6:30 PM EST, CBS – Line: Chiefs -1.5, Over/Under: 54
The last of the Divisional Round matchups could very well be its most entertaining, as the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs stand poised to add another chapter to their growing rivalry in this rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game from GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Meeting for the fourth time in fifteen months, the Bills (11-6, 1st in AFC East) hope that they’ve finally discovered the means of besting the two-time AFC Champions after storming into Arrowhead on a Sunday night back in early October and thumping the hosts in a 38-20 encounter. After the Chiefs got on the board first with a 38-yard field goal, Buffalo marched seventy-five yards downfield in eight plays as (All-Pro Quarterback) Josh Allen (63.3%, 4,407 YDS, 6.31 NY/A, 36 TD, 15 INT, 60.7 QBR) punctuated their opening drive with a 9-yard jaunt into the end zone. Kansas City would strike back with a 12-play, 80-yard drive to retake the lead, only for momentum to slowly shift towards the visiting side, who following a punt on their next possession, would run off seventeen points on their next three drives, aided by a turnover on downs on a 4th & 5 from their 32-yard line. Heading into halftime leading 24-13, the second half featured the self-destruction of the hosts, with (Chiefs Quarterback) Patrick Mahomes intercepted on back-to-back possessions, as (Pro-Bowl Safety) Micah Hyde (74 TKL, 4 TFL, 2 QBH, 1.0 SK, 1 FF, 2 FR, 5 INT, 10 PD, 1 TD) returned the first twenty-six yards to the house, while (Rookie Defensive End) Gregory Rousseau (50 TKL, 8 TFL, 10 QBH, 4.0 SK, 1 FF, 1 INT, 4 PD) picked him off threatening at the 8-yard line. Allen would later lead his teammates eighty-five yards downfield in a dozen plays, bleeding over seven minutes of game time in the process, before hitting (Veteran Receiver) Emmanuel Sanders (42 REC, 626 YDS, 14.9 Y/R, 4 TD) for an 8-yard touchdown to ultimately put the game out of reach. In the end, (Head Coach) Sean McDermott’s troops piled up a whopping 436 total yards despite only possessing the football for 27:35 and committing ten penalties for a staggering 103 yards, though none of that mattered due to winning the turnover battle 4-0. Allen turned in a virtuoso performance with 315 yards and three touchdowns on 15-of-26 passing with another fifty-nine yards and a score on eleven carries, spreading the wealth to eight different targets led by (Tight End) Dawson Knox (49 REC, 587 YDS, 12.0 Y/R, 9 TD) with 117 yards and a touchdown on just three receptions. Rousseau had a sack to go with that interception, while his cohorts on defense also came up with a pair of recovered fumbles. Granted, both teams have changed considerably since that fateful night at Arrowhead, but there is plenty of reason to believe that the Bills are more than capable of turning that trick twice. After suffering through a midseason malaise in which they went 3-5 from Weeks Six to Fourteen, Buffalo closed the regular season in the same form that they opened it, winning four consecutive games, setting up a rubber match with bitter rival, New England on Wild Card Weekend. Splitting their first two meetings with each side winning on the other’s home field, many believed that last weekend’s third encounter would be every bit as close as its predecessors. Unfortunately for the faithful in Foxborough, that would NOT be case in this 47-15 demolition; there are dominant postseason performances and then there is what McDermott and (Offensive Coordinator) Brian Daboll’s charges did to the Patriots, scoring touchdowns on each of their first seven drives of the night, racing out to a 27-0 lead before the visitors managed to tack on a meaningless field goal before halftime. The hosts totaled a ridiculous 482 yards on the Pats, facing just seven third downs (completing six), and rushing for 174 yards on twenty-nine attempts, their third-most on the ground this season, and became the first team in playoff history with zero punts, turnovers, or field goals in a single game. Daboll must have heard the criticism of his playcalling during that aforementioned midseason slide, for Saturday’s rushing performance continued a trend that began seven weeks ago; following that first meeting with New England, they’ve averaged a stellar 163.8 yards via the run, attempting no fewer than twenty-seven rushes on all but one occasion. (Sophomore Tailback) Devin Singletary (188 CAR, 870 YDS, 4.6 Y/A, 7 TD) led the way with eighty-one yards and a pair of touchdowns on sixteen carries, while the aforementioned Allen added sixty-six yards on eleven attempts, though he did the bulk of his damage with his arm, throwing for 308 yards and a franchise postseason record FIVE touchdowns on a surgical 21-of-25 passing. On the other side of the football, (Defensive Coordinator) Leslie Frazier’s unit