It's Week 5 and that means the much-anticipated matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs is just days away. While coaches and players haven't looked ahead to opponents, this is a game that Bills fans were waiting for since the schedule was announced in May. They'll be excited to see this clash take place on NBC at 8:20 on Sunday night.
It's a rematch against the team that knocked Buffalo out of a chance at a Super Bowl ring. Of course there are a boatload of storylines this week, so here are some of them.
1. How an AFC Championship loss led the Bills to transform
I won't re-live too much of last season's AFC Championship loss to the Chiefs, but it's worth pointing out the Bills look different this season partially due to that loss. The Chiefs put up 38 points in that game against a Bills defense that ranked 16th and was allowing an average of 23.4 points per game at that time.
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes completed 76% of his passes for 325 yards and threw for three touchdowns. Their offense converted 60% of their third downs, scored touchdowns on five of six trips to the red zone and averaged 6.9 yards per play. Yes, these numbers are hard to type out but stay with me here.
Kansas City's offense wasn't challenged enough and Mahomes wasn't under pressure enough in that game. The Bills only had three quarterback hits and one sack against him in the game.
Let's fast forward to the Super Bowl when the Buccaneers beat the Chiefs. Mahomes looked like a different quarterback. He completed only 53% of his passes, threw two interceptions and posted a passer rating of 52.3. The difference was Tampa Bay's pass rush that put Mahomes under pressure to make quick decisions. The Bucs had nine quarterback hits and three sacks.
You better believe the Bills coaching staff and scouting department took note at how they dismantled a high-powered Chiefs offense.
"Tampa did a heck of a job against Kansas City in that game and really did a nice job of making Mahomes move off his spot," Bills general manager Brandon Beane said the day the Bills drafted defensive end Boogie Basham. "That was probably as big a difference as anything in the outcome of the game, and we wanted to definitely get better there this offseason. And I think we've added to the competition.
"We're going to have some really good veterans coming back, obviously it was mentioned, Jerry (Hughes) and Mario (Addison), and then we've got some youth in here so it should be fun come August when we camp gets started."
Now in Week 5, Buffalo's pass rush has definitely improved since the AFC Championship loss. The Bills currently have the best defense in the NFL allowing just 11 points a game and 216.8 total yards a game. They also have 11 takeaways, which is the most in the league. Like we hear from Bills head coach Sean McDermott often, it all starts up front and Buffalo would not be posting these stats without the help of the defensive line.
On Sunday night, we will get a chance to see how this improved pass rush does against one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. The Bills played the Chiefs twice last year and there's a chance they play them twice again this season. McDermott said he will take a look at last year's two losses to Kansas City but knows a lot has changed for both teams since those games.
"You try and take what you can without getting too detailed on it," McDermott said on looking back. "And you try and again learn from it, generally speaking. But players are different, the teams are different, and the players that make up those teams are slightly different as well. So, you probably look at some of that, you probably look at some of this year and do the best you can.
"They're a really good football team. I know they lost two close games, so it's a tough challenge and they're really good at home as well."
2. Limiting Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City's weapons
The Chiefs have the second-best offense in the NFL averaging 33.5 points per game and 427.5 total yards per game. They're able to post those types of numbers because they have a talented quarterback who has a variety of weapons at his disposal from the pass game to the run game.
Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes is completing 72.3% of his passes, has thrown for 14 touchdowns and racked up more than 1,200 passing yards through four games, which ranks top five.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said whether you play man or zone defense, Mahomes can have success against any defense.
"His elusiveness creates a lot of problems for your pass rush, for your pass defense," Frazier said. "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."
It's not just Mahomes that the Bills will have to contain. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill has caught 30 passes (2nd) for 453 receiving yards (2nd) and has 4 touchdowns (2nd). Tight end Travis Kelce has 24 catches for 312 receiving yards and has 168 yards after contact (7th). Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has rushed for 291 yards and is averaging just over five yards per rush to start the season.
