The Buffalo Bills (15-3) are in the AFC Championship Game for the first time since the 1993 season. They will hope the result is the same as they defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in that one. Joe Montana was knocked out of that game with an injury, but this year’s Chiefs (15-2) have their own superstar quarterback drama with Patrick Mahomes leaving Sunday’s game injured. Will that derail the team’s Super Bowl odds and ending the longest drought in NFL history without a repeat champion?
Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, January 24, 2021 – 06:40 PM EST at Arrowhead Stadium
The expectations are that Mahomes will start on Sunday. NFL oddsmakers seem to agree, making the Chiefs a 3-point favorite at home on betting sites. Some feel with backup Chad Henne starting the Bills could be as high as a 7-point favorite, but we will approach this as if Mahomes will be good to go.
The Chiefs are the last team to beat the Bills without needing a Hail Mary, winning 26-17 in Buffalo way back in Week 6. When the Conference Championship Game is a rematch from the regular season, the team who was at least a 3-point favorite in both matchups (Chiefs in this case) is 21-10 (.677) ATS and 24-7 (.774) SU in the title game.
Bills: Whole Offense Must Shine
If there is any offense in the AFC to match the fireworks of Kansas City this year, it has to be Buffalo with Josh Allen. However, beating the Chiefs with Mahomes is hard work. You need to move the ball consistently, score a lot of points, ideally dominate time of possession, and even then, you better get some breaks with penalties, turnovers, and you must stop Mahomes in the final minutes. Few teams have been able to do this, which is why Mahomes has pulled out a win in 24 of his last 25 starts.
When Buffalo lost 26-17 in Week 6 to the Chiefs, the offense did not play well enough to win. Allen set season lows in completion percentage (51.9%), passing yards (122), and yards per pass attempt (4.52). While Allen was never sacked, the Chiefs forced him into season highs for hits (five), scrambles (four), and his highest pressure rate (35.5%) in any game this season. The Bills had the ball for just over 22 minutes, and the running backs produced 42 yards on 15 carries.
Buffalo’s offense had a season-low 206 yards against the Chiefs. In last week’s 17-3 win over Baltimore, the Bills only had 220 yards and one offensive touchdown. These performances obviously will not cut it this week. Against Baltimore, Buffalo took an extreme approach to a pass-heavy offense, allowing Allen to drop back on 24 plays in the first half while handing off for just one run. The results were not good, and the Bills only scored a touchdown in the third quarter after mixing in some runs and clever pass calls with play-action fakes and screens. Buffalo’s backfield finished the game with nine carries for 29 yards.
While the Bills have had a lot of success this year with Allen spreading the ball around to his wide receivers, it does not look plausible for them to win this matchup by being a one-dimensional passing offense. It would help if Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland is out with a concussion, but his status is to be determined. Still, the Chiefs have seen some exceptional play in the secondary this year with safety Tyrann Mathieu’s team-high six interceptions, and the run defense only ranked 31st in DVOA.
Stefon Diggs is excellent, but the Chiefs were able to hold him to 46 yards, his second-lowest total this season. Diggs will always draw the most attention, but the Bills are coming off a game where Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis failed to make a catch. Allen had to throw several passes away against the Ravens.
Watching how much the Bills look to balance their offense is one of the most interesting things about this matchup, because this team generally does not like featuring Devin Singletary. With the way the Chiefs can cover receivers, it just may be necessary to call more runs to keep the Bills on schedule for third down. The Bills were 1-for-5 on third down when they needed at least six yards to convert against the Chiefs. Buffalo led the NFL this season in third down conversion rate at 49.7%, but they have only converted 6-of-21 (28.6%) attempts (excluding kneeldowns) this postseason.
If the Bills are going to stick with a minimal rushing approach, they have to find a way to hit big plays. Against Baltimore, the Bills did not have any plays gain more than 21 yards. They had just one play gain more than 15 yards in Week 6 against the Chiefs, a 22-yard catch by Beasley. When the Raiders upset the Chiefs this year, Derek Carr had a career day with deep throws, completing four passes for 40-plus yards, including two touchdowns. That may not be the only way to beat the Chiefs, but putting it all on a quarterback to dink and dunk his way down the field to score more than 28 points is just not realistic.
