The Bills look to avenge their season-ending loss in last year’s AFC Championship Game
When the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs met last year in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs rolled the Bills in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the 38-24 final score indicated. Buffalo trailed 38-15 midway through the fourth quarter before mounting a garbage-time rally that padded some stats before the Chiefs celebrated a Super Bowl berth.
When the Bills and Chiefs met this year in Week 5 at Arrowhead, the Bills rolled the Chiefs in a game that didn’t feel nearly as close as the 38-20 final score indicated. Buffalo was able to move the ball freely, scoring some big plays in the process, and they forced four Kansas City turnovers in the win.
For the Bills, the objective seems simple: Take what the Chiefs’ defense gives them while continuing to shoot for those big plays that helped them win in October. For Kansas City, there has to be confidence that the outcome is much different if they can protect the football and limit those big plays.
Buffalo’s big names are going to have to play big this week if they want to survive and advance in the playoffs. However, some of their role players are going to need to step up, as well. Here are our five players to watch this weekend.
QB Josh Allen
In the immortal words of Severus Snape: “Obviously.” Allen was not great in last year’s playoff matchup against Kansas City, completing 28-of-48 passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. He ran seven times for 88 yards in the game, too. In Week 5 this year, Allen completed 15-of-26 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns, adding seven rushes for 59 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Kansas City’s blitz-happy defense has kept Allen under a 60% completion rate in each of the last two meetings, something that has kept Buffalo from sustaining long drives in those contests. It didn’t matter this year, as Allen hit on touchdown passes of 35 yards and 53 yards while also completing a 61-yard pass to set up a score. Some more efficiency could really help this time around, especially if the Chiefs are able to cut off the big play. Expecting Allen to duplicate last week’s otherworldly results is probably a bit much, as he played arguably one of the best games of the century given the opponent and the moment; however, expecting him to stay hot isn’t out of the question. Allen’s run of great decision-making needs to keep going here. If he plays the way he’s capable, the result will most likely be what we want it to be.
WR Isaiah McKenzie
This could easily have been a spot where I talked about Cole Beasley, who caught just one pass for five yards in October’s meeting, or even Dawson Knox, who caught three passes for 117 yards and a touchdown in that win. However, I’m going with Lil’ Dirty because I think he gives the Bills the extra element that will push them over the top. Of late, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has unleashed McKenzie as both a receiver and a runner, and that added speed has helped to make defenses hesitate just a click, which gives all of Buffalo’s other playmakers extra time and space to thrive. I think that McKenzie not only touches the ball a dozen times on Sunday, but I think he scores at least once—and it will be on a run, which he hasn’t done since Week 10 of this season against the New York Jets. Using McKenzie’s speed in the screen game could help to slow Kansas City’s blitz, as well. That speed element is going to be tremendous.
G Ryan Bates
We could talk about Dion Dawkins, who is definitely going to see a healthy dose of Melvin Ingram, or we could highlight Spencer Brown against Frank Clark, but it’s Bates against Chris Jones who I’m really interested to see. Buffalo was able to find running room in the middle of Kansas City’s defense earlier this year without Jones around, as the stud interior lineman was out with an injury. He’s back, and if the Bills allow him to do what he did in last year’s playoff matchup, then Allen is going to have a tough time finding time to throw and room to step up in the pocket. Bates has been an integral part of Buffalo’s offensive resurgence, as his ability on pull action in the running game has opened up a new layer of trouble for defensive coordinators, giving Daboll another player to pull alongside center Mitch Morse on outside runs. If Bates can show a sturdy anchor against a stud like Jones, then it will go a long way towards propelling Buffalo to a win.
LB Matt Milano
The Chiefs were missing a stud on defense in October, and so were the Bills, as Milano was out thanks to a hamstring injury. With him back, he’ll be called upon to help slow the Kansas City short passing game, as the Chiefs and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy love to use Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman, and a stable of solid pass-catching running backs on shallow under routes looking for yards after the catch. Teaming up with Tremaine Edmunds and Taron Johnson in the middle, it’ll be Milano who adds another layer of excellence to Buffalo’s defense this time around. He’ll need to be on his game.
CB Dane Jackson
Buffalo is obviously without star corner Tre’Davious White, who tore his ACL in December. His replacement, Dane Jackson, has been nothing short of outstanding throughout the last month of the season. He has six pass breakups and 41 tackles this year, with all six of those breakups coming since taking over as a starter in Week 13. Perhaps most impressively, Jackson has allowed just a 50% completion rate on passes where he’s the closest defender. He’s allowed 20 completions in 40 attempts for 254 yards without a touchdown. The challenge this week is a big one, and everyone knows that the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes are going to test Jackson early. Thus far, the second-year man out of Pitt has answered the bell. He’ll need to play the game of his life on Sunday.