Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs, 6:40 p.m. ET, CBS
In a rematch of Week 6, the Kansas City Chiefs will be hosting the Buffalo Bills in what is their third consecutive AFC Championship at Arrowhead. For the Bills, it is the first time since 1994 they will be one step away from reaching the Super Bowl–coincidentally, the Bills defeated the Chiefs in the last AFC Championship they appeared in. The biggest headline to monitor will be if Kansas City star QB Patrick Mahomes will be able to play after sustaining a concussion in the third quarter against the Cleveland Browns. If Mahomes is unable to go, it will be up to journeyman QB Chad Henne to shoulder the load against one of the best offenses in football, led by third-year quarterback Josh Allen and 2020 receiving yards leader Stefon Diggs. Here are the keys to the game for both of these teams:
Keys to the game for the Buffalo Bills
1. Don’t be so predictable on offense
The Buffalo Bills have had one of the most prolific passing offenses this season as they averaged 288.8 yards per game (third in the NFL) during the regular season. It was no surprise that the Bills went pass-heavy in the first half against the Ravens in the Divisional Round; however, it was a little too pass-heavy; the Bills did not have a single designed run play until the second quarter. In fact, the Bills ran 10 passing plays in the first quarter to zero rushing plays, and they ended up being the first team in 30 postseasons to not have a single run play in the first quarter. By the end of the first half, the Bills only had 3 rushes for 6 yards. This was a lot of the reason why Buffalo was tied 3-3 with the Ravens heading into halftime. After the half, Buffalo came out on a mission to establish the run, and that was a huge reason for Buffalo being able to get its lone offensive touchdown of the game. It will be important against the Chiefs to focus on the run game in order to keep Kansas City’s explosive offense off the field and to expose a Chiefs’ rush defense that gave up over five yards per carry to both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the Divisional Round. The Bills cannot continue to exclusively pass the ball or else there will be too much pressure on Josh Allen’s shoulders.
2. Prevent big plays from Travis Kelce
In the Week 6 matchup between these two teams, Kelce did not exactly light it up from a yards and catch standpoint as he only had 5 receptions for 65 yards. This included a lost fumble; however, Kelce was the only Kansas City receiver to score in this one as two of his five receptions were touchdowns. The Bills did a very good job of containing Tyreek Hill as he only had 3 receptions for 20 yards, but this clearly did not help the Bills to win since Kelce was able to beat them. In the regular season, the Bills gave up 993 yards and 8 touchdowns on 92 receptions to tight ends. These totals were some of the highest amounts given up to tight ends on the year by a defense. It’s still important that Tyreek Hill gets shut down, but with Henne potentially playing or with Mahomes not playing at 100% health, Kelce could have a big game as the team’s security blanket. Hence, the Bills need to make sure they do not get beat by him once again or else it may be a long night at Arrowhead.
3. Continue to defend the run well
Even though Kelce had a good game against Buffalo the first time around, the main reason for Kansas City defeating the Bills was because of their ability to run the ball effectively. Clyde Edwards-Helaire had his best rushing output of the season with 161 yards on 26 carries while the Chiefs as a team totaled 240 yards on the ground to go with a score. This helped the Chiefs to win the time of possession battle by over 15 minutes (37:45 to 22:15). By controlling the clock, the Chiefs were able to keep the Bills’ explosive offense off the field and not have to worry about their defense getting exposed. The Bills have done much better as of late against the run, particularly in these playoffs. Jonathan Taylor only had 78 yards on 21 carries and the Ravens’ leading rushers had 42 yards each (J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards). If the Chiefs’ decide to rely on the run game more, Buffalo’s defense needs to continue its upward trend in rush defense in order to not let the Chiefs set up easier throws off of play-action for whoever starts at QB.
Keys to the game for the Kansas City Chiefs
1. Establish another weapon in the passing game
There weren’t many teams that were able to defend the Chiefs’ passing attack well, but the Bills did a pretty good job as they were able to hold Patrick Mahomes to 225 yards and 2 touchdowns. This was statistically one of Mahomes’ worst games of the season, at least from the yardage aspect. Part of the reason for this poor performance by Mahomes’ standards is because the Bills were able to do a good job of taking away Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to some extent. In fact, the Chiefs’ leading receiver in that Week 6 matchup was Demarcus Robinson who had 5 receptions for 69 yards. This is an important statline to think about for this rematch. The Bills are going to attempt to take away Hill and Kelce, which means the Chiefs need somebody else to step up. Whether it is Robinson, one of the running backs, Byron Pringle and/or Sammy Watkins if he is able to play, the Chiefs will have to find a way to expose the Bills’ stingy pass defense by getting production from an unexpected source.
2. Take the pressure off Mahomes or Henne
Although Mahomes is probably going to play, it is certainly not out of the realm of possibilities that he will be unable to go for this game. If Mahomes is able to go, it is logical to think he will be playing at less than 100%. This means the Chiefs need to do a better job of running the ball, especially since Clyde Edwards-Helaire had such a big game against the Bills the first time around. Furthermore, just because the Bills’ rush defense has performed better as of late, they have still been susceptible to big runs. Nyheim Hines had 6 rushes for 75 yards in the wild-card round, while the Ravens had a potent rushing attack going for their first few series in the divisional round. As the old mantra goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If the Bills show they still cannot defend the run, the Chiefs should continue to use this formula in order to keep Josh Allen and company off the field. The Chiefs need to win the time of possession battle again to keep the Bills at bay and to set up some easier passes.
3. Get after Josh Allen
Buffalo has done a tremendous job protecting Allen this season, which is why fans have not seen him commit as many head-scratching plays as he did his first two seasons in the NFL. Part of the reason why Cleveland was able to stick in the game against the Chiefs last week was due to the fact that Baker Mayfield had really clean pockets. Mayfield was only sacked once and hit three times against the Chiefs, but they were still able to force a crucial interception on Cleveland’s signal caller by forcing him out of the pocket. Even if Kansas City is unable to get Allen onto the ground, it still needs to at least make him uncomfortable. Despite the fact that Allen was only sacked two times by Baltimore in the divisional round, the average yardage lost per sack was nine yards. When a quarterback takes huge sacks like these, it forces drives to stall and first downs are even harder to come by. Overall, the Chiefs must do a better job getting pressure on Allen, especially if the offense does not play as well as in past weeks.
Stats from: Pro-Football-Reference