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Six Buffalo Bills to watch vs. the Kansas City Chiefs

The Bills-Chiefs playoff show comes to Highmark Stadium

Syndication: Democrat and Chronicle Jamie Germano/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Buffalo Bills host the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the 2023 NFL Playoffs. That game takes place Sunday night. For Bills fans, it’s the realization of something they’ve wanted for years, which is the opportunity to play a playoff game against the Chiefs away from the confines of Arrowhead Stadium.

Typically, we go with five players to watch, but with a big game this week, we’re breaking free of that mold. I’ve also decided to omit the quarterbacks from the article discussion this week, because let’s face it: everyone knows that Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes are important to the outcome of the game. Rather than repeating the obvious, we’re going to treat that as a given.

With that, here are our six Bills to watch this weekend.

RB James Cook

The Pro Bowl running back was excellent again last weekend, carrying 18 times for 78 yards and hauling in four passes. Those four passes amounted to just five yards, though, so the Bills would love a repeat performance not from his Super Wild Card Weekend game, but from the first matchup Buffalo had with the Chiefs this season. In that one, Cook caught five passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, adding 10 carries for 58 yards to his total.

As good as Kansas City’s defense has been against the pass, they have had their struggles against the run. The Chiefs allow 4.5 yards per carry and are just No. 18 in total rushing yards allowed this season. It’s a defense that’s built to play with a lead, and if the Bills can keep the game script in their favor, then it will help them to exploit that run defense as best they can.

The Chiefs did an excellent job against the stellar Miami Dolphins rushing attack last week, however, holding the Dolphins to just 76 rushing yards. Part of that is because Miami trailed for the entire game, but part of it is because the Chiefs keyed in on speedster De’Von Achane, limiting him to nine yards on six attempts.

Interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady can’t go away from the run, and an effective outing from Cook will help the Bills to sustain drives, score points, and advance to the AFC Championship Game.

WR Trent Sherfield

Yes, second-year man Khalil Shakir has emerged as WR2 in the Bills’ offense of late. Yes, Stefon Diggs needs to have a game (we’ll talk about him below). Yes, the team’s tight end duo of Dawson Knox and Dalton Kincaid needs to pick up yardage and keep the offense on schedule throughout the night.

However, in the last matchup, the Bills had a tremendously difficult time finding their wide receivers in the passing game. Gabe Davis was targeted twice and didn’t catch a pass.

With Davis unable play again this week thanks to the knee injury that kept him out of Monday’s playoff game, someone has to step up for Buffalo. It will be Sherfield who sees the majority of Davis’ snaps outside, and he can’t just be a body that the Chiefs can ignore.

If Kansas City matches L’Jarius Sneed on Stefon Diggs and Trent McDuffie on Khalil Shakir, that could leave Sherfield matched up against rookie nickel corner Chamarri Conner, who intercepted Josh Allen in the first meeting. That’s still a matchup that Sherfield must find a way to win a few times, even if it’s only to open up the main options for Buffalo’s offense.

Sherfield isn’t among the top options on the offense, and with good reason. But, if he’s going to be on the field, he needs to be a threat. Catching a few passes could open opportunities for his teammates.

WR Stefon Diggs

I can’t remove all the obvious ones, right? In the first meeting, L’Jarius Sneed and Kansas City’s defense had Diggs locked down all night. He caught just four-of-eleven targets for 24 yards. That kind of disappearance can’t happen in a big playoff game. Interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady has to manufacture some touches for Diggs, whether they’re on quick-screens, stick routes, slants as the “hot” man on a blitz, whatever it may be.

Diggs has to have the ball in his hands in order for Buffalo’s offense to operate at maximum efficiency. Sure, the Bills won the last meeting without that really happening, but let’s face it: It’s a playoff game, all the chips are down, and the best players need to show up in a big way. This is a night where Diggs needs to shine.

DT Ed Oliver

Buffalo needs to pressure quarterback Patrick Mahomes with their front four. Preferably, that pressure should come right up the middle.

Enter Ed Oliver, who’s been an absolute monster this season. Last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oliver was a one-man wrecking crew, harassing quarterback Mason Rudolph all day long. He had three quarterback hits and two knockdowns last weekend, and when the Bills beat the Chiefs earlier this season, he had half a sack, a quarterback hit, and a batted pass at the line of scrimmage.

It would be a big day to have a big day for Oliver, who’s been worth every penny of that four-year, $68 million extension he signed prior to the start of the season.

[The Linebackers]

Given that we have next to zero clue who’s playing here, I think it’s fair to highlight the positional group as a whole. Will Terrel Bernard be able to suit up — and if he does, how will the ankle injury he suffered last week impact his ability to cover Travis Kelce and tackle Isiah Pacheco?

Can veteran A.J. Klein continue his level of play from Monday, leading the team with 11 tackles last game after re-joining the team as a couch-to-practice-squad linebacker? Will Dorian Williams see time as a blitzer? What about Tyrel Dodson, who was playing so well before injuring his shoulder against Miami in the regular season finale? There are so many question marks here, and the answers to those questions very well may determine the outcome of the game.

CB Dane Jackson

Rasul Douglas says he’s playing this weekend, and I’m inclined to believe him. Christian Benford has been ruled out. That may leave Jackson in line to start for the second straight week, and while he’s had a few iffy moments so far both in the start against the Pittsburgh Steelers and coming off the bench against the Miami Dolphins, he’s played well enough in both games to trust him with another start.

It will be interesting to see if Kaiir Elam plays a few more snaps this week, as he made a huge interception last weekend and acquitted himself fairly well against the Steelers. He’s also no stranger to making big plays against Mahomes, as he intercepted Mahomes in the end zone last year during the meeting between these two teams.

Jackson had three pass breakups last week, and while he did allow one of Mason Rudolph’s two touchdown passes, Rudolph was just 3-of-9 for 23 yards when throwing in Jackson’s direction. If the Bills need Jackson to step up, he’s proven capable on multiple occasions. He’ll need to be his best on Sunday.