patrick Mahomes
The best quarterback in the NFL is having a down year by his standards, but he’s still putting together an outstanding season. Mahomes has his lowest quarterback rating of his career over a full season at “only” 95.1, and his 2.3% interception percentage is also the highest of his career in a full season. However, this isn’t some suggestion that the two-time NFL MVP is on the downswing, or that he’s losing his grip on superstardom. Mahomes is a generational talent, and the Bills will have to bow their necks on defense in order to make his job harder. Mahomes is a great scrambler, is deadly accurate, and has enough arm strength to make every throw head coach Andy Reid could want. Teams have been able to slow him down by bracketing his best receiver — Travis Kelce — and forcing him to use his other weapons, who just aren’t as good as their future Hall of Fame tight end. Pressuring him with the front-four would be a big plus, as well, and perhaps mixing in a well-timed blitz or two with some good blitz bluffs could keep Mahomes off-balance enough to prevent Kansas City’s offense from finding a groove.
WR Rashee Rice
Someone other than Kelce has to be able to shake off opposing coverages, and Rice has been that guy of late. The rookie wideout is someone I would have liked to see catching passes from Josh Allen, but instead, we’ll be hoping that the Bills’ secondary can stop him from catching passes from Mahomes. Rice is big (6’2”), fast (4.5 40-yard dash), and improving as the season progresses. He’s caught 52 passes for 591 yards and five touchdowns on the season, and most of that production (35/418/3) has come in the last seven games. Whether it’s Rasul Douglas, Christian Benford, or Taron Johnson on Rice, Buffalo needs to be wary of his ability.
TE Travis Kelce
Obviously, the Chiefs want to give Kelce the ball. Certainly, the Bills want to make sure that Kelce doesn’t beat them. In years’ past, the team would either use a safety like Jordan Poyer or a linebacker like Tremaine Edmunds to guard Kelce. Sometimes, they even used cornerback Tre’Davious White to cover Kelce, though, and I expect that the Bills will do something similar when they go man this week. Obviously, White is on Injured Reserve, so the corner best suited to cover Kelce is their newest addition, Rasul Douglas. Douglas is 6’2” and 209 pounds — he’s easily the Bills’ biggest defensive back. If the Bills can bracket Kelce while also maintaining their matchups elsewhere, they’ll be in good shape. That’s easier said than done.
OT Wanya Morris
Head coach Andy Reid said there’s a good chance that Morris is the starter at left tackle instead of Donovan Smith, who’s been dealing with a neck injury that’s causing limitations in his shoulders. That could be a big issue against a formidable Bills pass rush, especially considering edge rushers Leonard Floyd (9.5 sacks) and A.J. Epenesa (6.5 sacks) are having big years. Kansas City would be wise to use their running backs to chip in pass protection, and they may consider moving Mahomes in the pocket on play-action and bootlegs in order to help out their reserve left tackle. If Morris holds up, Bills head coach Sean McDermott will probably panic and send extra blitzes, thereby giving Mahomes plenty of open space to throw downfield. If he doesn’t, then Buffalo’s defense can play more coverage, which is definitely what they want to do this week.
CB Trent McDuffie
There are quite a few great defenders on this Chiefs team, but I’m watching McDuffie for two reasons: first off, he’s excellent as a blitzer, as a cover corner, and in run support. Secondly, though, it’s been widely speculated that he’s the corner One Bills Drive wanted in the 2022 NFL Draft, not Kaiir Elam, so there’s an element of sadness here while watching him, as well. As much as I like Elam and his physical traits, McDuffie was a great fit for Buffalo’s defense. When Kansas City picked him, it seems that the Bills panicked and took Elam, who hasn’t panned out, to put it mildly. McDuffie isn’t Kansas City’s CB1 — that’s veteran L’Jarius Sneed — but he’s a fantastic CB2 who will be a tough matchup whether he’s on Stefon Diggs or Gabe Davis.