For the second consecutive year, the Bills and Chiefs will play each other twice in a single season. This matchup between two of the best teams in the AFC seems to be blossoming into one of the newest rivalries in the NFL.
After starting 0-2 against the Chiefs, Josh Allen got his first win against them back in Week 5. That 38-20 win was a high point for the Bills in the regular season with it being Allen's best statistical game and with Micah Hyde having the only pick-six of the year. As Buffalo prepares for its trip back to Arrowhead, a lot has changed with these two teams since they last met.
"I think they're a little bit more patient with their offense," Bills' safety Jordan Poyer said. "I think, earlier on in the season for whatever reason, maybe some of the check-downs they weren't hitting early on. But now they're able to ... Pat [Mahomes] seems like he's able to be a little more patient with the ball in his hands. He's not forcing huge throws down the field. If it's not there, he's checking it down."
Kansas City's loss to Buffalo was one of four losses in their 3-4 start before winning nine of the next 10 games. The Bills' defense held the Chiefs to 5-12 (42%) on third downs and 2-5 (40%) in the red zone. It will be imperative that the defense holds up in those areas as the Chiefs have improved in both categories since the Week 5 game. From Weeks 6-18, the Chiefs have ranked first (50%) in third-down conversions and 19th (56.3) in red-zone percentage.
Since that first game this season, the Bills' defense has also improved. They rank first (30.3%) in opponent third-down percentage and 17th (58.1%) in opponent red zone efficiency. In addition, the Chiefs had 392 yards of offense in Week 5 but since that game, the Bills defense ranks first (281.5) in yards allowed per game.
Poyer knows that the personnel hasn't changed too much for the Chiefs offense, so the Bills defense will have to take some things from the first matchup to be successful on Sunday.
"I thought the first game, we played well, obviously well enough to win," Poyer added. "We definitely left some out there and some stuff that we could for sure learn from going into this game. It's going to be a different game, but we have our key components of how we feel we're going to win the game. So, we got to go out there and execute at a high level in order for us to have a chance to win."
Even though the Bills did handily win that first meeting, their offense wasn't rolling like it is now. Workhorse running back Devin Singletary has been on fire. In the last six weeks (reg. & post.) Singletary has 96 rushes for 456 yards which is 4.75 yards per carry and eight total touchdowns. His presence in the running game has made the offense more balanced and more explosive.
That explosiveness will be needed on Sunday with the Chiefs having defensive tackle Chris Jones in the lineup. Jones missed the first matchup between these teams and the Chiefs' run defense has allowed just over 100 yards a game since Week 6.
On top of the improvements on the Chiefs' defensive line, Allen has noticed some other differences in that unit since they played them last.
"They're throwing so many looks at the opposing quarterbacks right now. Bringing pressures from every side imaginable. They got guys that are playing really well. Obviously, #95 moved back inside. When he wants to go, he can go against anybody and he's one of the better players in the league. Obviously outside they've got a couple of guys that get after the quarterback. Some smart savvy guys in the secondary are playing really good football together right now. So, we got to be on top of our game, communication-wise obviously with the crowd noise, and we got to make some plays come Sunday night."
In that Week 5 game, the Bills were without Matt Milano, Harrison Phillips, and Matt Breida and the Chiefs were without corner Charvarius Ward, and defensive tackle Chris Jones. Since that game, the Bills have lost Tre'Davious White, and the Chiefs added defensive end, Melvin Ingram. It is uncertain how the personnel changes and the players added and lost between the two games will impact the outcome of the game.
After Wednesday's practice, Stefon Diggs praised the depth of the wide receiver room. In the last game against the Chiefs, he only had two catches for 69 yards. No matter who is on the field, Diggs knows the urgency of getting open quickly to neutralize the pressure from Kansas City's defensive line.
"For us, you gotta be able to not only spread the ball around but make your plays when they come to you. I talk about everybody doing their 1/11th and that's all it is. When you're given your opportunities, just make your plays. You saw that last week and we're just trying to have that carry over to this week. Whether it's a million plays or it's three, just make them. Make sure you're doing everything in the best interest of the team."
Leaders emerge on the Bills defense since Tre'Davious White's injury
One of the bigger storylines heading into this divisional-round game is the absence of Tre'Davious White and how much of an impact it will have on the result of the game. White had five tackles and a fumble recovery back in the Week 5 win and his ability to shut down one side of the field is what makes him such a special player.
Since he went down, the Bills defensive backfield led by Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde has really stepped up. Since Week 13, the Bills rank first (52.5%) in opponent completion percentage, first (134.5) in passing yards allowed per game, and second (268.3) in total yards allowed per game.
McDermott agrees that it's really been a group effort.
"I think Levi along with the entire secondary has taken that as a challenge and embraced that challenge," McDermott said. "It's never about one guy, whether it's Tre or Levi and I just think about the overall team, the overall unit, in this case, the defense. So, we've got to continue to play like that in Tre's absence and take our game to another level.
Even though White hasn't been on the field with his teammates, that doesn't mean he hasn't been bringing positive energy to this team. After Wednesday's practice, Jordan Poyer read a text message he received from White the night before.
"'Hey, we got to go crazy. Best in the world,' Poyer said as he read the text from his phone. "He sent that at 10:17 last night."
A team never wants to lose an All-Pro corner but as injuries happen in football, the Bills have handled the adversity well and have seen other players become leaders because of it.
"We just continue to just pump each other up," Poyer said. "We take a lot of responsibility, especially since Tre'Davious left on making sure in the back end that we're all communicating, were executing at a high level. We're always getting the guys together watching extra tape. … And it's not a bad thing. We love that responsibility. We love that pressure with that responsibility. But yeah, with Tre'Davious down, a lot of guys have stepped into bigger roles too. Levi Wallace. Dane Jackson. Those guys stepped in huge roles for us since Tre's gone down. So, it's a combined effort. It's not just like Micah and I. It's a combined effort of our backs, just continuing to work, watching tape all the time together."
Josh Allen is coming off his best career game and one of the best games a quarterback has played in the postseason. His quarterback rating of 157.6 is only second to Peyton Manning, Terry Bradshaw, and Don Meredith who all had a perfect rating of 158.3. While fans around the nation might be just getting accustomed to Allen's quality of play, here in Buffalo it's been known how special of a player he is – and the players would run through a wall for him.
"To me, to everyone around here it's no surprise," Singletary stated. "Josh, that's our general. I've said it time and time again. He approaches everything that way. He's just a dog. He's fearless. He doesn't fear anything. That's a guy who always has a lot of confidence, and he's still building more confidence. When he steps out there, just know he's not blinking at all, he's not blinking. No matter the situation, he's always in kill mode. That's the best way to put it."
Scroll to see photos of the Bills as they prepare for their Divisional Round game against the Kansas City Chiefs.