Buffalo returns to Arrowhead Stadium for the third time in twelve months to take on the reigning AFC Champion Chiefs in a clash of two prize AFC heavyweights.
Chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769
Date: Sunday, January 23 | Time: 5:30 PM CST
Location: Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, MO)
TV: CBS | Radio : 106.5 The Wolf
Odds: Chiefs -2, O/U 53.5
January 12, 2019. The Colts come to Arrowhead to face the Chiefs, who are seeking their first home playoff win since 1994. The Chiefs roll the Colts to break the curse, the Playoff Pat era has officially begun, and the team hosts their first AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium. But they fall short to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, eventual Super Bowl 53 Champions. The next year, on January 12 again, the Houston Texans come to Kanas City to face the Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Houston comes in an abuses Kansas City up front, leading 24-0 before “The Comeback” – 41 unanswered points from the Chiefs in just over 20 minutes of game play en route to a 51-31 victory. The Chiefs would go on to defeat the Titans in the second AFC Championship game at Arrowhead (coming back from 10 points down) and the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl (also coming back from 10 points down) to avenge the previous season’s disappointment and hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in 50 years. Finally, fast forward to January 17, 2021. The Cleveland Browns come to Kansas City for the divisional round and lose a tight one 22-17 to the defending Super Bowl Champion Chiefs, but in the process injure Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. An aggravated toe injury and a concussion would leave his status for the AFC Championship game up in the air. He would play, and he would dominate – defeating the visiting Buffalo Bills 38-24 on the way to another Super Bowl. All these games, all these opponents have stoked great pride and great emotion in Kansas City. As the Chiefs run continues, the energy in the city grows with it. In many ways, this city has become a reflection of its’ beloved football team. For many years held down and looked at as an afterthought nationally, both are now center stage, thriving, and not going anywhere any time soon.
All the games I mentioned above were massive events both at Arrowhead and in Kansas City as a whole. But this weekend feels different. Certain opponents and certain situations cannot just change the attitude and mindset of a football team, it can change the attitude and mindset of an entire city. It can give an entire community, an entire region a renewed sense of identity, a stronger sense of togetherness, and a collective chip on the shoulder to get behind something with everything that everybody’s got. Kansas City comes to life in January while much of the remainder of the country sleeps in after the holidays. The Kauffman Center, Union Station, and various other buildings downtown illuminate themselves in Chiefs red, lighting up the night sky with a warning to incoming opponents. The Red Kingdom spans further than just 1 Arrowhead Drive. If you were one of the thousands of Chiefs fans, or even a few of the Bills fans, that took to the downtown area over the weekend, you saw what I saw. One team. One City. One Vision.
In the most anticipated and certainly most talked about game of the Divisional weekend, the Chiefs will take the field at Arrowhead Stadium tonight as host to the Buffalo Bills for the second time this season, and third time in the last calendar year. The Bills return for a second consecutive playoff matchup with KC, having played the Chiefs a mere 364 days ago in the 2021 AFC Championship game. That game ended with a 38-24 victory and second consecutive AFC Championship trophy ceremony for the Kansas City Chiefs. In week 5, the Bills came to Arrowhead and defeated the Chiefs convincingly by a score of 38-20. Bills quarterback Josh Allen played one of the better games of his career – 374 total yards and 4 TD. The Chiefs fell to 2-3 on the season and would stumble to a 3-4 start before winning 11 of their last 12 games including a 42-21 shellacking of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round last weekend. The win for the Bills pushed them to 4-1 on the year and in the process apparently anointed them as the successor to the throne in the AFC. Buffalo would go 3-4 in their next seven games but end the year winning 5 regular season games in a row to get to 11-6, and demolishing their division rival New England Patriots in the AFC Wild Card game by a score of 47-17.
To say both teams come into this matchup on top of their game would be an understatement. There were no two performances from last weekend as impressive as what we saw from Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. Allen carved New England for the second time in four weeks last Saturday night, throwing for 308 yards and 5 TD while running for 66 more. His 157.6 quarterback rating was nearly perfect, and the Bills scored on all 7 of their offensive possessions. Not just scored, scored touchdowns. Against a New England defense that looked disinterested in even being there, Allen looked more than interested in carving them up. Mahomes got his chance to take the stage Sunday night and did not disappoint. Patrick, who apparently was performing as his more locked in and fired up alter ego Lavon, started cold but ended up scorching hot. Mahomes started 6 for 12 for 53 yards with a pick and a fumble, but in his next 27 throws was 23 for 27 for 351 yards and 5 TD. Pittsburgh appeared to have the Kansas City offense contained for the first quarter and a half, but things changed awfully quick. That is the Patrick Mahomes affect.
