1. Super Bowl at stake?
The Bills vs. Chiefs matchup is widely viewed as the game of the week here in Week 5, but league history will tell you the result of this game could have even bigger implications.
The reason why is because this game obviously pits the two AFC Championship game participants from last season against one another in a rematch. It marks the ninth time in the last 10 seasons that the AFC Championship game teams are facing each other the following season.
More importantly, over the previous eight rematches, the winner of the rematch game has gone on to the Super Bowl five times, winning on four of those occasions.
Over that span, the only time the winner of the rematch did not make the playoffs (2018) the losing team in the rematch went on to win the Super Bowl.
"Everyone is fired up," said Bills LB and special teamer Tyler Matakevich in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live’ this week. "It's hard for us to say it's another game because everyone knows who we're playing this weekend. Unfortunately we came up short two times last year and the last one stung. I know a lot of guys still have that feeling that they had when we played them last year in the AFC Championship. Guys are just hungry. You could feel that in practice this week, but it's going to take everybody on this team to get a 'W' this weekend."
2. Mahomes is still Mahomes
Not that anyone doubted that Patrick Mahomes was coming back down to Earth with his caliber of play this season, but he leads the AFC in a handful of quarterback statistical categories. Now with 50 starts in his career, Mahomes is just the second QB in league annals to win 40 of his first 50 games, joining Raiders' Hall of Famer Ken Stabler.
He also leads the NFL in passing touchdowns with 14 in four games and has one rushing TD. He's also tied for most passing touchdowns in a game this season with five, and leads the AFC in passer rating with a mark of 119.6.
His passing touchdown percentage leads the league as he throws a touchdown pass on one of every 10 pass attempts.
Mahomes is also tops in the AFC come the fourth quarter with a passer rating of 122.4.
Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is very realistic about defending Mahomes, knowing it's very difficult to completely neutralize him with his ability to extend plays with his legs.
"He hurts you so much moving in the pocket," said Frazier. "You feel like you've got things covered up and he moves around, buys time and guys end up getting open when you're playing zone. They're so talented when you play man, they can run by you, get behind you, when he moves around. So his elusiveness creates a lot of problems for your pass rush, for your pass defense.
"It's something we'll have to contend with. We'll have to come up with a good plan to try to corral it, but there are going to be moments where he gets out. We've just got to be able to survive those moments and not let them be fatal situations for us."
3. Is pass rush the key?
Buffalo made a concerted effort to boost their pass rush this past offseason. Through the team's first four games they've demonstrated an improved ability to get quarterbacks on the ground. Currently fifth in the league in sacks per play, the Bills are getting home more often than last season.
While it could be a key in helping the Bills defense to at least limit the effectiveness of Mahomes and the Chiefs offense, Buffalo's defenders know they'll need to be at their best to make an impact.
"We feel like with the way our guys are playing and the confidence they have going into this game, we're not the same team or defense that we were a year ago," said Frazier. "We think we've improved in some areas. I don't know if anybody really stops them. Our goal is to slow them down and it needs to be a collective effort in doing that. It's going to be a challenge. They have an outstanding offense with great personnel, so we'll have to figure out some things along the way, make some adjustments as the game goes."
If the Bills pass rush gets home it'll have to happen very quickly. Last week against the Eagles, Mahomes was at his best on quick release passes. According to NextGen Stats when Mahomes got the ball out in less than 2.5 seconds he completed 20 of 23 passes for 187 yards and four touchdowns. It was his second four-touchdown quick pass game of his career.
4. Third down will mean a lot
Buffalo's offense is pacing at around where they were last season in terms of third down conversions. The Bills are currently moving the chains on third down at a rate of 50 percent (29-58). And while that rate is good for third-best in the league, it trails Kansas City's league-leading conversion rate by a considerable margin.
The Chiefs offense is converting their third down opportunities at an eye-popping rate of 64.1 percent thus far this season.
In 3rd-and-5 or less Kansas City's offense has converted all 19 of their third down plays (100%). The only one they failed to convert on their own was a 3rd-and-4 scramble by Patrick Mahomes that went for three yards, but a defensive offsides penalty helped them convert.
Even on 3rd-and-6 or 3rd-and-7 Kansas City has converted five of their six chances (83.3%).
"They have a lot of big pieces over there," said Tremaine Edmunds of the Chiefs. "I don't think you just name one guy because there are a lot of pieces that make that offense go. You've got to kind of respect everybody on that side and be aware of where everybody's lining up. Just being aware of how they're trying to attack you. And a lot of this stuff just goes back of how well you execute. I think they challenge the mental side of it, try to out-execute the defenses. So it goes back to doing what we do well. That's a big key to victory."
