1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Sure, you have to acknowledge that the 2023 season was his worst statistically since becoming a starter in 2018 – his record (10-6), touchdown percentage (4.5%), yards per game (261.4) and passer rating (92.6) all career worsts while his 14 interceptions are the most he’s ever thrown. Still, Mahomes was able to put together a Pro Bowl season despite the dearth of experience (and wealth of drops) among his wideouts along with TE Travis Kelce having a subpar year – at least relative to his ridiculously lofty bar. Yet Mahomes looked pretty good (262 yards, TD) in subzero temperatures against the Dolphins last weekend while running his all-time playoff record to 12-3. He’s also about to catch the Bills with two additional days of rest and at a time when Buffalo is likely fielding a patchwork linebacking group. Sunday will be Mahomes’ first-ever playoff game on the road, Super Bowls classified as neutral sites, but he’s 2-0 in the postseason against the Bills and with gaudy numbers to boot (351.5 passing yards per game, 6 TD passes, 0 INTs, 75.6% completion rate, 125.2 QB rating). This may not be the greatest Chiefs squad Mahomes has ever played for, though it surely is defensively – that factor plus his experience making it virtually impossible to trust any of these other quarterbacks more.
Just one statistic bothered Mahomes.
“Obviously, we’ve got to continue to get better in the red zone,” Mahomes said. “We’re getting down there, but we’ve got to get in the end zone — if that’s running, throwing, whatever that is. Other than that, I thought we played a pretty good game offensively, but we’ve got to continue to get better and better as the playoffs go.”
Against the Dolphins, the Chiefs had six trips into the red zone, the condensed stretch of field between the 20-yard line and the goal line where the action can decide the game’s outcome. The Chiefs, though, had twice as many field goals (four) as touchdowns (two).
1. Chiefs at Bills
I mean, there’s no way this game wasn’t going to be No. 1. Anytime Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen square off against one another, it’s a must-see event. The last time these quarterbacks went toe to toe in a playoff game was that infamous divisional round game during the 2021 playoffs where Kansas City tied the game with 13 seconds left in regulation and ultimately won in overtime. Earlier this season, Buffalo was able to beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium after receiver Kadarius Toney lined up offsides, which erased what would’ve been a go-ahead touchdown. Again, there’s drama every time these teams play one another, and we shouldn’t expect this game to be any different.
This will be the seventh time that Mahomes and Allen faced one another the current head-to-head record is 3-3. However, Mahomes has won both playoff matchups, so Allen will be looking to notch his first postseason victory against his rival and will do so at Highmark Stadium. This is the first time in Mahomes’ playoff career that he’ll be on the road, adding another wrinkle.
Patrick Mahomes over 36.5 passing attempts (-110): This is a game script/scheme/matchup play as the Chiefs are 3.0-point road underdogs and operate the league’s game-script adjusted, pass-heaviest offense. Mahomes has attempted at least 38 passes in his past five games against Buffalo and is averaging 43.8 per game during the span. That includes 38 and 44 attempts in two previous playoff games and 43 attempts when these teams met in Week 14. In total, Mahomes has averaged 37.5 passing attempts per game this season. That number jumps to 40.0 per game in Kansas City’s six losses (38-plus in five of those six).
Harrison Butker under 2.5 XP made (-125): To convert extra points, you need to attempt them in the first place — and to attempt them, you need your team to score touchdowns. Excluding a Week 18 game in which the starters rested, the Kansas City offense has scored at least three touchdowns only five times this season. The Buffalo defense, meanwhile has allowed more than two scores in just five games, including zero times in the six games since the team’s Week 13 bye. The Chiefs very rarely go for 2-point conversions, which helps Butker’s cause, but that’s often game-script related, and they very well may need to do so this week as they are underdogs for the first time since Super Bowl LVII.
Why Gennaro is taking the Chiefs: Fewer games means fewer narratives, inherently promising one subplot will be repeated so frequently this week that your eyes might just roll out of their sockets. So be careful out there, but … DID YOU HEAR THAT THIS IS PATRICK MAHOMES’ FIRST TRUE ROAD PLAYOFF GAME?!?! It’s true. I checked. (By stepping outside and cupping a hand to my downwind ear.) Yes, the Bills have home-field advantage. But the Chiefs have the better defense, the healthier roster and two extra days of rest. Not to mention, Kansas City’s much-maligned offense just enjoyed its most prolific, balanced effort since October. Oh, and I’m thinking that maniacal competitor in the No. 15 jersey is slightly motivated by the underdog label and still a bit aggrieved over the ending to last month’s home loss to Buffalo.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo managed to change the narrative around his unit this season, and the Chiefs’ ferocious pass rush played an integral role in making Kansas City’s defense a menacing force in the AFC.
According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats Twitter page, Spagnuolo’s innovative schemes in 2023 generated the most unblocked quarterback pressures in the league.
The Chiefs defense led the league in unblocked pressures during the regular season (73).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 17, 2024
The Chiefs generated 7 unblocked pressures in Week 14 against the Bills, tied for the unit's most in a game this season.#BUFvsKC | #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/2r6vVbV4jK
Keon Coleman WR
FLORIDA STATE • JR • 6’4” / 215 LBS
Kansas City has not invested in the wide receiver room. Its approach has been making trades and signing players with one foot or both feet out the door of their prior team. Keon Coleman and Rashee Rice is a good way to start re-shaping the narrative.
Around the NFL
Belichick is slated to have a second interview with Atlanta for its head-coaching vacancy this weekend, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday, per a source. Rapoport added that Falcons CEO Rich McKay and general manager Terry Fontenot will be among those with Blank for this weekend’s meeting with Belichick.
The second interview comes after Belichick met one on one with Falcons owner Arthur Blank earlier this week, which was the future Hall of Fame coach’s first interview after spending the past 24 seasons in New England.
In their first round of interviews, the Falcons spoke with seven prospective head-coaching candidates, a list headlined Belichick and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh but also featuring a mix of candidates with varying degrees of experience and success.
In his fifth year with the Green Bay Packers in 2010, he won Super Bowl XLV. He enters his fifth season as Cowboys head coach in 2024 without any assurance he will be back in 2025 since he is in the final year of his contract.
“I believe that the direction, the leadership, everything is in place,” McCarthy said. “And I’m not very comfortable talking about myself, but I came here to win a championship. I didn’t come here to get another contract or anything other than that. I came to Dallas to win a world championship, and that’s why I’m standing here. Buy into us.”
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
During his rookie season, the 32nd overall selection of the 2020 NFL Draft rushed for 161 yards in the Week 6 road matchup against the Bills. Speaking in the locker room on Wednesday, Edwards-Helaire expressed confidence in returning to Buffalo — and playing a very familiar opponent.
“We knew what we had going into the game,” he said of his breakthrough outing three years ago. “Buffalo is not a team we haven’t seen. Obviously, I’ve played them every year I’ve been here. It’s one of those things you kind of — not necessarily get used to them — but [there’s] familiar faces with some guys on that end. They know [how] we play, and we know how they play. You kind of bite your mouthpiece and roll with it.”
After struggling much of the year, the Chiefs’ first-team offense has been more effective in recent weeks. Edwards-Helaire believes that’s because quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been improving his rapport with the team’s receivers.
“We go as a wave,” he said of the offense. “Pat and the wideouts started clicking on all cylinders. We all know it starts with the guys up front. As soon as those guys get to rolling, then we’re good.”
Social media to make you think
Rashee Rice will finish as the 2024 WR__ pic.twitter.com/nEOiDjLXKc— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) January 18, 2024