Both teams look poised – offensively and defensively – to put on a show tonight at Arrowhead Stadium. But I kept asking myself all week, as my confidence in the Chiefs chances in this game grew by the day – what in the hell actually happened in that game in week 5, and what can we learn from it? Well, Josh Allen came in with an axe to grind, and the team the Chiefs were able to field that night were clearly not up for it. But the things we can reflect on, and the things we’ve seen in recent weeks from the Bills and from the Chiefs, lead us to what the keys to today’s game will be.
Defensively for the Chiefs, one of the biggest issues they faced against Buffalo earlier in the year was the most fundamental aspect of defensive football – tackling. Specifically in the front 7 of the defense. The Chiefs missed 6 tackles against the Bills the first time around, all by members of the defensive line or linebacking corps. Specifically big whiffs on running back Zach Moss giving the Bills a 19-yard gain as opposed to a no gain and a missed tackle in the middle of the field on a third down play to receiver Stefon Diggs that extended for a 22 yard gain an a drive saving first down. The front 7 must be better this time around against Buffalo. One thing that Bills fans and the national media will not advertise is this – the first time these two teams played the Chiefs were without franchise defensive tackle Chris Jones, veteran cornerback Charvarius Ward, and had yet to trade for defensive end Melvin Ingram. The Chiefs gave up 436 yards of total offense to the Bills, which was very on par for what the team had given up every game before trading for Ingram – 413 yards and 27.5 points per game in their first 8. Since they got Ingram from Pittsburgh? Allowing 352 total yards per game and 16.5 points per. Melvin Ingram has not single handedly come in and made enough plays to improve the Chiefs defense this dramatically, but he has brought a presence and a skillset that has allowed them to move the pieces around him into a place that produces exponentially more success for the unit as a whole. Chris Jones was able to move back inside to his natural habitat as a defensive tackle. He’s able to pair up with his old running mate Frank Clark, who was in his first game back from a hamstring injury against Buffalo the first time around. It has allowed Jarran Reed to do what Jarran Reed does best – build a wall strong enough to stop halfhearted attempts in the run game. Ingram, in his own right, has built up plenty of walls for opposing offenses while breaking walls down for the potential this Kansas City defense can reach.
Another KC defender in his first game back off injury in week 5 was linebacker Willie Gay. He will play on Sunday despite legal distractions earlier in the week and will be a key cog in the Chiefs plan to not just negate Josh Allen’s ability to hurt the team with his legs, but to get the Bills off of the field on third down. The first time these two teams played Allen rushed the ball 11 times for 59 yards. 5 of those 11 attempts went for first downs, 2 of those coming in third down scenarios. Overall, the Bills were the number 2 team in the league when it came to third down offense. They converted 47.6% of their third down attempts this season, trailing only – well, the Chiefs – at 53%. In the first matchup between these two, Allen was far more effective with his legs on third down than he was with his arm. On 3 running attempts for Allen on Buffalo third downs, the quarterback converted 2 for first downs. He threw the ball 8 times on third down, and if he didn’t find Stefon Diggs nothing was happening.
Allen had 2 completions on his 8 attempts on third down, both to Diggs. The 2 did hurt – 69 total yards and a touchdown. The point is, though, that he had a 25% completion percentage in passing situations on third down. If the front seven of the Chiefs can improve tackling running and intermediate passing downs, getting the Bills into 3rd and 6+ situations will be key to getting them off the field. Willie Gay and Nick Bolton will be huge in this and look for Daniel Sorensen to play a key role at times in his more limited spy/rover position. Full faith that Spags will start Thornhill, but Dan has some revenge of his own to seek in this game, and he feels like the kind of unlikely playoff hero we might need today. Fun fact – the Bills did not attempt a single fourth down attempt on the Chiefs in week 5.
The Chiefs pass rush will also need to improve upon their performance from week 5, but I don’t think anyone who has analyzed this game or watched this team over the course of the last 2-3 months would believe they won’t. The first time around the Chiefs blitz Buffalo 8 times, pressured Josh Allen 3 measly times, and hit him once. No sacks. I would expect heavy pressure from the get-go on this one, much like Steve Spagnuolo and the front brought against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers last week. Josh Allen is no Big Ben, but if you can pressure him he will make mistakes. The status of Rashad Fenton may still be up in the air, but expect Charvarius Ward’s presence in the secondary to be felt this time around, and L’Jarius Sneed should be very very hungry to generate a take away in this one with several slipping through his finger tips last week.
