Here. We. Go!
It’s the playoffs, so every game is now the biggest of the season. Still, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Divisional Round matchup against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York on Sunday evening.
Whether it’s because the two teams have become important AFC rivals — or the Bills are just an important measuring stick for the Chiefs — it’s the postseason matchup everyone wants to see. Some of the most epic games in Kansas City history have come when these two teams have gone at each other with the season on the line. In this contest, we should expect nothing less.
Wide receiver Rashee Rice: He’s taking over. The rookie wideout is already a star. On Sunday night, he’ll be on a very big stage, getting a chance to take another step toward being a household name. He’s got quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ trust, a somewhat more complete route tree and is coming off a career performance in a playoff game. Everything is pointed in the right direction. We should expect greatness against the Bills.
EDGE George Karlaftis: In his second season, he’s now a grizzled veteran — or he’s at least playing like one. Karlaftis has already been a force against both the pass and the run — and he’s been getting better as the season has continued. In this matchup, getting to Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen will be a key to a Kansas City victory — but so will staying disciplined and containing him when he tries to run. “Furious George” should be a big part of how defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s crew achieves both goals.
Cornerback Trent McDuffie: The newly minted All-Pro has been sensational this season. He’s the best cornerback remaining in the playoffs. His main competition — L’Jarius Sneed — is playing right beside him. In the 2022 draft, the Chiefs famously jumped ahead of the Bills to select McDuffie — and he’s got a chance to make Buffalo fans continue to regret that day. He’ll be a key part of Spagnuolo’s blitz package, where he already has three sacks on the season. He’ll also be going against another promising second-year player: the Bills’ wide receiver Khalil Shakir. Nothing will be easy for McDuffie, but he delivers every single week. As he frustrates the Bills once again, we should appreciate what we have in No. 22.
Others trending in the right direction: safeties Chamarri Conner and Mike Edwards, running backs Isiah Pacheco and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, linebacker Nick Bolton, tackle Donovan Smith, guard Trey Smith and placekicker Harrison Butker.
Wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore, Richie James, Mecole Hardman, Kadarius Toney and Justyn Ross: In recent weeks, Kansas City has found success by focusing Mahomes’ attention on a smaller number of receivers. Against Buffalo, there’s no reason to think the team will go back to spreading the ball around to these other guys. The offense is, as we have hoped all season, now based on Rice, Pacheco and tight end Travis Kelce. Justin Watson will get snaps, while the other wideouts should see their opportunities remain limited as the team leans into its best players for the postseason.
Others trending in the wrong direction: cornerbacks Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams, tight end Blake Bell and safety Deon Bush
Value (sleeper) pick: Defensive tackle Mike Pennel
The headlines around a game between the Chiefs and Bills are typically focused on the quarterbacks and each team’s pass rush. But Pennel was brought back to this team for one reason — and in this game, it’s an important one. With Derrick Nnadi now having surgery, Pennel should step in as the primary run-stuffer in Kansas City’s defensive front. He’ll have his hands full with Bills’ running back James Cook, who has put up almost 1,600 total yards in his second season. He’s a threat to break big plays every time he touches the football — and it just might just one of the most important factors in this game. If “MVPennel” and company can contain Buffalo on the ground — making its offense one-dimensional — you have to like the Chiefs’ chance to win.