rendered New England inert, with the aforementioned Hyde picking off (Patriots Quarterback) Mac Jones on their opening drive, before (Cornerback) Levi Wallace (58 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 FR, 2 INT, 10 PD) did the same on the opening possession of the second half. In the end, the Bills relegated the Pats to just 305 total yards, including eighty-nine of the rushing variety, while forcing a pair of turnovers. Buffalo made Jones look like the rookie he is, getting heat on him all night with ten pressures, five hits, and three sacks, further padding the CV of the NFL’s top-ranked defense; Frazier’s troops relinquished the fewest points (17.0), total yards (272.8), passing yards (163.0), passing touchdowns (12), net yards per pass attempt (4.8), and first downs (285) of any team this season. And with that said, is it any wonder that both he and Daboll are two of the most in-demand head coaching candidates at the moment, with both spending the week leading up to today’s affair interviewing with multiple teams? Of the two, the latter is almost certain to be leading his own team in the coming weeks, particularly given his work with Allen and this offense over the last four years. Buffalo’s Assistant General Manager, Joe Schoen, was recently hired as the new General Manager of the New York Giants earlier this week, creating a logical landing spot for either Daboll or Frazier. In the meantime, all attention will be on this matchup with the Chiefs, who they are 1-2 against over the last two seasons. In those three meetings, Allen has completed 56.4% of his attempts for an average of just 241.3 yards with seven touchdowns and a pair of interceptions, while rushing for another 47.2 yards and a score. When they met in last year’s AFC Championship, he was 28-of-48 passing for 287 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception, while tacking on another eighty-eight yards on seven carries in that 38-24 defeat, which marked their eighth consecutive postseason defeat on the road. The Bills enter this contest in relatively good health, with only (Defensive End) Mario Addison (30 TKL, 7TFL, 8 QBH, 5.0 SK, 4 PD) limited throughout the practice week with a shoulder injury.
Meanwhile, the more things seem to change in the AFC, the lone constant continues to be the Chiefs (12-5, 1st in AFC West), who find themselves in the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season and winning their sixth straight division title along the way, en route to being one game away from appearing in a fourth AFC Championship Game in as many years. With that said, there was certainly a point in this campaign where it appeared that Kansas City wouldn’t be anywhere close to keeping this remarkable run of success rolling; (Head Coach) Andy Reid’s charges stumbled out to a disappointing 3-4 start thanks in large part to a plethora of self-inflicted wounds and a defense that looked like the worst unit in the National Football League. Indeed, they committed a stupefying SEVENTEEN turnovers in their first seven outings, leading to a minus-10 differential over that period of time, with (All-Pro Quarterback) Patrick Mahomes (66.3%, 4,839 YDS, 6.84 NY/A, 37 TD, 13 INT, 62.7 QBR) accounting for eleven of those giveaways, nine of which were interceptions. Aiding them in their struggles was a defense that was getting barbequed on a weekly basis, allowing 29.0 points on 404.6 total yards during those first seven games, forcing seven turnovers with only five sacks, all the while yielding a third down success rate of 48.7%. So, what in the name of Derrick Thomas has changed in Kansas City, you ask? Well, as simplistic as it may sound, they got their @#$% together on both sides of the football. The Chiefs would go on to string together eight consecutive victories over the next nine weeks, with Mahomes & Co. committing just eight turnovers leading to a very healthy differential of plus-13. The 2018 MVP was remarkably slow to adapt to the growing number of defenses that deployed more and more two-deep shell coverages against him in an attempt to prevent those huge chunk plays downfield that have become his trademark over the past few years, though as well expected he would find a way to counter those schemes. During that win streak, the 26-year-old took much better care of the football, tossing fifteen touchdowns in comparison to just four interceptions, simply taking what the defense gave him, which as it turned out was a wealth of yardage underneath their zone coverages. This realization helped pave the way for the NFL’s most efficient offense on third down, as Kansas City converted a stellar 52.2% of their opportunities, which eventually caused their opponents to come out of those deep zones and commit more defenders closer to the line of scrimmage which was music to this unit’s ears. On the defensive side of things, just as they did in