Three of the bazillion things we can talk about as the Bills get ready for another titanic rematch with the Chiefs…
The Chiefs defense does not look like much heading into this contest with the Bills, but they didn’t look like that much last year. That’s never been a Kansas City strength. Yet, the Bills essentially scored only 17 points in both games against KC last season (the last touchdown in the AFC Championship game was total garbage time). In the Chiefs other 17 games last year, only five opponents scored less than 17. Although Buffalo was an elite offense, they weren’t very elite against Kansas City.
The Bills have spoken glowingly of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo this week and rightly so. Spagnuolo was a respected and successful defensive mind before he even arrived in Kansas City. Whether it was rotating coverages or disguising blitzes, whatever Spags did flummoxed Josh Allen last season. Allen never looked as confused as he did during that AFC championship.
The games between superb rosters loaded with talent can often be decided by one coach pushing the correct X-and-O buttons. Spagnuolo won twice last year. The Bills need to win this year.
A Star Is (Re)Born
The Bills defense has looked utterly dominating through four weeks. There’s no doubt the caliber of the offense they faced factors in juuuuust a little. We’ll get a real read on this defense Sunday night.
The thing that has stood out to me is the Bills run D. Through four games, Buffalo is top 10 in yards per carry allowed and top five in yards per game allowed. Being up 85 touchdowns every week helps limit the other team’s run game for sure, but it’s been more than that. The Bills are among the top 10 teams at forcing opponents into third and long. That doesn’t happen without quality run stops on the early downs.
I think the biggest reason for that increase in success is Star Lotulelei. After missing all of last season and week one this year, Lotulelei has helped bring a stabilizing force to the Bills front seven against the run. He’s done his job occupying blockers allowing Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano to make tackles. He’s even shown some pass rush ability with sacks each of the last two weeks.
Although the Chiefs are high powered primarily because of their passing game, they do rely on the run for the occasional breather and to keep from getting behind the sticks. If Lotulelei and the Bills can take that breather away, it puts more pressure on Patrick Mahomes to be superhuman orchestrating a Chiefs win. If the rain in the forecast makes it tougher for both teams to throw, that should play into the Buffalo defensive hands even more.
I know there’s a worry about Matt MIlano missing this game and the Bills defense will certainly be worse without him. He did play in the AFC Championship and I don’t seem to remember the Chiefs having all that much trouble finding ways to get Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill the ball. It’s very possible Lotulelei’s appearance will have a bigger impact than Milano’s absence.
Press Pat Into Pressing
Speaking of superhuman, that’s exactly what Mahomes played like last year against the Bills in the AFC final. Let’s be fair. If he does that again Sunday night, you can be pretty sure which team is going to come out on top. However, I think the Chiefs struggles on defense have forced Mahomes into believing Sorcerer Supreme is the only way Kansas City can win. I think that’s why, or at least part of the reason why, Mahomes has thrown some head-scratching interceptions (see Ravens, Baltimore and Chargers, Los Angeles). The only quarterbacks with more than Mahomes’ four interceptions are rookies so wet behind the ears, it’s dripping (Zach Wilson-8, Trevor Lawrence-7, Davis Mills-5). I think the Bills should use that.
The goal in this game should be to put pressure on Mahomes and make him believe every snap has to be a rabbit out of the hat. A pass rush would be a good place to start, but it doesn’t just have to be the Bills front four. It can be well timed blitzes. Leslie Frazier has been pushing many of the right buttons in that department so far.
Buffalo can also squeeze Mahomes by scoring a ton of points. Outside of a brief spurt thanks to the punt muff in the AFC Championship, the Bills never really forced Mahomes into chasing on the scoreboard last year. The Chiefs were always ahead, always comfortable and Mahomes could operate how he pleases. The whole touchdowns-not-field-goals-on-fourth-down discussion has been beaten to death since last January, so I’ll assume we’re all together on that one.
I’d even go one step further. I know Sean McDermott love to defer when the Bills win coin tosses, but in this game I want the ball first. I want Mahomes to walk on the field for the first time and look up on the scoreboard and see a “7” under Buffalo’s name. The more you make Mahomes press, the more likely you are to grab one of those interceptions he’s been handing out like Oprah audience gifts. One turnover could easily be the difference in this contest.
This game is a big opportunity for the Bills. A win and Buffalo will be up two games plus a tiebreaker. A three-game margin with 12 games to play? That seems almost insurmountable.
The good news for the Bills is, even if they lose and fall into a tie with the Chiefs minus the tiebreaker, Buffalo still has a very good opportunity to finish ahead of Kansas City because the schedule is exceptionally in their favor. The Bills have five games left against the Jets, Dolphins and Patriots while the Chiefs have five left against the Broncos, Raiders and Chargers. From a math point of view, this is an almost an all reward, no risk situation for Buffalo.
From a mental point of view, many have argued this is a must-win game for the Bills. Buffalo is firing on all cylinders. Kansas City looks like they have a legit Charles Barkley level turrible defense and a quarterback that may not be fully over the shakes from his Super Bowl beat down.
Of course, the Bills were a very good team last year and still got handled easily twice by the Chiefs. A loss Sunday night and the narrative will be ‘if the Bills can’t win that game against Kansas City, when will they ever beat the Chiefs?’ It’s just a narrative, but it will be hard for the players to totally dismiss the idea. After all, there are still human beings inside those red white and blue helmets. As Emmanuel Sanders said this week after talking to his new teammates about the games against the Chiefs last year, “the bruises are still there”.
The Bills look like the better team, but I thought the Bills were the better team before last year’s AFC championship. The Chiefs found another gear and dismissed that idea by halftime. I’m fully confident the Bills can win this game Sunday night, but I’m not picking it until I see it. Give me the defending AFC Champs in what should be a fun filled offensive evening despite rain in the forecast. I’ll take Kansas City 37-31.