Finally, the Bills must finish drives in the red zone for touchdowns and not field goals. This was actually an area where the Chiefs were the worst in the NFL on defense this season, allowing a touchdown on 76.6% of red zone opportunities. The Bills ranked 13th on offense in the red zone, scoring a touchdown 61.8% of the time. Buffalo may want to be more aggressive in this game by going for it on fourth down. The Bills were tied for the league lead with an 80% conversion rate on fourth down, but no team attempted fewer fourth downs than the Bills with 10.
This is not the week to stay conservative. Maybe the Bills can break out one of their trick plays that leads to Allen catching a pass.
Chiefs: Protect the Franchise
If the Chiefs won’t call the quarterback sneak anymore with Patrick Mahomes after his dislocated kneecap last season, does that mean the speed option is also burned out of the playbook? It is unbelievable that it was called in the first place with Mahomes already nursing a toe injury against the Browns, but then the designed run left him vulnerable to a big hit that left him visibly shaken and out of sorts, ending his day.
Health is always the most important factor to determine if a player is capable of performing at a high level. If we can assume that Mahomes had a scare and is relatively healthy for this game, then everything we would usually expect about him still applies.
That means, he has no identifiable weaknesses and does not fall prey to any of the usual narratives in the NFL. When Mahomes returned from his dislocated kneecap last season, he threw a career-high 50 passes in regulation in a 35-32 loss to Tennessee after the Chiefs failed to execute two late field goals. Despite not playing for three weeks until Sunday, Mahomes showed zero signs of rust and led the Chiefs to 19 points on four drives in the first half against Cleveland.
Mahomes scores a lot no matter if you sack or hit him numerous times in a game. He dominates defenses regardless of the coverage type. He almost never has multiple turnovers in a game. He never loses by more than eight points, he leads double-digit comebacks with the best of them, and he is never out of a game.
All of this is moot if Chad Henne ends up taking the snaps on Sunday, but for all rooting interests this season, let’s just hope that it is Mahomes and he is fine. Still, if the worst-case scenario applies and we get Henne, the Chiefs may not be dead in the water just yet.
In Week 6, the Chiefs rushed for a season-high 245 yards in Buffalo, mixing the pass and run to perfection. That was the best game of the season for rookie back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who rushed 26 times for 161 yards, picking up good gains with ease. An ankle injury has kept him out since Week 15, but the Chiefs are hoping to have him and No. 2 wide receiver Sammy Watkins back this week. Still, if both remain out, this offense reverted to Super Bowl standout Darrel Williams on Sunday with 78 yards on 13 carries. Buffalo tightened up against Baltimore last week but run defense has been an issue in a handful of games this year.
If the Chiefs can run like that again, then it just makes things easier on the quarterback, especially if he isn’t 100% and could use the extra help in moving the chains. If not, then they still have the lethal passing attack with defenses having to stop Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. The Bills have a very good corner in Tre’Davious White, and Hill was held to 20 yards on three catches in Week 6, but Kelce still caught two touchdowns and is having one of the best seasons ever by a tight end. Pick your poison there.
Basically, the Chiefs are going to get their yards and points in this one. The Bills just have to make sure they limit them in the red zone where Kansas City has been less stellar than expected this season, ranked 14th in touchdown rate (61.0%) right behind the Bills. If Mahomes is just a little off after what happened to him on Sunday, then it’s up to the Bills to take advantage of that and make more plays than you’d usually expect to see against this potent offense.
The forgotten best play of this season happened when these teams met in Week 6. Kansas City led 23-17 and faced a third-and-12 with just over four minutes left. Mahomes used a pump fake before scrambling out of the pocket to manipulate the defense enough to throw a pass downfield to a wide-open Byron Pringle for 37 yards. That led to a field goal at the two-minute warning that iced the game for the Chiefs.
Most quarterbacks do not make that play on third-and-12, which would have set up Allen and the Bills for a potential game-winning touchdown drive. This game on Sunday very well may have been in Buffalo instead of Kansas City had that one gone differently, but Mahomes made the game-winning play again.
That is just what the Chiefs have been doing all season in these close games where the offense has the ball with a one-score lead. They even did it on Sunday with Chad Henne at quarterback on the final drive, converting a risky fourth-down pass at midfield to seal the 22-17 victory.
Kansas City’s last eight wins have been by fewer than seven points, a historic streak in this league. Playing with fire like that could come back to haunt the team, but as long as Mahomes is playing, I like the Chiefs in my NFL picks. They may not cover by much, but I like them to outscore the Bills by more than a field goal and advance to a second straight Super Bowl.
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.