his first year as Defensive Coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo’s troops have flipped the script midway through the campaign; the Chiefs had allowed a paltry 12.8 points on a much more respectable 325.2 total yards, forcing TWENTY-ONE turnovers with eighteen sacks, while permitting a third down success rate of just 31.3% during that eight-game run. Some subtle adjustments from Spagnuolo and a return to health from many key contributors has led to this turnaround, most notably (Pro-Bowl Defensive Tackle) Chris Jones (27 TKL, 8 TFL, 17 QBH, 9.0 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR, 5 PD), who shook off some early injuries and moved back to his natural position within the interior of the defensive front to wreak havoc with seven sacks, thirteen Quarterback hits, and five tackles for loss over the final nine games of the regular season. And it’s with that said that last weekend’s 42-21 drubbing of the Steelers in the Wild Card Round served as a microcosm of their season, with both the good and the bad on full display. Despite the final score, this one started very slowly for the hosts, who failed to get on the board until there was just under six minutes left to play in the first half; after punting on their first two possessions, Mahomes was intercepted on the first play of the third drive, before the visitors forced a fumble and returned it twenty-six yards to the house to finally break the deadlock early in the second quarter. On their first five drives, Kansas City amassed just seventy-two yards with only three first downs to their name. Fortunately for the home side, Pittsburgh could do nothing offensively, punting on their first seven possessions of the first half, five of which being three-and-outs en route to compiling a meager forty-four yards of total offense. And then, ladies and gentlemen, the two-time reigning AFC Champions erupted, finishing the first half with three touchdown drives. The first saw Mahomes march them seventy-six yards downfield in eight plays, finding (Versatile tailback) Jerick McKinnon (25 TCH, 169 YDS, 6.8 Y/T, 1 TD) for a 4-yard score, followed by a 7-play, 74-yard drive culminating in a 12-yard strike from Mahomes to (Young Wideout) Byron Pringle (42 REC, 568 YDS, 13.5 Y/R, 5 TD), and then a 6-play, 80-yard jaunt, concluding with a 48-yard bomb courtesy of (All-Pro Tight End) Travis Kelce (92 REC, 1,125 YDS, 12.2 Y/R, 9 TD). And just like that, the Chiefs led 21-7 at intermission, rolling up 230 yards in just twenty-one plays after doing nothing with the football for the first twenty-four minutes of the affair. From there, Reid’s charges continued to pour it on the Steelers, opening the second half with three successive touchdown drives, as Mahomes found (Young Guard) Nick Allegretti for a short toss in the end zone, before dialing up a 31-yard rocket to (All-Pro Receiver) Tyreek Hill (111 REC, 1,239 YDS, 11.2 Y/R, 9 TD), while the aforementioned Kelce threw a touchdown to Pringle for some Tight End on Wideout action. For the second time in a month, Kanas City embarrassed Pittsburgh at Arrowhead, outgaining them 478-257, as Mahomes was utterly dominant in completing 30-of-39 passes for 404 yards and five touchdowns with that early interception, becoming the first player in NFL history to log 400 passing yards, five passing touchdowns, and fewer than ten incompletions in a playoff game. Kelce led the way with 108 yards and a touchdown on five catches while tossing another score to Pringle, while the aforementioned McKinnon, who missed the entire month of December on Injured Reserve with an ailing hamstring, looked like a secret weapon unveiled with 142 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown on eighteen touches. Defensively, the Chiefs would send (Steelers Quarterback) Ben Roethlisberger into retirement, pressuring the veteran four times, hitting him on each occasion, and racking up a pair of sacks as Big Ben ended his career with a whimper, completing 29-of-44 attempts for 215 yards and a pair of late, inconsequential scores. And now it’s the Bills who await them in this rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game between two old AFL rivals. Mahomes is 2-1 against Allen and Buffalo, completing 70.3% of his attempts for an average of 274.0 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions, though could muster 272 yards, two touchdowns and as many interceptions on 33-of-54 passing against the NFL’s no. one defense in that meeting back in early October. On the injury front, Kansas City could be without (Tailbacks) Clyde Edwards-Helaire (138 TCH, 636 YDS, 4.7 Y/T, 6 TD) and Darrel Williams (191 TCH, 1,010 YDS, 5.3 Y/T, 8 TD), with the former sidelined for the past two weeks with a sore shoulder, while the latter had been hampered throughout the practice week a tender toe, which could see McKinnon playing a larger role once again.