The Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs will face off once again this weekend in an AFC Divisional Round playoff game where the victor’s spoils is another week of football and a date in the conference championship.
As of publishing, DraftKings Sportsbook lists the Bills as -2.5 “favorites” — with an over/under of 45.5 and the moneyline at -148 Buffalo / +124 Kansas City.
Since 2020, the Bills and Chiefs have played six games between the regular and postseason. The teams have split to sit at 3-3 since 2020, though Buffalo has yet to claim a victory over Kansas City in the playoffs. Until this weekend, the Chiefs had yet to travel to Orchard Park, NY for the postseason — let alone anywhere other than Arrowhead since quarterback Patrick Mahomes entered the NFL.
Kansas City hasn’t played a road playoff game of football in nine years, a span that includes 14 games. That speaks to their dominance both within their division and in the conference.
Yet dominant is also a word one might use to describe these Bills under head coach Sean McDermott. Since his arrival, Buffalo has only missed postseason play in one season — Allen’s first as a starter. This season, the Bills claimed their fourth-consecutive AFC East Division championship, once again finished as the two seed in the AFC, and will now play in the AFC Divisional Round playoff game for the fourth straight season. All this, despite a massive amount of injuries on defense, and one very controversial exposé on Sean McDermott. In an interesting bit of timing, that three-part story on McDermott landed during the team’s bye week, just ahead of their Week 14 meeting matchup with Kansas City.
Since Week 14, the Bills have gone on a six-game winning streak — their latest victory of course against the Pittsburgh Steelers this past Monday of Super Wild Card Weekend. Within that streak, Buffalo’s found myriad ways to win, whether by way of a physical running game, an overwhelming late-game passing attack, or through stout defensive play at game’s end. Of course, the Bills began to get healthy as the playoffs drew near, which helped them to play some of their best football of the season. But almost as soon as the word “healthy” was uttered, injuries once again entered the fray.
As the two seed, the Bills weren’t afforded what used to traditionally be a bye week during the Wild Card round. Instead, two now plays seven — the latter of which became an additional seed several seasons ago. Until this season’s playoffs, no seven seed had managed to defeat a two seed. That changed when the Green Bay Packers upset the Dallas Cowboys. The Steelers would find no such luck. Even more unlucky were the injuries Buffalo sustained as a result of having to play during the opening round of the playoffs.
Five players exited last Monday’s game with new injuries:
- CB Christian Benford (knee)
- LB Terrel Bernard (ankle)
- CB Taron Johnson (concussion)
- LB Baylon Spector (back)
- P Sam Martin (hamstring)
As of Friday, linebacker Baylon Spector and cornerback Christian Benford from that list above were both ruled out — as were wide receiver Gabe Davis and safety Taylor Rapp. Nickel cornerback Taron Johnson has one more step to clear in the concussion protocol on Saturday, while linebacker Terrel Bernard and punter Sam Martin remain day to day.
It remains anyone’s guess as to who among those Bills injured prior to last Monday will be able to suit up this weekend. Other key losses for Buffalo include linebacker Tyrel Dodson, safety Taylor Rapp, and wide receiver Gabe Davis. Add in wide receiver Stefon Diggs with a listed foot injury on Thursday’s injury report and the list reads more like a Stephen King novella than a quick NFL memo.
Every team that makes it this far into the postseason deals with injuries, and that includes the Chiefs. As of Friday, head coach Andy Reid ruled out wide receiver Skyy Moore, offensive tackle Wanya Morris, and defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi. Wide receivers Kadarius Toney and Justyn Ross remain questionable for Sunday.
To their credit, the Bills have put together an impressive 2023 campaign given the injury situation, and this weekend will require more of the same as it’s possible McDermott will have to dig deep into the depth chart to fill out a starting roster.
That sounds ominous for the Buffalo Bills’ chances — at least until you consider the quality of play One Bills Drive has received from each and every “next man up.” Having competed in playoff-like games since Week 14 while relying on players off the bench or previously outside the organization hasn’t fazed this Bills team. They’re a battle-tested group who often excel above their weight class.
With Buffalo and Kansas City having faced off recently, it’s fair to guess that things might unfold similarly this weekend — at least in terms of how they play one another. Yet, that’s likely not to be the case. Teams evolve through the regular season, and often it’s more fruitful looking at the most recent games of any opponent.
In Week 14, the Bills were still finding themselves within interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s play calling, but the roots of his leanings had already taken hold. In film review following their first meeting this season, it appeared that Buffalo was able to find success calling variations of just two running plays. Despite that, running back James Cook had one of his most successful dual-threat outings, with 10 rushes for 58 yards; adding five receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown. In total, nine different receivers caught passes, and Josh Allen joined Cook to co-lead the team in rushes at 10 apiece.
Perhaps the biggest difference was how seldom wide receiver Khalil Shakir found opportunities — even though Gabe Davis failed to tally a reception. In the final four regular-season games, Shakir caught all 16 of his targets for 219 yards and a touchdown. He’s become one of the most reliable receivers on the team, regardless of position.
On Sunday, Brady and Allen should look to Shakir more often, with or without Davis. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs is certain to draw plenty of attention from the Chiefs’ talented secondary, and it will be important for Allen to develop rhythm early through outlets such as Shakir and tight end Dalton Kincaid. Both players have proven up to the task in crunch time, and they possess some of the best hands on the team this season.
There are no shortage of questions about the Bills leading up to Sunday’s playoff game. Time will tell us how they handle the adversity at linebacker against a team that loves to throw the football over the middle of the field. Additionally, they must limit mistakes and take advantage of finally having a postseason playoff game against the Chiefs. Regardless of weather, Buffalo must play football on their terms if they hope to play the following weekend.
As for Kansas City, the biggest question is how Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will fare in their first true road game. Without the benefit of a quiet stadium on offense, Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid will have to get more creative pre-snap and rely on the silent count. Throughout the duration of the season, Kansas City’s offense just hasn’t looked the same as years’ past. Far too many drops by far too many players has served as a plague upon their house. While they still possess the ability to light up a scoreboard, they only scored 30 or more points in three games. The Chiefs finished an impressive 6-2 on the road during the season, but faltered down the stretch — finishing 3-2 overall in their final five games.
Much has been made of tight end Travis Kelce this season, from a dip in production, to uncharacteristic drops — and there’s also been plenty of talk about his suddenly very famous relationship with a certain someone. It remains to be seen whether Kelce’s significant other finds her way to Highmark Stadium. To some, that’s the biggest unanswered question ahead of Sunday.
If the Buffalo Bills are to win on Sunday, it will require a diverse game plan on offense that keeps the Chiefs’ defense guessing. Gaining traction in the run game early could help to soften the defensive backfield a bit, and lead to some chunk plays in the run game later on. Perhaps most of all, Stefon Diggs needs to find his game-wrecking mojo once more. Allen and Diggs are long overdue for the sort of day that drops everyone’s jaws. Buffalo will also need to find its most ferocious and patient pass rush to get to and contain Patrick Mahomes behind the line of scrimmage.
Can they pull it off, successfully navigating all the injuries and still playing their best football against the defending Super Bowl Champions? For Bills Mafia, it’s been four years in the making — and they’re plenty fired up!