In four days, the Kansas City Chiefs will travel to Orchard Park, New York, to face the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional round. Mostly, the Chiefs enter this game healthy; that’s far from the case for the Bills.
There’s always a cost when your regular season extends into the postseason. Getting to the playoffs takes a lot of Blood, Sweat, and Tears to avoid serious injuries. The Buffalo Bills, who host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night in the divisional round, deal with several critical injuries on defense.
Though they still have a few days to heal, some key contributors will be banged up. The Bills injury report lists two critical cogs on defense for the Bills: Terrell Bernard, who was carted off the field Sunday against Pittsburgh, and Tyrel Dodson, who also left the game.
Buffalo Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott indicated they were limited in practice today, but he won’t tip his hand. He’s always been sly regarding player injuries during the practice week. So, it’s not a stretch that they’ll be listed as limited all week, nor does it mean they can play.
The AFC East champions have lost numerous defenders down the stretch and, like the Miami Dolphins last week, will scramble to get enough productive bodies on the field to combat Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
On the other side, Kansas City remains primarily healthy. Derrick Nnadi didn’t practice Wednesday and is likely headed to injured reserve, but the Chiefs have a pair of potential back-ups, Mike Pennel and Neil Farrell that can fill in should he be sidelined for Sunday’s playoff game.
Wednesday, Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid seemed to be in good spirits with the health of this team and the fact they took the Miami Dolphins to the woodshed and kicked them out of the playoffs. The cold weather conditions didn’t affect his team one bit. With temperatures in the high teens at kick-off and 11-12 MPH winds expected Sunday, Mahomes and company will think they’ve inherited a heat wave with windshields near zero.
Mahomes told reporters that he doesn’t worry about the temperatures, nor does it affect his ability to throw the football in the cold conditions. He was asked about playing a team twice in the same season, and he didn’t give any creed to the fact that Buffalo would have difficulty doing just that.
The good news is that in their 20-17 loss, Running Back Isiah Pacheco, Left Tackle Donovan Smith, and Linebacker Drew Tranquill were injured. I’m confident had all three been available the first weekend of December, Kansas City might have won their AFC showdown against Buffalo.
But they didn’t, so they are the third seed in the playoffs.
As everyone mentioned, and Mahomes addressed it today, this will be his career’s first road playoff game. Mahomes didn’t seem worried about it; instead, he added it would be a challenge he’d never faced. At some point, even Tom Brady went on the road in the playoffs. He did pretty well.
The Chiefs don’t care about any of that narrative; now the Bills, on the other hand, probably do. In losing both playoff games head-to-head with the Chiefs at Arrowhead, they get to turn the tables and play them at home.
That doesn’t guarantee a win, but it does add a certain amount of home pressure. If they make mistakes, the Chiefs could lighten up the scoreboard. Offensively, the Bills are playing good football; however, in winning seven straight games, they haven’t deviated from their play calling in each win. They’ve also received some generous bounces and officiating calls in their winning streak.
In other words, I don’t think they will throw any surprises at the Chiefs defense. However, that might not be the same for Kansas City. They’ve changed the offense the last three weeks, and Buffalo must understand that the Chiefs are not running the same formations and plays they did in December.
How they adjust to those changes will determine if their defense can overcome the injuries and if Mahomes plays mistake-free football.
Last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, they needed more time to abandon the run. Yes, they were down 21-0, but they made a game out of it. In the first and second quarter lull, they tried to make Mason Rudolph the savior. They could have worn down the depleted Bills defense even further if they kept matriculating the ball down the field.
But they panicked. That won’t be the case against the Chiefs. In the COVID game at Buffalo in 2020, Clyde Edwards-Helaire had one of the best games of his career. The Bills were all geared up to stop Mahomes passing prowess; they were ill-equipped to handle their run-first offense.
Now, the Bills must prepare for both, and with the success of Reid’s screen game in recent weeks; I suspect the Bills will have a hard time shutting down Mahomes. He’s playing his best football of the season, and he’s cut down on the risks in the red zone.
When Mahomes is at the peak of his game, he’s a master at taking what the defense gives him. The Dolphins blitzed him, and he made them pay. When he had time in the pocket, he surveyed the field and picked apart the Dolphins secondary.
This game boils down to Mahome’s ability to score touchdowns versus Josh Allen’s ability to make memorable plays that deflate the Chief’s defense.
One of these quarterbacks will win Sunday, but the edge goes to the underdog.