It's hostile territory, but not unfamiliar territory for the Buffalo Bills. They head back to Kansas City this weekend to play the AFC West-leading Chiefs. Here are the top seven storylines for this week's matchup:
1. ANOTHER CHANCE FOR TYROD
The Bills have been nothing if not unpredictable in the 2017 season. After many pundits proclaimed Tyrod Taylor's time as a starter over last week, here he is again, lining up as the starter at quarterback.
Nathan Peterman's rough outing against the Chargers makes Taylor the logical choice to give the Bills "the best chance to win." And in the ruins of the game in L.A., offensive coordinator Rick Dennison saw some progress being made by Taylor in mop-up action.
"I think his timing is better," Dennison said this week. "He certainly needs to work on it still, but there are a lot of people in this building that need to work on certain things. I think he understands what is supposed to happen."
It will be interesting to see if Taylor's one-game benching changes his approach as a passer. Will he take more risks and fit the ball into tight windows? Will he get the ball out on time against a fierce Kansas City pass rush? Will he deliver the ball to his targets in stride? We'll find out.
2. TIME TO REGROUP AND REBOUND
After three straight lopsided losses, the Bills can't waste any time getting ready for this week's opponent. The fall from a 5-2 record to 5-5 has been quick and shocking for Buffalo. Head coach Sean McDermott and his staff certainly have some technical adjustments to make, but they also must rebuild the confidence of their players. And one of the best ways to start could be a look at the AFC standings.
3. "PLAYOFFS? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? PLAYOFFS?"
Go ahead and channel your inner Jim Mora (circa 2001) when you read the line above. I'll wait.
Many Bills fans don't want to think about playoff chances after the last three weeks, but here are the facts. The Bills are a tiebreaker out of the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC headed into this week. They've dropped three spots in the playoff standings in the last three weeks but the drop feels greater given the blowout losses.
The Bills are one of only seven teams in the conference with a record of .500 or better. And they've got three games on their remaining schedule (Miami twice and Indy) against teams with losing records.
It's difficult to envision a playoff run after the loss in Los Angeles, but it could happen.
4. MCCOY TRAIN BACK ON TRACK?
One of the overlooked positives from the Chargers game was the return of LeSean McCoy as the primary weapon in Buffalo's offense. He ran for more than 100 yards for the first time since the win against Oakland and the third time this season. He scored two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) for the second time this year.
McCoy broke off a couple of signature runs on the Bills two-play scoring drive in the first quarter against L.A. He got great blocks from Richie Incognito and Dion Dawkins on both of them, and scored on a 27- yard pitch-back that featured an ankle-busting fake from Shady.
It wasn't enough. But it was something. And it may be an open for a return to form for McCoy and the run game.
This week, the Bills take on Kansas City's 29th ranked rushing defense. The Chiefs give up 4.6 yards per carry and 118 yards per game.
5. ARE THE CHIEFS IN TROUBLE? WHO'S MORE DESPERATE?**
Desperation is a powering motivator in sports. That's where all the clichés about "backs to the wall," "caged animal" and the like come from.
So, who's more desperate this week? The 5-5 Bills, who've lost three in a row? Or the 6-4 Chiefs?
Kansas City started the season with five straight wins, including impressive victories at New England and against the Eagles. Since then, they've lost four of their last five including an ugly overtime loss to the 1-8 Giants last Sunday.
The talk around Chiefs QB Alex Smith has gone from "NFL MVP Candidate" to "maybe he should be replaced with rookie first-round pick Pat Mahomes."
That's not likely to happen this week.
But the Chiefs fans are experiencing what many Bills fans are feeling these days—an appreciation of how fleeting NFL success can be, and how it can turn on a dime.
6. THEY CALL IT "CHIEFS KINGDOM"
The Buffalo Bills head to one of the league's great home venues this week when they play at Arrowhead Stadium. The smell of the barbeque in the parking lot, the pitch of the stadium seats putting fans right on top of the field, and the ear-splitting noise generated by red and yellow clad Chiefs fans make it one of the most vibrant stadiums in the NFL.
The noise is a problem for opposing offenses. Rick Dennison has faced that challenge during his many years in the AFC West.
"I think you have to understand the intensity of the noise," the Bills OC says. "Acoustics are really good there. You have to limit what you do in certain things and make sure you can handle the noise."
The Bills lost 30-22 in Kansas City two years ago and they've gone 11-13 over the years in KC. This week's game marks the ninth time the two teams have matched up in the last 10 years.
7. SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION FROM ANDY REID?
Actually, it's not six degrees, it's five Bills coaches and one prominent player who have strong connections to Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid.
Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, offensive line coach Juan Castillo, quarterback coach David Culley, and offensive assistant Chad Hall have either coached with Reid or played for him in the NFL. LeSean McCoy was Reid's feature running back at Philadelphia.
And of course, Bills coach Sean McDermott cut his NFL teeth on Andy Reid's Eagles staff—starting out as an administrative coordinator in the scouting staff and working his way up to defensive coordinator in a 12-year span.
"Professionally he was probably one of the biggest mentors in my life and my career," McDermott said this week. "Just what I learned from Andy being with him for 12 years in Philadelphia. He taught me years ago to have a plan, have a vision, and a play to accomplish the vision. That's what we brought here to Buffalo."