We’re down the last three games of the NFL season and two of them come straight into our screens this Sunday. If you’re looking for the NFC breakdown, be sure to check out Matt LaMarca’s NFC breakdown here. I’ll be breaking down the AFC matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills below.
For the Chiefs, it will be the third year in a row they have hosted the AFC Championship. For the Bills, this marks the first time they have been in a Conference Championship game since 1993 in the Jim Kelly era when the team went the Superbowl four straight years, losing in each of those appearances. The matchup also marks the first playoff meeting between Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, the two best QBs in the game under 30 years of age right now.
Moneyline: Kansas City -149; Buffalo +130
Against the Spread
- Kansas City 7-10 ATS in 2020 and 3-6 ATS at home
- Buffalo 12-6 ATS in 2020 and 4-3 ATS as the away team
Patrick Mahomes, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, WR Sammy Watkins and CB Bashaud Breeland all participated in practice Wednesday.
Mahomes still hasn’t cleared concussion protocol though and is also struggling with a toe injury. He’s almost certain to play but remains questionable in status
DL Vernon Butler and WR Gabriel Davis both missed practice Wednesday
Stefon Diggs limited with oblique injury (he’s been limited with this for five weeks so don’t read anything into it)
Cole Beasley off the injury report
The Bills enter as the healthier team and with just a week to prepare for this game, and some key players for KC banged up, the Bills are most certainly going to prove a tough opponent for the Chiefs. Buffalo has won eight games in a row now and only a last second hail mary completion by Kyler Murray stopped them from winning 12 in a row.
This game has all the makings of a classic QB duel with whoever blinks first likely coming up short. Mahomes and the Chiefs undoubtedly have the experience edge, having already been and played in this game three years running, but the Bills have a ton of the M-word and confidence.
Chiefs Offense vs. Bills defense
The Bills have been one of the healthier teams in the league over the second half and could be at or near full power here. LB Matt Milano’s absence hurt them mid-year but they managed to hold the Baltimore Ravens to just 4.7 YPC (which is well under their season average) and face a Chiefs team here who attempted the 10th-fewest rushes in 2020.
The speed of the KC wide receivers could be an issue as none of Buffalo’s CBs ran a sub 4.45 40m coming out of college. However, outside of the speed advantage KC has the Buffalo secondary has played above expectations in 2020 and Tre’Davious White is one of the more savvy corners in the league and allowed just 0.96 per route covered in the regular season. The big plays may not come on the outside as freely as normal here for the Chiefs here as the Bills allowed the third-fewest yards to the WR position this year.
TE Travis Klece could set some single game records though. The Bills allowed the second-most yards and receptions to TEs this year and just allowed the athletically-limited Jack Doyle to lead the Colts in receiving against them (7 rec. 70 yards TD) in the wildcard round.
Kelce is coming off a historic year where he set the TE record for yards receiving with 1,416 and also broke his club record with 105 receptions. He’s going to be a near impossible cover for a team whose scheme allows opposing TEs tons of space mid and downfield.
The matchup here, and the entire game really, could come down to how healthy Patrick Mahomes is. The Bills pass rush is much improved over 2019 and the fact they were able to take down Lamar Jackson four times last week speaks to how underrated a unit they actually are. The lack of prep time for Mahomes and a nagging toe issue could both tilt the scales in the Bills favour slightly here too. No one expects them to shut KC’s offense down, but if the Bills defense can even manage a couple of stops, Buffalo’s own offensive juggernaut could provide the fuel for the upset.
Bills Offense vs. Chiefs defense
The Bills enter this game as +3 underdogs but have been the better team against the spread this year and also had a bigger margin of victory than the Chiefs in 2020. Buffalo beat opponents by +7.9 points in the regular season while the Chiefs managed a +6.8 margin of victory. A lot of Buffalo’s success this year has come from a result of Josh Allen flourishing in the Bills transition to a pass-first offense under OC Brian Daboll. Buffalo threw the ball 37.1 times per game this year, vs. just 33.0 in 2019, a stark change especially given how much Buffalo has played with the lead in 2020.
The change to a more aggressive style is one thing, but you need the weapons to execute it and that’s exactly what Allen has done. He improved his accuracy by 10.4 points over last season and increased his yards per attempt by 1.2, all while also lowering his INT rate. Allen is a difficult cover for the Chiefs, regardless of how he’s throwing the ball. The third-year QB still ran for eight TDs this year and has yet to throw a red zone INT since he came into the league.
While a lot of the praise for Buffalo’s turnaround goes to Allen and Daboll, don’t overlook the addition of Stefon Diggs who led the league in yards and receptions. Kansas City’s defense has also been great at limiting the big plays on the outside this year, as they surprisingly ceded the fewest yards to opposing WRs on the season. And while it looks like Chiefs will have their full outfield in tact for this game (Brashaud Breeland is already practicing this week) it may not make a difference. Even in a windy game against an elite Baltimore secondary, Diggs managed to convert 11 targets into 8 rec and a TD. Given his QBs ability to throw under pressure–Allen led the league in yards and TDs under pressure–limiting Diggs is really all the Chiefs can hope for here.
Ultimately, Buffalo’s simply proven to be too well-oiled a machine here to predict the Chiefs experienced, but not overly talented, defense somehow becomes the ones to shut it down. All they can hope for here is that Mahomes gives them a shot to come up with the game-winning stop late, which they have been good at doing in 2020.
Prediction: Bills 31 Chiefs 29
The Chiefs experience advantage and the pressure of bringing the Bills to the Conference Championship for the first time since 1993 could prove to be too much for HC Sean McDermott and QB Josh Allen here, but the team has faced two well-rounded teams already in the playoffs and is yet to blink. Ultimately I respect the magic of Mahomes and Andy Reid too much here to take the moneyline over the +3 on the spread but for a bold prediction, I’ll take the Bills for the upset.