The Bills will also have to figure out how to contain wide receiver Josh Gordon who was promoted to the active roster on Tuesday afternoon.
Even though the Chiefs have more weapons than you can count on one hand, Buffalo's defense feels like they can contend thanks to their hot start to the season and with two shutouts under their belt.
"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," Frazier said. "We think we've improved in some areas. Our goal is to slow them down. I don't know if anybody really stops them. You need 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."
3. Respecting a Steve Spagnuolo defense that can change from play-to-play
Kansas City's defense hasn't had the best start to this season as they rank at the bottom of the league in many statistical categories. Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll isn't going to let the fact that the Chiefs are allowing 31 points a game get in the way of knowing just how confusing a Steve Spagnuolo defense can be.
Daboll said he will spend time looking at last year's two games against the Chiefs but understands they may see a lot of new looks from him on defense.
"He's got a lot of defenses so how he plays one team might not necessarily be how he plays another team," Daboll said of Kansas City's defensive coordinator. "We played them twice so it's like playing division games. Certainly, you're going to look at those tapes, look at matchups and things like that, relative to who they have and who you have. But you're going to really dig back into what they're doing this year and some teams change a little bit, some teams maybe not as much."
While Daboll will look into Kansas City's tendencies from this year and last year, when facing a defense that can transform as much as they do, it will be important for Buffalo to stick to mastering their fundamentals.
"You can prepare as much as you can prepare, and you can look at all the different looks," Daboll explained. "Certainly, it's hard to really say what he's going to do or when he's going to do it because he keeps you guessing a lot. And it's going to fall back on fundamentals, techniques, communication and playing together well."
4. Taking advantage of Kansas City's weakness
The Bills didn't put enough points on the scoreboard to beat the Chiefs in the AFC Championship, but this week Buffalo's offense could have multiple parties in the end zone. Kansas City's defense has been their Achilles heel through the first four games.
So far, there are many weak spots that the Bills can use to their advantage. So, let's spell it out.
Kansas City currently ranks in the bottom three of several statistical categories. The Chiefs are allowing 31 points per game and 437.8 total yards per game, both rank 31st in the NFL. They are allowing 146 rushing yards per game (30th) and 291.8 passing yards per game (27th).
Buffalo is averaging 33.5 points per game (tied for 2nd) and is averaging 145.3 rushing yards per game (5th).
Kansas City is allowing teams to score touchdowns 78.9% of the time they are in the red zone (28th), allowing quarterbacks to complete 69.3% of their passes (26th) and giving up 26.5 first downs per game (31st).
If the Chiefs defense continues to play like they have, the opportunities will be out there for Buffalo's taking.
5. Josh Allen's ability to manage big games
Bills quarterback Josh Allen has grown in his skillset, confidence and maturity in every season since he was drafted by the Bills. He knows he didn't perform at the level he needed to against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game, and after that game Allen spoke to how he would learn from it.
"Next year is going to be, I'm super excited about it already and super excited about this whole process of feeling this hurt and this pain, letting it fuel me, using it in the right way and focusing everything that I have towards trying to become better and trying to be the best version of myself and the best quarterback for this team in order to help us win football games," Allen said after the loss. "I get the feeling that's how a lot of guys feel right now and we're not satisfied obviously. I feel like I'm learning this lesson now, but unless you win the whole thing, you're not satisfied with how it ended."
Now in his fourth season with 48 regular season games, several primetime games and four playoff games under his belt, the ability to play in and manage big games isn't too much for him.
Allen has been there and done that. He hasn't won them all, but he knows what's expected of him when the lights are on and the game matters.
"He's been in this league, he's played in our offense, he's played enough games that I think that the minute you start changing the routine or anything like that, we want to go out there and do the best job we can every game," offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. "So that's what we're charged—to have a good week of preparation, try to come up with a good game plan, go out there in practice and then play well. Josh has been pretty consistent for us. I'd say he's highly competitive regardless of who we're playing, when we're playing."