Since the start of the 2020 season and including the playoffs, the Buffalo Bills boast an impressive 18-5 record. While they have mostly handled their business on a weekly basis, the team that handed Buffalo two of those five losses is the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bills’ Week 5 opponent.
Both the Bills and Chiefs have Super Bowl aspirations and Sunday night’s game could decide who receives a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs. Kansas City has hosted the last three AFC Championship games, something the Bills are looking to change this season.
The Chiefs enter the game with a surprising 2-2 mark and in last place in the AFC West. Patrick Mahomes has the Kansas City offense humming like usual, but defensively the Chiefs are struggling mightily. An explosive Buffalo offense will look to take advantage of a reeling Chiefs’ defense and improve to 4-1 on Sunday night.
But if that is going to be the case, things have to be different this time around for the Bills. For all the success Buffalo has enjoyed of late, both games against the Chiefs resulted in two-score losses. Let’s examine what those differences have to be on Sunday night for the Bills to be in the driver's seat in the AFC.
Since Sean McDermott took over in 2017, the team has met moment after moment with the exception of when the Bills take on Mahomes and the Chiefs. There is a notable difference in how the team embraces the challenges Kansas City presents and the Bills look out of character. It feels like Bills get away from a “do your job” or “do your one-eleventh” mindset and players try to “do more.” It’s as if the team is chasing big plays instead of consistently executing on a play-by-play basis.
The lone non-returning starter from the 2020 squad is veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who I believe perfectly encapsulated what I’m referencing in his media availability on Thursday.
What Sanders is preaching here seems like a simple message but I believe not embracing it has been the No. 1 reason why the Bills haven’t looked like the Bills against Kansas City. Perhaps the veteran leadership of Sanders, who is the lone Super Bowl champion on the roster, can help change that on Sunday night, and the team will need to embrace that mindset for the script to change.
The other area where the Bills “got away” from themselves against Kansas City last year in the AFC Championship Game was shifting from the aggressive mindset that led to so much success. Buffalo was among the most aggressive teams in the NFL when it came to going for it on fourth downs and not settling for field goals, except for when a date in the Super Bowl was on the line. While the Bills have one of the best young kickers in the NFL in Tyler Bass, field goals aren’t going to beat the Chiefs. In the AFC Championship Game, Buffalo settled for field goals in each of the following situations:
- 4th-and-3 with 11:27 left in the first quarter from the Chiefs 33-yard line
- 4th-and-goal with :11 left in the second quarter from the Chiefs 2-yard line
- 4th-and-3 with 5:49 left in the third quarter from the Chiefs 8-yard line.
The Bills lost 38-24.
Offensively, the Chiefs are every bit as good if not better than they were last year. Field goals won’t cut it and McDermott seems to understand that against every other opponent.
RUN THE FOOTBALL
Anyone who has watched the Bills since 2020 understands that Buffalo’s offense is pass-heavy with three or more receivers on the field for nearly every snap of the game. The Bills like to run spread formations and challenge opponents to defend every blade of grass on the field against a quarterback in Josh Allen that has the physical tools necessary to give him access to every portion of the field.
And while that makes for an exciting offense to watch, the Bills have to be two-dimensional on offense against Kansas City. The Bills have embraced that more so far in 2021 and it must continue on Sunday night. Buffalo is currently fifth in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 145.3 and at 4.5 yards per carry, the Bills slot eighth. Buffalo has the fourth most rushing attempts in the entire NFL through four games.
The Chiefs have lost seven competitive games with Mahomes as their starting quarterback since the start of 2019. The common denominator in nearly every one of those losses has been the rushing success of their opponent. Here are those losses and the rushing production by Kansas City’s opponent:
- 2019 Week 5 vs. the Colts: 45 rushes, 180 yards, one rushing touchdown
- 2019 Week 6 vs. the Texans: 41 rushes, 192 yards, three rushing touchdowns
- 2019 Week 10 vs. the Titans: 26 rushes, 225 yards, two rushing touchdowns
- 2020 Week 5 vs. the Raiders: 35 rushes, 144 yards, two rushing touchdowns
- 2020 Super Bowl vs. the Buccaneers: 33 rushes, 145 yards, one rushing touchdown
- 2021 Week 2 vs. the Ravens: 41 rushes, 253 yards, three rushing touchdowns
- 2021 Week 3 vs. the Chargers: 23 rushes, 77 yards (Chiefs were minus four in turnovers)
In Chiefs’ losses under Mahomes since the start of 2019, the opponent averaged 35 rushing attempts and 174 rushing yards.
The good news for Buffalo entering Sunday night is that not only are the Bills running the football well, but the Chiefs are also getting gashed on the ground so far in 2021. Kansas City has surrendered the second-most rushing yards per game with 146 and most rushing yards per attempt with 5.4. Continuing to incorporate the run game on Sunday night is vital for Buffalo.
PASSING GAME EFFICIENCY
Allen is an elite competitor that has developed into an outstanding quarterback, but despite all of his growth, he hasn’t played winning football against the Chiefs. It connects back with embracing the mindset discussed earlier. Allen is guilty of chasing big plays and not taking the simple profits in the passing game.
In two games against Kansas City, Allen completed just 56% of his passes. While rain impacted the Week 6 outing last year, Mahomes still managed to complete 80.7% of his passes in that contest under the same conditions while Allen completed just 51.8%. In games not against the Chiefs in 2020 (including the playoffs), Allen completed 69.8% of his passes.
So far in 2021, opposing quarterbacks are completing 69.3% of passes against the Chiefs for a passer rating of 104.1. The Chiefs are allowing 291.8 passing yards per game.
The opportunities in the passing game will be there for Allen on Sunday night, but like the rest of the team, it’s about not trying to do more—just play the game the team is capable of playing.