1. QBs on the run
Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes are two of the most gifted arm talents in the NFL. Either of them can reach any part of the field with a pass for a big gainer. Evidence of that came in both of their games in the Wild Card round where they each threw five touchdown passes, making Sunday's meeting the first between two QBs who each threw five scoring passes the week prior.
And while defending them straight up will be enough of a challenge for the Buffalo and Kansas City defensive units, defensive coordinators Leslie Frazier and Steve Spagnuolo will undoubtedly be drilling their defensive linemen to keep both of them contained within the pocket.
Though both are more than capable of making plays from the pocket, it's the off script plays that Allen and Mahomes make that are virtually indefensible. On Allen's first touchdown pass in the Wild Card playoff against New England, he scrambled out of the pocket on a play that lasted nine seconds before finding Dawson Knox in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
There is no defender on the planet that can defend and cover for nine seconds. So both defensive units will be looking to close down any escape lanes for the two dynamic signal callers.
Allen and Mahomes each have a healthy respect for the other as a playmaker.
"He's a tremendous player," said Mahomes of Allen. "I actually know him a little bit off the field as well, great dude. They put a lot on his shoulders, and he rises to the occasion. He's able to run the ball, he can throw the ball, he has the arm strength to throw it anywhere on the football field and he makes great decisions. We'll probably play them a lot of times, it'll be great competition and it's definitely a great challenge for us as a team to compete with them."
Allen has the most passing touchdowns in the league on the run with 14 on the season. Second in the league is Mahomes with 10 touchdown passes while on the move.
What's most interesting is both Allen and Mahomes have thrown seven touchdown passes and two interceptions in their three career matchups.
2. A jolt for the Kansas City defense
The last time the Bills played the Chiefs, they were a bit shorthanded on defense. While Buffalo didn't have Matt Milano available, Kansas City was without Pro Bowl DT Chris Jones and CB Charvarius Ward and DE Frank Clark had a hamstring injury and wasn't 100 percent.
Since that Week 5 game against the Bills, the Chiefs have righted the ship on defense cutting their points allowed per game almost in half from 32.6 to 17.1 points per game. They've also reversed their turnover margin from a minus-7 in October to a plus-10 over their final 12 regular season games.
Former Chiefs receiver Danan Hughes, now the color commentator on the Chiefs radio network, believes there's another factor that has changed the way the Chiefs play defense. In an appearance on the 'Bills by the Numbers' podcast this week, Hughes pointed to the team's acquisition of pass rusher Melvin Ingram in a midseason trade with Pittsburgh as a season-changing type move.
"If I had to vote for a Defensive MVP, it's Melvin Ingram," said Hughes. "His acquisition from the Pittsburgh Steelers gave a jolt to this defense that I haven't seen in a long time around here. Ingram has been an outstanding addition. He's allowed Chris Jones to back to his regular position at defensive tackle. And he just plays with a different kind of energy that has permeated the defense. That's the number one thing that's different. He's provided an infusion of energy and playmaking ability that the defensive unit desperately needed."
Ingram's production hasn't been eye popping in his time with the Chiefs. He has 15 tackles with a sack, five quarterback hits and a forced fumble. But his infectious energy is what has Kansas City's defense playing with a greater sense of urgency and effectiveness.
3. New playmakers
Both the Bills and Chiefs offensive units have morphed and changed through the course of the season. Different players have emerged as more than role players late in the season.
For the Bills those players would be Isaiah McKenzie and Devin Singletary. Singletary has seven rushing touchdowns in his last five games, including a pair in the Wild Card game. McKenzie has 23 touches for 233 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in his last four games. The roles have become larger for both of them and it has diversified their offense late in the season.
"Obviously we have given 'Motor' the ball some here in the last quarter or so of the season and he's really taken advantage of his opportunities," said offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. "He's got a good skill set. We have a lot of trust and confidence in him.
"Isaiah's got a certain skill set that that we try to utilize. It's not just motions and stuff like that, he can do a lot of other things. Again, I'd like to think we have a good amount of skill players that we have a lot of confidence and trust in, and you try to put five in the game and you're never always going to have the same five guys. He's been a good asset for us. When he's had an opportunity, he's made some plays for us."
For the Chiefs, third-year wideout Byron Pringle has developed into a reliable number two wideout opposite Tyreek Hill. Pringle led the Chiefs in receiving average with a mark of 13.5 and was third in receiving touchdowns behind Hill and Travis Kelce with five.
"He's a bigger guy, he's physical," said Danan Hughes. "It took a while for this coaching staff to realize he could be a true number two receiver. They tried with Josh Gordon to make him a number two receiver. They did the same with Mecole Hardman and it really didn't work out. So Andy Reid and Eric Bienemy over this last month realized that number 13 can be that guy. It's great to see a blue-collar guy get his opportunity on offense."
The other role player who has delivered very recently for Kansas City is RB Jerick McKinnon. The 5-9, 216-pound back has 4.4 speed, and with Clyde Edwards-Helaire inactive and Darrel Williams struggling with a toe injury, put up 142 scrimmage yards in the Chiefs Wild Card victory over Pittsburgh.
McKinnon averaged 5.1 yards per carry with 61 rushing yards on 12 carries. He made a more impressive impact in the passing game where he led the Chiefs in receptions against the Steelers with six for 81 yards and a touchdown.