From an offensive perspective, the first meeting was a messy one for the Chiefs, and one that quite frankly looks nothing like the offense we have seen over the course of the last 6 weeks. KC gave the ball away 4 times against the Bills the first time around. They gave up two sacks of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. They were 5 for 12 (42%) on third down against the Bills. Don’t get me wrong, the Bills have a defense that is built around negating weapons like the Chiefs have. This has been the case for numerous years, and this year that defense was ranked as the top unit in the league in 7 different metrics, including total yard allowed per play, passing yards per play, first downs allowed per game, and third down conversion rate allowed.
This is all good and well, but the Bills have faced some soft opponents since week 8 of the regular season. Since week 8, Buffalo’s defense has taken the field against Jacksonville, NYJ twice, the Colts, Saints, Patriots 3 times, Bucs, Panthers, and Falcons. The Bucs, Pats, and Colts had offenses inside the top 10 in the league. The Bills were 2-3 in those games, with both wins coming against the Patriots. The Jaguars were 32nd, Panthers 29th, Jets 28th, Falcons 26th, and Saints 19th. The Chiefs, in the last 8 weeks, are the second rated offense in the NFL in passing success rate on all downs, second in rushing success rate, and on the season are the league’s top third down offense, converting 56% of attempts.
One key to watch in this divisional matchup against the Bills is the absence of Tre’Davious White from the Buffalo secondary. White was the primary defender and thorn in the side of Tyreek Hill, but also lined up in the slot numerous times in week 5, and over the course of the past 2 seasons, over tight end Travis Kelce. Without White’s physicality and ability to stick close by Tyreek and physically frustrate Kelce off of the line, the Buffalo pass defense could be in for a longer night than they anticipate. Kelce and Hill have both been in and out of the lineup over the past month or so with COVID, lingering injuries, etc. But both appeared at the top of their games last week against Pittsburgh. Offensively, though, the focal points are going to be multifaceted in this one. First, continue to focus on feeding the hot hand out of the backfield whether it is on the ground or through the air. Clyde Edward-Helaire will play, and Darrell Williams is questionable, but the feature back needs to be Jerrick McKinnon tonight. McKinnon’s change of pace and burst last week against the Steelers what was turned the offensive sluggishness in the beginning to an explosion by the middle of the third quarter.
Buffalo’s defense is statistically more vaunted than Pittsburgh’s, but they do not have a single game wrecker with the abilities of TJ Watt. The Chiefs offensive line will not have an easy night blocking the Bills tough defensive front, but they will not have to scheme the entire offense around chipping on a single defender, which should open up opportunities for the KC offense to utilize more motion sets and free up pass catchers to actually get downfield as opposed to staying in and blocking. But Buffalo does an exceptional job of generating pressure with 4, so it will be key to incorporate some of the same screen schematics that we showed against the Steelers to slow down the athletic front 4 of the Bills.
There are some games that you can go through and compare strengths against strengths, weaknesses to weaknesses, and try to dissect from statistical analysis who should win this game. Not this one. This game is going to come down to who comes out and can execute early in the game, and who wants it more. On one side, you have a group of players on the visiting side that feel like they’ve been in the backseat for a few years, ready for their opportunity to take the wheel and in the process take the crown. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have been battled tested for 3 consecutive seasons. First as the chippy up and comer, then as the defending champions, now as the team repeatedly winning season after season with everyone else longing to knock them off. When teams gets older it is tough for them to continue to come in with that same chip on the shoulder over and over again. It’s tough to come in year after year and grind these seasons out and try to win it again and again and again.
The Chiefs are the second youngest team in the divisional round of the playoffs. And they have still been here every year since 2018. They have the opportunity to bring the AFC Championship game to Arrowhead Stadium for the fourth consecutive time with a win tonight. Patrick Mahomes has the ability to continue to cement his reputation as the best quarterback in the league, and add to the legacy that continues to build as other try to tear it down and anoint others to the throne as he’s still occupying it. If there is one thing I know about this team, it is that they do not forget. They haven’t forgotten week 5. They have heard what has been said this week – about the teams, about the quarterbacks, and who everyone thinks the best team in the AFC is – and they are coming tonight to remind the world of who they are. The best team in the AFC, the best quarterback in the world, and a group that is on a mission to take back the Lombardi Trophy.
Chiefs 37, Bills 20