AFC Championship: Buffalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs Preview
136 days ago since the Chiefs kicked off at home against the Houston Texans in the first NFL game of the 2020-2021 season. 17 weeks, super wild card weekend, and a divisional-round later we have made it to the championship round. What a journey it has been for all the teams and fans involved. The Kansas City Chiefs are back where everyone expected them to be which is right on the brink of returning to the Super Bowl to defend their title. The Buffalo Bills are a surprise to many but not all. Many people in Buffalo believed that this was the next step for the Bills who last in Wild Card weekend last season to the Houston Texans in Overtime. The route Buffalo took was something that not many even inside Buffalo could have predicted. Buffalo figured that Allen would make another jump from year 2 to year 3. What nobody expected is that Allen would make the jump to MVP candidate and would spearhead one of the NFL's best offenses all the way into the AFC Championship game. This game has a classic feel of the surprise underdog against the obvious favorite that is the team to beat in the NFL. In this article, I will breakdown 3 matchups to watch and 3 keys to victory for the Buffalo Bills when they take on the Kansas City Chiefs at 6:40 pm EST.
3 Matchups To Watch
Josh Allen/Brian Daboll vs. Patrick Mahomes/Eric Bieniemy/Andy Reid
This game has a chance to be an offensive clinic. Brian Daboll calling plays for Josh Allen and co. on one side. Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy calling plays for Patrick Mahomes and co. on the other. Arguably the two best quarterbacks in the AFC with the two best-supporting casts in the AFC. Creative play calls and unscripted broken down plays are what separate these offenses from the rest in the AFC and even the rest of the league. Both teams often abandon the run game but replace it with the short passing attack, screens, and jet sweeps resulting in long scoring drives. Contrary both of these offenses are elite when it comes down to marching down the field quickly and putting up points. There are three head coach caliber minds all contributing to the offense in this game and you have to imagine that Andy Reid has the advantage because of his history of success and the fact that he has been in this spot the past three seasons. Daboll has put on a clinic this year but he has had games (Chiefs, Titans, Ravens games) where he and Allen have struggled as a duo. If Buffalo wants to win and compete, both Allen and Daboll need to be on top of their game. While we probably won't see Daboll wait until 3 minutes left in the second quarter to call a run play, I would not be surprised if the Bills stick to their pass-heavy offense mixing in some occasional quarterback runs. Due to Mahomes injuries sustained last week of a concussion and a toe injury I would expect the Chiefs to not call runs for Mahomes and emphasize passing from inside the pocket. Expect a lot of offense very sophisticated concepts turning this into a chess match between coaches.
Travis Kelce vs. Matt Milano
The Bills best defensive player in the front 7 and arguably the most impactful on the team was not available in the first game against the Chiefs and his absence was felt significantly. Travis Kelce only had 65 yards on 5 catches in the first game which looks good on paper. However, 2 of his 5 catches went for Touchdowns which led to 14 of Kansas City's 24 total points. Milano is one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL and often covers opposing teams' best non-wide receiver passing threat. Milano against Kelce is an elite matchup that will certainly change the outcome of the game.
The Chiefs have a plethora of weapons but Kelce is the most talented and most impactful. Kelce's YAC potential is only part of what makes him so dangerous. Kelce is the best Tight End in the League and the battle between him and Milano will have a strong impact on this game. Milano and the Buffalo defense can carry over their performance and confidence from the win against Baltimore last week expect the Chiefs to have their fare share of struggles early on. If Milano can contain Kelce who is the best 3rd down and redzone target not only for the Chiefs but in the whole NFL Buffalo will have a very good chance to win. Milano is a very good linebacker and a solid performance against Kelce would carry him into the small number of elite linebackers in the NFL. Milano usually fills the stat sheet and I would expect him to again with tackles. If Milano is able to create a turnover he easily could be the player of the game if Buffalo is able to upset Kansas City.
