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2021 NFL playoffs: What to watch for in Bills-Chiefs Divisional Round Playoff game


Let's get ready to ruuuuuuuumble!


The Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs face off in the most hotly anticipated bout thus far in the 2021 postseason.

 

Arrowhead Stadium ran out of fireworks last week. Hopefully, they've fully re-upped their stock because there should be a show Sunday night. A rematch of last season's AFC Championship Game, won by the Chiefs, 38-24, promises a closer battle this time around. The Bills trounced the Chiefs, 38-20, in Week 5 in K.C., foreshadowing a potential shootout.

 

Buffalo and Kansas City are coming off blowout wins during Super Wild Card Weekend. Sean McDermott's Bills handed Bill Belichick the most embarrassing postseason loss of his tenure in New England, 47-17, while Andy Reid's Chiefs sent Ben Roethlisberger into retirement with a 42-21 shellacking of the Steelers.

 

Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes each made NFL history last weekend. Allen became the first QB with an 80-plus completion percentage, five touchdown passes and 50-plus rushing yards in any game. While Mahomes' five TD passes in 11:31 of game time were the fastest ever in a playoff game, per NFL Research.

 

Sunday also marks the first time in NFL history two quarterbacks will faceoff after each threw for five TDs the previous week.

 

Both teams enter the Divisional Round at their best. A collision course of epic proportions is on tap.

 

Here are four things to watch for when the Chiefs play host to the Bills:

 

  1. Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. There is no need to bury the lead. The world is tuning in to watch the superstar quarterbacks go punch for punch. Allen has been stupendous of late, culminating in last week's perfect outing in which he led TD drives on all seven of the Bills' non-kneel possessions. There is no slowing Buffalo's offense when Allen is playing as he did against the Pats. The QB was perfect on passes of 10-plus air yards, including four such TDs (most passing TDs in any game in Next Gen Stats era on downfield passes without an incompletion, including playoffs). He was money outside the numbers, going 13 of 13. And when the defense finally covered his wideouts, he rumbled for first downs. Mahomes, meanwhile, continues to be the most breathtaking quarterback in the NFL, making mincemeat out of defenses. While there were stumbles along the way, the QB has been patient in recent weeks, dicing opponents like he's Alex Guarnaschelli. Last week, Mahomes threw for an effortless 404 yards against the Steelers, spreading the ball around, and showed a willingness to take a check down. If the two young superstars are both on their game Sunday, expect pyrotechnics galore.
  2. Can the Bills' No. 1 ranked D continue to force turnovers? In Week 5, Buffalo forced four -- three from Mahomes -- including a pick-six by Micah Hyde that sealed the win. The Bills own the NFL's No. 1 total defense, No. 1 scoring D and best third-down defense. They've also allowed the fewest passing yards and fewest big-plays. When they're playing on a string, it's a unit that can smother offenses. Doing it twice against Mahomes, however, is a different beast. The Chiefs QB has played 16 career games (incl. playoffs) versus teams that finished the season ranked top-five in the NFL scoring defense, total defense or pass defense (or any combination of the three). He's 15-1 in those contests. The only loss? Week 5 versus these Bills. Buffalo will use its pass-rush rotation to bring pressure without blitzing, a strategy that paid off in their last meeting. Head coach Sean McDermott didn't send a single blitz on Mahomes that night (the second time the Bills haven't blitzed against K.C.). No other team has played a full game against the Chiefs without blitzing. In last year's AFC Championship Game, Mahomes went 7 of 9 for 68 yards and 2 TDs when Buffalo blitzed. The key to stymying Mahomes is getting pressure with four, negating deep shots, and corralling pass-catchers when he throws short. The Bills have the talent to pull it off again. But doing so at Arrowhead in the postseason when Mahomes is rolling is a bigger task than a Week 5 game. 
  3. How will Buffalo cover Tyreek Hill? It's flown under the radar that the Bills' pass defense has remained stiff despite playing without Pro Bowl corner Tre'Davious White since Thanksgiving (ACL). White played a crucial role in slowing Hill in Week 5, holding the WR to just four catches on seven targets for 33 yards when in coverage that night. Without White, it makes the mission of corralling the Cheetah a whole lot more complicated. When Hill aligns out wide, Dane Jackson and Levi Wallace will have their hands full. Hill tortured Buffalo in the 2020 title game, netting 172 receiving yards -- fewer than 70 receiving yards in all other matchups against Buffalo. Mahomes has gotten other targets more involved of late, but Hill remains the key Sunday.
  4. Will either backfield play a significant role? Jerick McKinnon was a revelation for the Chiefs last week, netting 142 scrimmage yards and a TD. The running back's pass-catching coupled with his ability to churn yards between the tackles and on the edge adds another element to the Chiefs' attack. Starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire is also on track to return this week, giving K.C. another backfield weapon. The Chiefs have had 100-plus rush yards in seven consecutive postseason games (second-longest active streak in NFL). Meanwhile, the Bills don't go to the ground a ton, but lately, Devin Singletary has morphed into a threat. In the last five games, the RB has averaged 18.4 carries per game, 80.8 rush yards per game, and seven total TDs. When Singletary is picking up chunk gains, it makes the Bills' potent offense even more dangerous. With Allen and Mahomes, both teams rightly lean on the pass, but whichever backfield has the better day could help tilt the outcome.

 

NFL Research: The Bills could become the first team ever to defeat Bill Belichick and Andy Reid in a single postseason. Six teams have faced both head coaches in the same playoffs: 2019 and 2017 Titans, 2016 Steelers, 2013 Colts, 2003 Panthers and 2001 Rams.

 

Next Gen stat of the game: Travis Kelce was significantly better when a linebacker was the nearest defender rather than a defensive back this season. Versus LBs: 44 targets, 35 receptions, 424 yards, 3 TDs, INT (+2.2% CPOE). Versus DBs: 79 targets, 47 reception, 604 yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs (-10.6% CPOE).

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