"He's electric, man," said Micah Hyde of McKinnon. "He gets the ball in his hands, and he's downhill, making guys miss. He's just dynamic. I played him in the past when he was in Minnesota. Smaller guy, but he's strong. He's a strong runner and a guy that we definitely have to gang tackle."
Emerging role players like these could be the difference in the point production of one offense over the other.
Scroll to see photos of the Bills as they prepare for their Divisional Round game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
4. Will Bills No. 1 defense continue to lock it down?
Including the postseason, the Bills defense leads the NFL in passing touchdowns allowed (14), completion percentage allowed (56.5%), yards per attempt (5.7) and touchdown to interception ratio (0.67).
Patrick Mahomes has averaged just over 300 passing yards per game in his regular season career (301.4), the highest average in NFL history. The Bills defense allowed a league-low 163.0 (net) pass yards per game in the 2021 regular season.
This is the fifth playoff meeting in league history in which the all-time passing yards per game leader is facing the NFL's top ranked defense.
In the four previous playoff meetings between the all-time individual passing yards per game leader and the top pass defense from that season, the defense is 3-1. Hall of Famer Peyton Manning's win over the Jets in the 2009 AFC Championship Game is the only win for the top-ranked passer.
Facing top pass defenses is not new territory for Mahomes. Sixteen times including the playoffs, the Chiefs QB has faced top five units in either total defense, scoring defense or pass defense. He is 15-1 all time in those matchups. His only loss was to the Bills in Week 5 this season.
"Pat is a really tough style of quarterback to defend," said Jordan Poyer. "Guys that can throw the ball all over the field. Guys who've got great command of their offense. Guys who can run the football as well. It's a tough task. Pat is obviously up there with some of the best quarterbacks in the league. And he does a lot of good things as well. And it's a really good offense. He's got really good players around him.
"So, when you watch the tape, obviously, I definitely have an idea of how good Pat is. We understand that when he's on the move especially finding receivers across the field. So we're going to have to execute at a high level, and play our best football, and play at a high level."
5. Stopping the spurt
The biggest challenge for the Bills defense would appear to be slowing Kansas City down when they get in a full rhythm. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the latest defense to be powerless against them in their Wild Card game with the Chiefs last week.
Kansas City got off to a slow start against Pittsburgh with three punts and two turnovers on their first five possessions in their Wild Card game. But then they ripped off five straight touchdowns in 11:31 of game clock on each of their next five drives to blow the game open and take a 35-7 lead by the early stages of the third quarter.
They also did it to the Steelers in Week 15 of the regular season ripping off 24 points in 22 minutes of game clock in a 36-10 victory. And in a Week 14, 48-9 win, the Chiefs had 28 points scored in 17 minutes.
"I expect to see everything out of Kansas City," said Micah Hyde. "They do it all and they could score on any play. They're a dynamic offense, so explosive. So yeah, we can definitely see it all. It's dynamic guys all over the place. From the quarterback to the weapons that they have, you've got to find a way to contain them. And I think that it's clear, you turn on the film, you can't stop everything. They're going to get some yards, they're going to get some points. But I guess it's on you to kind of bend don't break. Try to make them turn the ball over and put your offense in good position."
Buffalo, however, has been pretty stingy in the points allowed area. After finishing the season number one in points allowed, the Bills most recently have allowed just five passing touchdowns in their last six games (360 minutes of game time).
6. To blitz or not to blitz?
This is a question that both Buffalo and Kansas City's defense may be asking heading into this Divisional Playoff. What makes this question particularly interesting for the Bills defense is they have not blitzed Patrick Mahomes once in each of their last two regular season meetings. No other NFL club has played a full game without blitzing at least once since 2016.
In the Week 5 matchup that approach worked quite well for the Bills as Mahomes averaged his second fewest yards per attempt (5.0) and fourth lowest passer rating (70.9) in a regular season game.
Buffalo did blitz him some in last year's AFC title game sending extra rushers 23 percent of the time, but Mahomes was effective against it going 7-9 passing for 68 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"This is a high-powered offense, a top-five offense in our league," said Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "They've been a No. 1 offense in our league. So they definitely present challenges for any defense with a quarterback of the caliber of Patrick and the weapons that he has. Not just Travis (Kelce) and Tyreek (Hill), there are weapons galore. So they definitely present challenges to any defense and we won't be any different. We'll have to really be on top of our game to try to slow them down. They are a really good offense for a reason."
The Bills pressure packages have been very effective down the stretch this season. They're they only defense with a better than 40 percent QB pressure rate with 100-plus blitzes on the season.
Mahomes' production does go down when he's under pressure from a four-man rush. He completes less than 41 percent of his passes (40.7%), his yards per attempt is barely over five (5.3) and his passer rating is 67.2.
Against the Bills in Week 5, Mahomes was 4-9 passing for 49 yards when under pressure from Buffalo's four-man rushes. Buffalo has a 28 percent QB pressure rate when rushing four or fewer, good for sixth best in the NFL.
If Buffalo believes in their front four rushers and their success in generating pressure down the stretch this season, could the Bills scrap the blitz for the third time in the last four meetings with the Chiefs?