Three things that I can barely keep straight in my mind as excitement builds for the AFC Championship…
Play Like An MVP
The Bills went into the playoffs totally dominating the Broncos, Patriots and Dolphins. Unsurprisingly, the teams they’ve met in the postseason have had more success against Buffalo.
The Colts were a disciplined, well coached running team. Against the Bills, they had only two penalties, zero turnovers, ran for 163 yards and never stopped finding ways to cause a headache. The Ravens have a very good defense and held the Bills to ten offensive points.
What is the Chiefs’ strength? Their offense, of course. Buffalo is not winning this game 20-17. The Chiefs are going to score points.
One of the big reasons the Bills are still playing while Indy and Baltimore are not is because Buffalo can win in a variety of ways with a variety of heroes. The defense shined against Baltimore. This game needs to be an offense game.
The Chiefs defense is not terrible, but it is below average. KC is also dead last in preventing touchdowns in the red zone. This needs to be a Josh Allen (and probably Stefon Diggs) game. This needs to be an MVP contention quarterback game. This needs to be a “how do you stop these guys” game because you can count on Patrick Mahomes doing his thing on the other side.
My Reinforcements Are Better Than Yours
The Chiefs beat Buffalo fairly handily back in October, but this game is going to look a lot different and not just because the Bills are almost certain to ditch the game plan that allowed KC 245 rush yards.
Number one, Matt Milano did not play against Kansas City the first time. There’s no need to reiterate the impact he can have on the Bills defense. Buffalo is 12-0 in the games he has played this year.
In addition, the offensive line will look a lot different. Cody Ford and Brian Winters were the guards in October and they had ugly games. Ike Boettger and Jon Feliciano have been big upgrades (especially Feliciano) and will be the starters this time. Dawson Knox also missed the first game. The star development hasn’t happened this year, but Knox is still a good enough blocker-receiver to make the Chiefs take notice.
Kansas City will likely answer with it’s own “cavalry”. Starting center Austin Reiter will play instead of backup Daniel Kilgore. Rookie corner L’Jarius Sneed missed the Bills game and is quickly developing into a top defender for KC. Sammy Watkins is questionable, but could also be available. Bills fans are well aware of what he can do. In case a reminder is needed, take a peek at his AFC Championship line last year: 7 catches, 114 yards, touchdown.
The Chiefs have more questions about players who were in Buffalo for round 1, but could miss round 2 (most notably, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is nursing hip and ankle injuries that kept him out of the Chiefs playoff opener). I think the Bills will end up getting the better of the lineup changes, overall.
The Legacy Game
One of the things I love about the NFL is how important and career altering these two games Sunday and the next one can be. A good sixty minutes can change opinions held for decades about players, coaches or even franchises. To underscore that point, only two quarterbacks have ever made the Hall of Fame from the Super Bowl era without going to a Super Bowl (Warren Moon and Dan Fouts).
A win in this game puts the Bills on the same level as the Chiefs, at worst. They would have a quarterback who can stand up to Mahomes and reach a Super Bowl. They would have just as much dynasty potential as Kansas City. Short of winning a Super Bowl, it’s everything anyone wearing the red and blue would want.
This does cut both ways. If this Bills team can’t beat Mahomes and the Chiefs, you might walk away finding it hard to imagine how any Bills team could. Or any other team in the AFC, for that matter. It’ll feel like you can pencil Kansas City into the Super Bowl for the next decade.
Does it seem like a crazy wide spectrum of outcomes? Good. That’s why these next three NFL games might be the best three game in all of sports.
The Bills finished the regular season as an unstoppable machine that swallowed teams whole, one after another. They were an avalanche. The lucky teams were the ones that just happened to be out of the way.
The Chiefs finished the regular season with a fairly unimpressive seven consecutive wins (we aren’t counting the “sit everyone” game to end the year against the Chargers). Calling the Chiefs “disinterested” is about as generous as you can get. KC did beat three ten-win teams on the road (Tampa, Miami, New Orleans), but did not beat anyone by more than six points. The questions about Kansas City surviving more than decimating their opponents have grown loud enough to be heard in the Chiefs locker room and become a point of motivation.
Colin Cowherd mentioned a great stat Friday that illustrates the diverging directions for both these teams. Since week 12, the Chiefs offense (their strength) was 26th scoring touchdowns in the red zone. In the same period, the Bills defense (their weakness) was number 1 preventing touchdowns in the red zone.
I think the Bills have the better roster, top to bottom. I think the Bills have the better defense. I think the Bills are playing better the last month or so.
The question is whether or not that’s enough to overcome Kansas City’s group of immense talents, especially Mahomes. For the first time all year, the Bills will also have to deal with a legit home field advantage. After watching what 6,700 fans did for Buffalo in Orchard Park, I have to believe the 17,000 in red at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday will be equally a problem for the Bills. If not moreso.
I don’t think you can flip a switch in the NFL and go from blah to blazing. I think the lackluster Chiefs finish is indicative of larger regression. They’re still a great team, but not as a great as last year. None of that even begins to cover the possibility that Mahomes may be hobbled by the foot injury he suffered last week or, perhaps, affected by his trip this week through concussion protocol.
The Bills are healthy, firing on all cylinders and seem to have the right attitude to handle the big stage. They have swag and confidence and all the makings of a Super Bowl team. I thought the Bills would win the AFC before the playoffs started and I’m not backing off that now. I say the Bills are going back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 27 years with a 34-31 win.