The Buffalo Bills finally have the opportunity to host the Kansas City Chiefs for the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs in a matchup of epic proportions. The Bills will look to advance to the AFC Championship game for the second time during the tenure of head coach Sean McDermott. In each of the past two seasons, McDermott’s teams have fallen a game short of contending for the Super Bowl.
Here’s what to look for in the playoff edition of Allen vs. Mahomes, Episode 3.
Buffalo Bills Injuries
Last week everyone was talking about the weather and snowfall totals, while this week everyone’s talking about Buffalo’s lengthy injury report. The Bills notched a victory during Super Wild Card Weekend but it came at a price as the team added numerous players to their injury report.
Buffalo’s lengthy injury report lists several key players as OUT: wide receive Gabe Davis (knee), safety Taylor Rapp (calf), linebacker Baylon Spector (back), and cornerback Christian Benford (knee). Here is a look at the full injury report from Friday:
Friday injury report pic.twitter.com/IqQQf47jXq— Buffalo Bills PR (@BuffaloBillsPR) January 19, 2024
Of the four players listed as Questionable, cornerback Rasul Douglas seems to be the most likely to play. It was a good sign seeing cornerback Taron Johnson as a limited participant in practice all week after being in concussion protocol. He has a chance to play if he passes the final stage of the protocol before game time. Punter Sam Martin pulled his hamstring chasing after the ball on a blocked field goal, but luckily it wasn’t his kicking leg. My guess is he will play Sunday because the Bills already cut backup punter Matt Haack, who they signed to the practice squad earlier this week. It’s amazing that linebacker Terrel Bernard still has a chance to play after he was carted off the field with an ankle injury last week. He will be a true game-time decision for Buffalo — but even if he does play I would expect him to be hindered some by the ankle. Linebacker Tyrel Dodson who missed the this past Monday’s playoff game with a shoulder injury carries no injury designation for this weekend. Dodson’s cleared to play.
The Bills’ injuries aren’t ideal, but they’ll soldier on with the “next man up” mentality. That said, any guys who do play despite being listed as “questionable” would be provide a lot of help to a team short on healthy players at several positions.
Finally at home
The Bills have become accustomed to playing the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, with five out of the last six meetings taking place in Kansas City. But this time the Chiefs have to come to Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, NY. The crowd noise and energy Buffalo will feed off of from Bills Mafia is a major positive, but there are also other advantages to being at home.
Buffalo’s offense will have a “quiet” stadium pre-snap. This will allow them to communicate better and change up the plays if they need to. It also allows them to use a cadence instead of a silent count. Hopefully, Josh Allen can use this to his advantage to keep the defense on their toes, help get pre-snap reads, and maybe even draw an offside penalty on the defense.
The Bills’ defense will have a fired-up crowd when they’re on the field and it should make things more difficult for the Chiefs offense. The crowd noise pre-snap will make it challenging for Kansas City to communicate, and they’ll almost certainly have to use a silent count. This should allow the defensive line to time their get-off better and levels the playing field with the offensive tackles — who’ll also be looking at the football to time their get-off. It’s worth noting that Chiefs starting right tackle Jawaan Taylor is the most-penalized player in the league with 17 penalties this season — eight of those being a false start (second most in the NFL).
Keys to success for Buffalo’s offense
To get a full breakdown of how Buffalo’s offense can find success versus the Chiefs’ defense, check out my article from earlier this week. Here are some keys to success for the Bills’ offense that I pointed out in that article:
- Take advantage of being at home by mixing up pre-snap cadences and snap counts. Buffalo’s offense will have the advantage of a relatively quiet stadium before the snap of the ball. Mixing up the snap count will keep the defensive linemen on their toes and maybe even cause an offside penalty on the defense.
- Use their newfound run game to attack the left side of the line of scrimmage and sustain drives. As evident in the data above, the Chiefs are vulnerable on runs to the left side. If Buffalo can dominate the line of scrimmage and keep drives moving by running the football, they can use that to set up the passing game.
- Run Josh run! Designed runs, scrambles, RPOs, all of it! Josh Allen is the most dangerous weapon on the field whether he’s throwing the ball or running with it. Look for Buffalo to give Allen the ball in key moments during tonight’s game. The Chiefs know well enough at this point that Allen running the ball on an important play is coming, but maybe the Bills throw in a wrinkle and fake a QB sweep and hit on a deep ball down the field.
- Attack the middle of the field in the passing game. The emergence of wide receiver Kahlil Shakir and tight end Dalton Kincaid should help this cause.
- Be prepared for the blitz. The Chiefs blitzed the fourth-most during the regular season, blitzing 37% of the time. When the blitz comes, Allen and the receivers should be prepared to have a readily accessible bail-out option.
- Get wide receiver Stefon Diggs involved early and find ways to get him the ball from inside and outside. Diggs and Allen have been just a little bit off on deep-ball connections this season. They connected on one in the regular season finale in Week 18, but they have also missed some big opportunities since then. My spidey senses are tingling — this is the week where it all comes together for these two.
- Use the play-action pass. Establishing a run game early will go a long way to setting up the play-action pass throughout the evening. Make the Chiefs defend the run and have it open up the passing game via play-action.
- No turnovers. Pretty simple.
