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Weekend Look Ahead

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5 things to watch for in Bills vs. Chiefs | NFL Playoffs


1. Top of the pyramid

This week's Divisional Playoff game between the Bills and Chiefs is about as marquee as it gets for a quarterback matchup. It'll be the third time Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes square off in the postseason, but the first time the game will be held in Buffalo.

Everyone remembers the last playoff meeting in which Allen and Mahomes combined for seven passing touchdowns and no interceptions as both teams each rolled up more than 400 yards of total offense in their 2021 Divisional Playoff. It remains the only playoff game in the Super Bowl era (regular season or playoffs) in which both quarterbacks had over 300 yards passing, three or more passing touchdowns, zero interceptions, and 60-plus rushing yards.

"He's a fantastic player," said Allen of Mahomes. "His track record and his resume speaks for itself at such a young age. One of the greatest quarterbacks to already play this game. And he's still growing and still getting better. So yes, he's not an easy matchup for any team. They've gotten the best of us in the playoffs the last few years. We finally have a home game, and we've just got to go out there and put our best foot forward and play as hard as we can."

"Josh (Allen) is a great dude," said Mahomes. "I respect the way he plays football and just the guy that he is, but it's like when two guys that are ultracompetitive that are friends off the field go up against each other, we obviously both want to win because we know we see each other in the offseason, and you want to have a little bit of those bragging rights."

Allen and Mahomes have split their six career head-to-head matchups. Allen has won the last three regular season matchups, while Mahomes won one regular season meeting and their two playoff contests.

2. Spreading the wealth

The Bills passing attack might be peaking at just the right time when it comes to diversification. Although Stefon Diggs still commands the most targets, there is a far greater passing distribution under interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady.

Since Week 16, more than two thirds of the targets in Buffalo's passing game have gone to five other receiving targets in the passing game not named Diggs. Rookie TE Dalton Kincaid and WR Khalil Shakir have been the most frequently used in that group as they've accounted for 23 and 16 percent of the targets over that four-game span.

ESPN NFL analyst, Dan Orlovsky, in his weekly appearance on ‘One Bills Live’ has been a big fan of the diversity of Buffalo's passing attack down the stretch.

"You're starting to see the real dividends and the real stress that puts on a defense," Orlovsky said. "I love the fact that they move Stef around and sometimes they have them in the slot. Sometimes they have him outside. Sometimes they have him at the number three position. It's the same with Shakir. Sometimes he's in the slot by himself. Sometimes he's in the number three spot, and they're just creating really good matchups. And then the game this past weekend with Dalton (Kincaid)."

In Orlovsky's mind, it might be the biggest change for the better for the Bills since they last played Kansas City in the postseason in January of 2022.

"I look at it like this, so often their pass game was a perimeter pass game, and it was really, really good for the most part," he said. "Now they have the ability to have a vertical and horizontal pass game. There are so many different people that can hurt a defense in the middle of the field or gain that matchup. I have been and remain a fan of the diversity and the versatility that the pass game has kind of developed."

Buffalo's other pass catchers have also been remarkably efficient as receivers. Khalil Shakir finished the season number one among receivers with an 87.5 percent catch rate. Dalton Kincaid finished fifth among tight ends with a 78.4 percent catch rate, and James Cook finished 10th among running backs with an 82.8 percent catch rate.

3. Handling being shorthanded

There's a good chance Buffalo's defense will be short on starters and key reserves this week due to injury. Buffalo lost MLB Terrel Bernard (ankle), LB Baylon Spector (back), CB Christian Benford (knee), and CB Taron Johnson (concussion) in last week's Wild Card win over Pittsburgh. Only Johnson has been able to practice through Thursday of this week as he tries to clear concussion protocol.

The Bills could be down two starters at linebacker and cornerback respectively, but Buffalo's defense has been playing shorthanded for most of the season. They lost top CB Tre'Davious White and All-Pro LB Matt Milano before the middle of October to season-ending injuries and only just got starting DT DaQuan Jones back a couple of weeks ago after he missed 10 games with a torn pectoral muscle.

That's why to a man, the Bills defensive unit is unfazed and enters Sunday's game with the same confidence they always embody.

"It's been the next man up, so that's no big old thing," said Ed Oliver. "We're built for this. We can handle this. This is nothing new. So, just starting from early on in the year to now, I mean, think about a time when somebody wasn't hurt? I mean you probably can only name a couple of weeks, a few weeks, when somebody, a key player, wasn't hurt and you can name the weeks where the guy that was hurt, his back up stepped up or it was the next man up and he made a big play. So, we just have that mindset and trust in each other, and we've worked all year for this, so we're just here to play."

In the past two weeks the Bills defense had their number five corner step in and Kaiir Elam logged an interception in the end zone. Linebackers A.J. Klein and Dorian Williams entered last week's Wild Card game midway through the contest and ended as two of the team's top three tacklers.

