For the first time in his six seasons as a starting quarterback, Patrick Mahomes will play on the road in the postseason. A Highmark Stadium full of jubilant fans — and possibly some snow — will await the quarterback as the Chiefs travel to Orchard Park to take on the Buffalo Bills with a spot in the AFC Championship on the line.
Both the Bills and Chiefs will play in the AFC Divisional Round for the fourth and sixth season in a row, respectively. Josh Allen and Mahomes are 3-3 in their careers against each other in both the playoffs and the regular season, but the Chiefs have had the Bills' number in their two postseason matchups since the two star quarterbacks took over.
"They've been at the top of the mountain, they know what it takes to get there," Allen said after Wednesday's walk-through practice. "We've yet to do that. As a competitor, as a player, to be in a situation like this is something that you dream about."
Many didn't expect the Bills to be in this spot prior to their Week 14 matchup in Kansas City. At 6-6, the Bills were fresh off the bye week after losing in heartbreaking fashion in overtime to the Philadelphia Eagles. With five games remaining, the Bills needed to essentially run the table to have a chance to make the playoffs.
At this point, we all know what happened next.
"To think about how far we've come even from seven, eight weeks ago to where we are now to have an opportunity to host a game against (a team that's) won two championships in the last couple years, you know, you can't help but be excited for that," Allen said.
Considering their recent stretch of games against the Chiefs, the Bills know the caliber of coaching, quarterbacking and overall level of play they will encounter Sunday evening.
"They're a phenomenal football team with a phenomenal quarterback and some phenomenal players as well. All that, we can't control, but what we can control is us and where we're trying to get to and our level of play. And that's where our focus needs to be," said head coach Sean McDermott Wednesday afternoon.
In just six postseason appearances, Mahomes boasts a 12-3 record in the playoffs, adding two Super Bowl titles. Allen had high praise for his contemporary and offseason golfing buddy.
"He's a fantastic player," Allen said. "His track record and his resume speaks for himself as such a young age and one of the greatest quarterbacks already to play this game and he's still growing and still getting better. He's not an easy matchup for any team."
Although they led the league with 44 dropped passes this season Chiefs have a bevy of playmakers on their roster, both veterans and young talent. Tight end Travis Kelce is one of the most statistically prolific of all time at his position, ranking in the top five in career receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Rookie receiver Rashee Rice led the Chiefs in receiving yards this season and was especially hot down the stretch. In his last five games, including the Chiefs' 26-7 win over the Dolphins, Rice tallied 35 receptions, 477 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Running back Isaiah Pacheco has also created problems for defenses all season. In his last five contests, he's averaged over 21 touches, 98 yards and a touchdown. The second-year running back did not play against Buffalo in their last matchup due to a shoulder injury.
"He gives them a lot of energy, he's extremely tough," McDermott said. "We faced him last year and he was a younger player than he is now and now he's where he's at and he's a very, very important piece for that offense. We have a lot of respect for his game and the energy he brings to that football team."
In addition to the challenges presented by Mahomes and the Kansas City offense, the Chiefs defense — led by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks all season.
Averaging 3.3 sacks per game, the second-best clip in the NFL behind the Baltimore Ravens, the Chiefs have forced quarterbacks to scramble and create plays all season. Chris Jones had the second-most sacks among defensive tackles in the regular season with 10.5, but Allen was sure to point out that there are playmakers on the Chiefs' defensive line beyond their star defensive tackle.
"You need more than one guy to do that," Allen said of the Chiefs' 57 sacks in the regular season. "They've got a very ferocious group, they have a lot of motor in them. They don't give up on plays, they're constantly trying to chase down the quarterback. … You throw that in with the backend that they've got and it's a pretty special defense."
Slot cornerback Trent McDuffie, in just his second season, was named as a First-Team All-Pro after tallying five forced fumbles, seven pass breakups and an 82.9 grade from Pro Football Focus. L'Jarius Sneed, the Chiefs' physical cornerback, allowed just one catch total when facing Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle in the Chiefs' Super Wild Card win over the Dolphins, per NextGen Stats.
Despite the Bills getting the better of Kansas City earlier this season, Greg Rousseau acknowledged that, in the weeks separating their previous matchup and their upcoming one, the teams have evolved.
"I feel like every game is different. Teams really grow a lot throughout the season, whether it's beginning, middle, end or postseason," Rousseau said.
Post-practice injury updates
The Buffalo Bills signed punter Matt Haack to the practice squad, the team announced Wednesday, due to Sam Martin suffering a hamstring injury against Pittsburgh Monday.
Martin, cornerback Christian Benford (knee), linebacker Terrel Bernard (ankle), receiver Gabe Davis (knee), linebacker Baylon Spector (back) and safety Taylor Rapp (calf) did not participate in Wednesday's practice.
Cornerback Rasul Douglas (knee), linebacker Tyrel Dodson (shoulder) and nickel corner Taron Johnson (concussion) were limited.
Allen (neck) and Micah Hyde (neck) were both full participants.