- Go for it on 4th & Short situations, especially in plus territory.
- Touchdowns, not field goals.
Keys to success for Buffalo’s defense
The Chiefs’ offense isn’t quite what we’ve grown used to seeing in years’ past. From 2018 (the year Mahomes became the starting QB) to 2022 Kansas City’s offense averaged 30.1 points per game. This season the Chiefs had their worst offensive season in the Mahomes era, averaging a measly 21.8 points per game, which ranked 15th in the NFL. Kansas City had their fair share of offensive problems all season long but they showed some life in their 26-7 victory over the Miami Dolphins in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Nonetheless, the Bills are facing a top QB and coach tandem in the league and will have to be ready for anything. Here are some keys to success for the Bills’ defense.
- This one may be obvious, but the Bills need to put pressure on Mahomes. Not only get pressure, but finish plays. Mahomes has the ability to extend and make plays with his legs. Getting Mahomes “off his spot” is one thing, but they either have to get him on the ground for a sack or force him to throw it away. Buffalo has the horses on the defensive line to get pressure with four and it would be huge if they could do that consistently tonight. If there was ever a game for edge rusher Von Miller to make his grand entry, this would be the game. He got awfully close to his first sack of the season last week, maybe he’ll close the deal this week.
- Pause Pacheco. In their first matchup during Week 14, Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco was out with an injury. The second-year back is a handful to take down and runs angry. He’s emerged as one of Kansas City’s top weapons on offense by scoring nine touchdowns and accumulating 1,174 all-purpose yards during the regular season. Pacheco doesn’t fit well in a zone-blocking scheme, so the Chiefs tend to utilize more power and gap concepts in the run game. This usually results in a lead blocker and a designated hole for Pacheco to get to. Buffalo’s front seven has to read their keys and bring intensity to the football to mess up the blocking scheme and get Pacheco on the ground. Should Pacheco break free into the second level, the Bills’ secondary better be ready to make a tackle.
- Make the Chiefs one-dimensional. Stopping the ground game early would go a long way to forcing the Chiefs’ hand at calling passing plays. It almost seems counterintuitive to “make” Patrick Mahomes throw the football, but it is a little easier to do that when you know a pass play is coming. If the Bills can show capable of stopping the run early without stacking the box, and Buffalo’s offense can gain a two-score advantage early, it may really help this banged-up defense to sell out to stop the Chiefs’ passing game.
- Don’t give up the easy throw. Kansas City will likely be targeting some of Buffalo’s backup defensive players in the passing game (Dane Jackson and possibly a backup linebacker). If the Bills can make Mahomes hold the ball a second longer, it will give the defensive line a chance to connect on their pressure. Plus, the Chiefs’ wide receivers have had some drops this season and don’t always seem to be on the same page as Mahomes.
- Take away wide receiver Rashee Rice with cornerback Rasul Douglas. According to Player Profiler, in their Week 14 matchup Douglas showed Rice 84.8% of the time. Rice had a nice day against Douglas the first time around catching seven balls on 10 targets for 72 yards and a touchdown. Douglas has the ability to be a shutdown corner and I’m sure he’ll be itching to get some redemption on the emerging rookie. If Douglas can lock down Rice, the Bills can allocate more resources to stopping another threat.
- Don’t let Taylor Swift cheer. It’d be nice to prevent tight end Travis Kelce from have another big day against Buffalo’s defense in the playoffs. The 34-year-old Kelce hasn’t had his best season, but we all know what he’s capable of and he has the best connection with Mahomes. Kelce will be targeted in key situations, especially since the Bills are dealing with some injuries to the defensive middle of the field.
Kansas City will score some points and have some solid plays, that’s a given. Stopping everyone on their offense is almost impossible, but the Chiefs have struggled this year on offense. Buffalo’s defense has to mix things up and keep Mahomes guessing. A “bend don’t break” defense will have to do in some situations tonight, and if the Bills can keep the Chiefs to field goals instead of touchdowns, they’ll be on the right track. At the end of the day, if the Buffalo Bills score more points than the Kansas City Chiefs, the defense did its job.
Allen versus Mahomes
Allen vs. Mahomes is the premier quarterback matchup in the league right now, and their teams seem to be on a collision course for one of the best playoff rivalries for years to come. The overall record between the two is split evenly, 3-3. Allen is 3-1 versus Mahomes in the regular season, with his only loss coming in their first-ever matchup in 2020. Mahomes has the better record versus Allen in the playoffs though, winning both of their meetings.
Josh Allen has a total of 1,615 passing yards, a 100.5 passer rating, 60.5% completion percentage, 15 passing touchdowns, and three interceptions in six career games versus the Chiefs. Allen has also added 321 rushing yards on 59 attempts and two touchdowns.
Patrick Mahomes has a total of 1,809 passing yards, a 98.5 passer rating, 68.9% completion percentage, 13 passing touchdowns, and five interceptions in six career games versus the Bills. Mahomes has also added 200 rushing yards on 35 attempts and one touchdown.
Everyone will be glued to the battle between these two superstar quarterbacks and it will be a fun one to watch. Allen and the Bills will have to play their best and expend every opportunity that home-field advantage finally offer them, if they seek to advance past the Chiefs in the playoffs for the first time.