Mike Mayock, who appeared on the ‘Bills by the Numbers’ podcast this week, believes Buffalo's defensive front will have to take over the game to help make up for the injury losses in their back seven.

"I think the interior of Kansas City's offensive line plays at a high level, but so does Ed Oliver," said Mayock. "Rousseau has to cause problems inside and outside. The Buffalo D-line, which is healthy, has to be able to dominate especially on the edges. DaQuan Jones is playing at a high level. Leonard Floyd and Von Miller have to make some plays. Their front four without help from their secondary or a linebacker push has to dominate the pass game in this one."

On a more positive availability note, it appears that veteran CB Rasul Douglas and starting LB Tyrel Dodson are both trending toward returning to the lineup after missing last week's game with knee and shoulder injuries respectively.

4. Picture changers

As we outlined prior to Buffalo's regular season meeting with the Chiefs in Week 14, Kansas City's defense is the strength of their team. The number two overall defense in the league was also second in points allowed, second in sacks, fourth against the pass and eighth in red zone defense. What makes them so effective against opposing quarterbacks is their ability to blend the looks post-snap.

"He doesn't ever give you a clean look. It's always muddy," said Westwood One Radio color commentator, and former NFL GM, Mike Mayock. "Even if he only rushes four, he'll drop an end and bring a safety. Schematically he's so good, he'll make the quarterback concentrate on every play. They doubled Diggs, when necessary, in the first meeting. Diggs had some catches, but they couldn't figure out a way to get him the ball down the field."

What is surprising, is as effective as the Chiefs have been, one area where they haven't produced at the same level is with takeaways. They finished the regular season 28th in total takeaways with 17, an average of just one per game. Their focus is rooted in forcing quarterbacks to pat the ball, which for the Chiefs this season has catered more to sacks.

"Kansas City's defense suffocates you. It chokes you out," said Orlovsky. "It forces you to play hesitant. The movement that they constantly present is something that often leads to sacks. The quarterback holds the ball because you don't know what you're looking at. And instead of thinking, 'Oh, I know what I see.' And you cut it loose and maybe you were wrong. You just don't know what you're looking at. So, there's very little clarity for how the quarterback plays. And so, more often than not, instead of the turnover, they get the sack or the tackle for loss. Their defense is very good. It really is and I think they've gone to a new level."

The Chiefs finished second in the league with 57 sacks and lead the league in sacks per play. So, what is the solution to all that Kansas City can throw at your offense? The diversity in Buffalo's passing attack and a run game that can keep the Chiefs defensive front honest.

"If the Chiefs can take 14 out of the game, I think the two guys who need to see more touches are (Khalil) Shakir and (Deonte) Harty," said Mayock. "They are separators, and then the rookie tight end, Kincaid. He's an athlete who can run. The diversity of their pass game is key this week."

5. Noise nuisance

As mentioned above, the Chiefs will be on the road for a playoff game for the first time in the Mahomes era. And while Mahomes and company have a slew of big road games under their belt, this will be Mahomes' first experience with Bills fans in attendance. His only trip to Buffalo for a game came in the COVID-19 season of 2020, when fans were not in the stands. He's been warned about what he and his teammates are walking into on Sunday evening.

"Obviously, I've been lucky enough to play a lot of games at home at Arrowhead Stadium," said Mahomes. "Everything just kind of fell that way, but now we get the great opportunity to go on the road and play in a hostile environment – one that I haven't been able to play with fans in the stands. Even though I know it's going to be hostile and there are going to be people talking trash and everything like that, I'm excited for it because it's one of the best environments in football and you want to do that when you grow up watching these games is play in the best environments and see what it's like."

The bigger concern for the Chiefs is with their two offensive tackles, Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor. Taylor led the league in offensive penalties with 17 this season. Eight of them were false starts with six others being holding calls.

In an appearance on ‘One Bills Live’ this week, former Chiefs OT Mitchell Schwartz outlines the challenges Taylor and Smith will face at Highmark Stadium Sunday evening.

"Taylor likes to time out that snap count as quickly as he can and the Chiefs don't have the most rhythmic cadence as well, which is why he's dropping offsides more often on the road," said Schwartz. "Going into Buffalo it's going to be one of the loudest crowds he's ever seen. So, what's the operation going to look like? Will they be able to break the huddle quickly enough for Patrick to make all the checks and read the defense and do the shifts and motions and not be pushing up against the play clock, which can give the defensive linemen a jump on the snap.

"What the rhythm of the game looks like will be very important for the Chiefs. Are the calls getting into Patrick? Is Patrick getting guys to the line and offensive line-wise are those two tackles getting off the ball and to their spots comfortably? Because if they're not that's when you get uncomfortable and you lose the consistency of what you're doing out there."

On the road this season the Chiefs average 20.75 points per game. At home, Buffalo's defense allows an average of 15 points per game.

Scroll to see photos from the Buffalo Bills Divisional Round practice as the team prepares to take on the Kansas City Chiefs.

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