On one hand, the Kansas City Chiefs get to face the Buffalo Bills when they’ve been struggling. The men from Western New York have lost three of their last four while facing some internal controversy.
On the other hand, the Chiefs head into this matchup shorthanded. They’ll be without three starters — left tackle Donovan Smith, running back Isiah Pacheco and safety Bryan Cook — along with reserve linebacker Drue Tranquill. That’s a lot to overcome for a Kansas City team that is coming off of a loss of its own — and is struggling to find its offensive identity.
Here are a few Chiefs who could be trending as we head into a rivalry game where we have no idea what to expect.
Running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Deneric Prince: Just as the Chiefs have finally found some balance on offense, losing their starting running back to injury is a major blow. So according to head coach Andy Reid, both Edwards-Helaire and Prince will have big opportunities against the Bills. Even if his production has still been very limited, Edwards-Healire has looked better in recent weeks. The rookie Prince hasn’t really made his debut yet — he didn’t play after being active in Week 13 — but he has once again been elevated from the practice squad for this contest. A week ago, the Buffalo defense gave up 185 rushing yards against the Eagles — who managed 114 against the Chiefs. Given the team’s recent struggles in the passing game, we really want to see Kansas City continue to establish the run; being one-dimensional could lead to disaster.
Defensive lineman Chris Jones: After logging 5.5 sacks in the first five games, Jones has gone without a sack in two of the last three. Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen represents an interesting matchup for the Kansas City defense. While he can escape pressure and make plays on the run, he sometimes struggles against blitzes. Jones (and the rest of the pass rushers) will need a big, disciplined game to hold the Bills down. Jones — as always — will be an important key. He’ll need to get quick wins and cause havoc in the backfield. He’s due for a big game — and this could be it.
Defensive back Chamarri Conner: Facing injuries in the secondary, the opportunities for the rookie defensive back could grow. Conner has been a central part of the special teams unit — but in recent weeks, he has also earned some trust on defense. A big, athletic safety who can blitz and tackle, Conner is potentially better suited to replace Cook than veteran safety Mike Edwards. Both should see action against the Bills — but don’t be surprised if Conner’s name is called more often.
Others trending in the right direction: wide receivers Rashee Rice and Justyn Ross, offensive tackle Wanya Morris, defensive linemen Mike Danna and Charles Omenihu, placekicker Harrison Butker and linebacker Nick Bolton.
Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling: In the headlines this week after refusing to engage with a reporter who wanted to discuss his struggles, Valdes-Scantling is running low on goodwill in Chiefs Kingdom. While he’s always been a low-percentage receiver, it feels like he’s having his worst season — even if he doesn’t see it that way. He’s been catching just under 50% of his targets throughout his six-year NFL career, so we can’t reasonably expect him to suddenly become a different, more reliable player. We can, however, hope that he doesn’t once again get four targets on what could end up being a game-winning drive. Some fans are even starting to hope he’ll be a game-day inactive in favor of a player with more upside. Hopefully. though, Valdes-Scantling proves us wrong with a bounce-back performance.
Wide receiver Kadarius Toney: It’s approaching now-or-never territory with the former New York Giants wideout. Whether the team has been saving him for a late-season run or he hasn’t been fully healthy (or both), Toney has been such a non-factor that it’s easy to forget he’s on the roster. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have ability; it’s clear that he has plenty of that. But something is missing — and it’s keeping him from having a significant role in the offense. If we don’t see anything in the next couple of games, it may end up just being a lost season for the former first-round pick — and unfortunately, for most of the team’s other wide receivers.
Left tackle Donovan Smith: With penalties and mediocre games, it hasn’t been his best year — and now, Smith will sit out in favor of rookie Wanya Morris, who looked good (and sometimes great) against the Green Bay Packers in relief — especially as a run blocker. If he continues to impress, Smith could get Wally Pipped. So watch the left side of the line against the Bills. It’s a huge opportunity for Morris — and for Smith, watching him play could make it a very frustrating afternoon.
Others trending in the wrong direction: wide receivers Justin Watson and Skyy Moore, tight end Blake Bell and defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton.
Value (sleeper) pick: Wide receiver (and returner) Richie James
The Chiefs are likely to need a playmaker against the Bills — and hopefully, they’ve realized it’s probably not Valdes-Scantling or Skyy Moore. But in Week 13, James made a guy miss on a 12-yard gain that was his only reception on the day. He also turned in a couple of relatively strong kick returns. This gives us a little hope that he can step up in the coming weeks, finding a way to help the team in one way or another. He’s got just enough elusive ability to be a threat with the ball in his hands. On Sunday, will Kansas City give him a few more offensive opportunities?