KANSAS CITY, MO (WROC) — Three things clouding my thoughts as the Bills prepare for their epic rematch in Kansas City…
The Play After The Play
The Chiefs are really good at throwing the ball. This is not a revelation. What might be understated is how good they are after the pass is completed. Kansas City led the NFL in yards after catch this year.
Last week against the Steelers, the Chiefs put on a clinic on how dangerous that ability can be. It’s not just because they have fast guys or big guys are guys who can break tackles. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs passing scheme is good enough to settle receivers into spaces so wide open even you and me could get 5 or 10 after the catch.
Part of slowing Kansas City down is making sure when they do complete a pass–and they will complete a lot of them–that’s all the play gets. Force the Chiefs to go up and down the field in 10-15 plays. As good as Mahomes is, I think he’s the less comfortable quarterback stitching together long drives in this game. Tackling is also a big part of this, of course.
As Micah Hyde said earlier this week, there’s the play and the play after the play. The Bills need to make sure they’re winning the latter.
Back in October, I thought we saw the full powers of the Bills secondary at work. The fourth-down play that Mahomes had in the second quarter where he scrambled for eight seconds and still couldn’t find anyone open was the headliner. The game was a monument to how talented and how well the Bills top five starters can work together.
Buffalo is going to be missing one of those starters this weekend with Tre White out for the year after a knee injury. I like Dane Jackson a lot and he has been as good as expected filling in for White the last few weeks. To be fair, this Bills secondary hasn’t much been tested anywhere near like it will be against the Chiefs. It’s hard to expect that group to be as good as they were back in October.
As a result, the front four are going to have to step up. Lately, they’ve done just that. Ed Oliver has been spending more time in the backfield than some opposing running backs with three and a half sacks in the last four games. The Bills are also getting occasional sack contributions from other players. Boogie Basham has sacks in the last two games. Star Lotulelei got one last week. Harrison Phillips had one a couple weeks before that. The Bills will need those D-line role players at least to be a factor. I also don’t Oliver must continue to dominate, but he needs to be a constant thorn.
We left last year’s loss to the Chiefs thinking the Bills needed a whole lot more pass rush. I also said during the preseason the Bills didn’t have to be a problem for QB’s all season. Just show up in the playoffs. What we’ve seen the last few weeks provides plenty of optimism that can happen.
A Legacy Game
There are lots of Bills who want to flip the script from the story of their last playoff appearance in Kansas City. None have a better opportunity than the two guys who will probably touch the ball the most for Buffalo.
The lasting memory of Devin Singletary in last year’s playoff game is the drop in the first half while the Bills were still in the game. He was, more or less, benched after that play. This year, Singletary has been a beast the last month or so. He’s been strong. He’s been tough. He’s been dangerous. He should get an opportunity to continue having an impact and making defenses pay when they worry too much about the passing game.
Josh Allen just wasn’t quite himself last year. He finished with one interception, four sacks and piled up numbers in garbage time to polish up a lackluster day. He’s coming off a domination of a Patriots defense that, statistically, is a lot better than the Kansas City D Allen will face Sunday. There’s an opportunity for another big game and possibly make a statement against the best quarterback in the NFL.
One of the great things about pro football is legacies can change with just three good hours. Usually, it requires winning a championship, but beating the two-time AFC Champs in their building, in the playoffs might suffice. This is a gigundous moment for both. The Bills need both rising to the occasion.
The Chiefs are going to have a couple of players in this game that could have prominent roles who were not in uniform when Buffalo won at Arrowhead back in October.
First and foremost, is defensive lineman Chris Jones. He has tormented the Bills the last couple years. He also had another solid season this year with nine sacks, BUT those nine sacks came in just five games. So, he’s been a bit boom-or-bust. The retooled interior of the Bills offensive line has played pretty solid of late protecting Allen. The Bills QB has not been sacked in his last four games. Hard to see a Chiefs win if the Bills stuff Jones in the same box where Matthew Judon ended up.
The other interesting new piece for the Chiefs is running back Jerick McKinnon. He totaled 142 combined yards in last week’s playoff win over the Steelers. McKinnon could easily be a flash in the pan. He had more yards rushing and receiving separately last week than he had combined in any other game this year. The Chiefs do have more home-run hitting potential out of the backfield with McKinnon. It feels a lot like what Matt Brieda gave the Bills mid-season. Brieda’s impact was not long-lasting, but it was effective in that short burst. If the Bills happen to be catching the Chiefs during McKinnon’s short burst, it might be enough to swing this game.
I liked the Bills roster better going into last year’s playoff game and that’s still true this year. I think the Bills have a big advantage on the back end of the defense and at linebacker. I also think the Bills depth, especially at receiver, is a ways in front of Kansas City.
Where the Chiefs have had advantages in places like quarterback, pass-rushing and tight end, I think the Bills have closed those gaps significantly. Buffalo is succeeding in areas that have long troubled them. They’re getting a pass rush without constant blitzing. They’re running the ball on a more consistent basis. They’re finishing drives in the red zone with a run game that doesn’t involve Allen.
Last year’s playoff game was decided because the Chiefs had three elite players in Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Mahomes playing at an immensely high level. The Bills did not have the star power to keep up. Those three still have the capability to take over this game as well.
I don’t think it happens. I think the Bills are the more confident team right now. I think Sean McDermott is comfortable in the need for aggression when it comes to 4th down decisions.
I’ll take the team with the offense that hasn’t punted in three of its last four games. Give me the Bills to get back to the AFC Championship. And since they’ve won every game this year by at least 12 points, give me Buffalo 39-27.