Harrison Butker vs. Tyler Bass
Every. Point. Matters. Both of these kickers have had ups and downs all season. Butker being the more reputable kicker has missed a career-high 6 extra points this season and missed 2 kicks inside 50 yards. Bass was on a recent hot streak until he missed 2 field goals against Baltimore in rough weather. While most of Bass' misses this year have come due to the weather, being a rookie kicker there still is a small lack of faith in him in the big moments. In this game, every extra point and potential field goal will matter. A missed extra point could completely change the outcome of the game. There will be 10 mph winds and there is a small chance of on and off rain showers so conditions will certainly not be perfect. I would expect if a kicker misses a kick that their coach starts to either go for a two-point-conversion occasionally or go for it on some 4th down situations. Anybody on the outside might take Butker over Bass because he has a longer and more consistent history however if the weather holds up I think Bass will score more points in the game regardless of the outcome. Although Justin Tucker left 6 points on the board and that was not enough to get the Ravens a victory, missed kicks in this game could easily be the reason a team is not able to win.
3 Keys To Victory
Big Plays Battle
The most important key to this game is explosive plays. Buffalo ranks 7th in explosive play rate at 11% and Kansas City ranks 2nd at 12%. More often than not the team that has the most explosive plays will be the team that ends up on the winning side. This was proven when in week 6 when these two teams met Kansas City matched their season-long explosive play rate with 12% of their plays in that game registering as explosive plays where Buffalo dropped from their usual 11% all the way down to 7% nearly cutting the number of explosive plays in half. For those wondering about explosive plays, an explosive run play is at least 10 yards where an explosive pass play is 15+ yards. Add the amount of both together and divide by the number of plays to reach your explosive play rate. I will point out that these two offenses achieve their explosive plays differently. Kansas City often has their explosive plays on 3rd down and even 4th down. Kansas City has 44 explosive plays this year on 3rd/4th down compared to Buffalo's 17. Buffalo leads on 1st/2nd down with 112 explosive plays to Kansas City's 102. Whoever has more explosive plays is to likely be the winner. What makes Kansas City so dangerous is their ability to have those plays on critical downs such as 3rd and 4th so it is necessary for Buffalo's defense to be stout on those critical plays. This league is built on offense shown by these teams both making it to the AFC Championship. The bottom line is: explosive plays will get you to the Super Bowl.
Defensive Line Play
The Buffalo Bills Defensive Line had a fantastic game against the Baltimore Ravens. They contained last year's MVP Lamar Jackson and the Raven's running attack to under 150 yards and exposed Lamar's lack of elite passing skills. They must have a strong containment like a game again against Mahomes. Mahomes is most dangerous when he is creating backyard style football plays scrambling out of the pocket. Buffalo has to get a pass rush to disturb Mahomes and they have to do it while sending less than 5 guys to maintain coverage on the backend. However, because of Mahomes' ability to avoid the sack and create something out of nothing it is important that DE's Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison who had a combined 3 sacks last week contain Mahomes and try and keep him in the pocket. While easier said than done Buffalo cannot be reckless going all out for sacks. Collapsing the pocket and keeping Mahomes inside may be more beneficial than risking him creating a massive play. The number of sacks Buffalo gets this game will not directly correlate to the outcome. Their ability to disrupt the pocket while containing Mahomes is far more important than the occasional sack. If the Defensive line can keep Mahomes on edge Buffalo's it will give Buffalo the best chance to win. We know that Edmunds and Milano are elite in coverage and that there are not many secondaries better than Buffalo's in the NFL. None of that will matter if the defensive line is not able to control the line of scrimmage and contain Mahomes.
Time of possession is certainly important but what is more important in this game is situational clock management. The most important minutes of this game are the last 4 minutes of each half. If mismanaged by Sean McDermott or Andy Reid it can significantly change the outcome of the game. The coin toss in this game is particularly important. Whichever team receives the kickoff after half could be at a strategic advantage if properly managed. If either the Bills or the Chiefs can double up on points by scoring at the very end of the 2nd half and starting the 3rd quarter with a score can easily gain a leg up in this game. Clock Management during the whole game is important but the final 4 minutes of each half will be crucial to each team's success. If the Bills want to win they will need to manage the clock perfectly. The Chiefs seem to be able to score at will regardless of how much time is available. If McDermott mishandles the clock or his timeouts the Chiefs could easily overpower Buffalo. McDermott has shown strong clock management all year but has also relied on other coaching mistakes to finish teams. Against Andy Reid, there will be no room for error for McDermott.
Buffalo Bills 27
Kansas City Chief 26
Game MVP: Matt Milano
Sleeper Performance: Dawson Knox