Getting Kansas City in 3rd-and-8 or more would go a long way to slowing down the Chiefs offense. Thus far this season the Chiefs have converted just two of their 14 third downs in 3rd-and-8 or more (14.2%), but that's easier said than done.
5. Chiefs 'D' should improve with healthier lineup
After the Chiefs defense floundered in 2018, Kansas City hired veteran coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to revitalize the defensive unit in 2019. Spags improved the Chiefs defense, posting top 10 rankings in pass defense and in points allowed. It helped lift Kansas City to their first Super Bowl title in 50 years.
In 2021 however, the wheels have come off.
"He's missing a few people," said Bleav Podcast Network Chiefs analyst Joe Valerio in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live’ this week. "They haven't had DE Frank Clark, CB Charvarius Ward and they don't have LB Willie Gay Jr. They're critical pieces in Spagnuolo's 4-2-5 defense that places less of an emphasis on the linebacker position.
The Chiefs rank 31st in total defense and the list of defensive categories where Kansas City languishes near the bottom of the league is lengthy.
- Total yards per play allowed – 32nd (6.9)
- Run defense – 30th (146)
- Yards per carry average allowed – 32nd (5.4)
- Rushing touchdown percentage – 32nd (rushing TD every 13.5 carries)
- Rushing first down percentage allowed – 32nd (36.1%)
- Passing yards allowed – 27th (291.8)
- Passing yards per reception – 30th (12.7)
- Passing yards per attempt – 30th (8.77)
- Completion percentage against – 25th (69.3%)
- First downs allowed per game – 31st (26.5)
- Yards allowed per first down – 32nd (7.23)
- Red zone defense – 28th (79% TD efficiency allowed)
- Points allowed – 31st (125 – 31.25 per game)
"When you look at what teams have done successfully against the Chiefs this year they've run the ball to control the time of possession and keep it in their favor. And they're successful with the short to mid-range pass of six to 15 yards," Valerio said. "When teams have been able to combine the run with a mid-range pass game and stretch the field horizontally that's what has really killed Kansas City. They control the clock and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field."
The Chiefs look to be a healthier group this week as LB Willie Gay Jr. was back practicing this week. He was designated for return from injured reserve. Cornerbacks Rashad Fenton and Charvarius Ward also returned to practice from injury and could also provide a boost to Kansas City's secondary. So too did top pass rusher Frank Clark. If he can return from a hamstring injury it could make life more difficult for Josh Allen.
6. Opportunity Knox?
Dawson Knox is coming into the matchup with the Chiefs hot. With four touchdowns in his last three games, the Bills tight end has become a dependable red zone threat and has forced opponents to account for him in their game plan.
Last season Knox missed the regular season matchup with the Chiefs due to a calf injury. He did however play in the conference title game and contributed six receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown.
But Knox looks like a more viable threat in the passing game now than he did then.
"He's got some toughness. He's got some intelligence," said offensive coordinator Brian Daboll of his starting tight end. "He works on his craft and we've been talking about him since summer. He just takes it one day at a time and keeps getting better for us. I have a lot of confidence in where he's at and hopefully we'll just keep growing on it."
The Chiefs 27th ranked pass defense is giving up an average of 6.5 receptions and 85 yards per game to tight ends. And as noted above the Chiefs defense is giving up touchdowns in the red zone at an almost 80 percent clip.
7. A field stretching addition
The Chiefs offense is not in a position where they're desperate to stretch the field. Tyreek Hill has done that all by himself including last week when he rolled up 186 yards on 11 receptions with three touchdowns. Nonetheless Kansas City signed WR Josh Gordon after he was reinstated by the league.
Now 30-years old, it's hard to know what Gordon can truly offer knowing he hasn't played in a regular season game since 2019. But he's been quick on the uptake with the Chiefs and will be active for the Sunday night game.
"We're not exactly sure how they're going to use them, obviously he's a new guy in the system, no film on him," said Edmunds. "Honestly, you've just got to be prepared for everything. I mean that whatever we have called, execute that at a high level, and hopefully that puts us in a position to make plays on him. As the game goes along, we get a feel of how they're trying to use him and how they try and get him the football. So we just have to be able to make adjustments on the run."
Gordon has largely been a deep threat throughout his career averaging 17.2 yards per reception over his six NFL seasons.