On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs face the Buffalo Bills. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Buffalo is favored to win. We welcome Matthew Byham of Buffalo Rumblings — our sister SBNation site covering the Bills — for Five Questions with the Enemy.
1. How have the Bills turned their season around?
I see several key points.
Head coach Sean McDermott preached to anyone within earshot the importance of complementary football, which was loudest before offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was let go. While most assume that means a balanced run/pass attack, it also encapsulates playing to enhance your team’s best attributes. For the Bills, that includes limiting turnovers on offense to prevent putting the defense in an early hole, playing from behind against an opponent more able to dictate the tone of the game. On defense for Buffalo, it means taking the ball away to increase scoring opportunities for Josh Allen and company, and influencing a positive swing in points.
Change at Offensive Coordinator
Once Dorsey was dismissed following that loss against the Denver Broncos (which seemed strange to lay at his feet given how it ended), things began to shift on offense. The players on offense seemed looser, for whatever reason. Understandably, we’re not likely to learn why exactly Dorsey was let go, but keen eyes noticed a lack of in-game adjustments from a play-calling perspective, and what appeared to be some over-complicated route concepts that may have have contributed to a negative turnover ratio. It’s more than possible the role was too tall a task at this point for Dorsey, who was in his first season as an OC in the NFL.
Enter interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who seemed to free Allen up a bit while probably taking the best, most efficient aspects of Dorsey’s scheme. Allen’s frustration seemed to ease almost immediately, and there was a greater emphasis on involving receivers other than Stefon Diggs. That’s meant Diggs has dropped off a bit of a cliff in terms of production, but it’s allowed the rest of the team to develop needed chemistry with Allen.
This is probably the single metric one could point to the Bills’ turnaround. In 12 wins this season (including Wild Card game), Buffalo has a +12 turnover ratio (13 giveaways, 25 takeaways). In six Bills losses, they’ve compiled a -8 turnover ratio (15 giveaways, 7 takeaways).
Breaking it down differently, in ten games with Dorsey at OC, Buffalo compiled a 5-5 record and had a -3 turnover ratio (18 giveaways, 15 takeaways). In eight games with Brady at OC, the Bills are 7-1 with a +7 turnover ratio (10 giveaways, 17 takeaways).
It’s fair to point out that when Dorsey was still with the team, the defense was navigating a massive injury situation. The reserves who were called up had begun to gel as new starters once Brady took over. But the stark contrast between turnovers on offense (18 with Dorsey, 10 with Brady) speaks to the change that McDermott saw as necessary.
Let Josh Run
Once Brady took over, he allowed Allen to run more and at his discretion. Under Dorsey, it looked to everyone like Allen’s running ability had been taken out of the playbook.
With Dorsey (10 games): 48 rushes for 246 yards and 7 TDs
With Brady (8 games): 71 rushes for 352 yards and 9 TDs
Belief In Each Other/Bonding
This is one that’s difficult to quantify, but that the coaches and players continue to mention at every turn. Each and every person in that locker room genuinely cares about their teammates, and their bonding has been legitimate. That motivates a team to play on a level far different from those that don’t have the same connection. Earlier this week, left tackle Dion Dawkins may have summed it he best.
“Just take a quick look if you’re watchin’ film, look how many people are around the guys when they hit the ground. Guys are runnin’ over there to pick ‘em up. Guys are gettin’ people away. Guys are being guys. That’s the little gems that if you look deeper into what is goin’ on — guys care, and that’s simply what it is. Guys are really being guys that care. And, uh, that’s what’s gonna make us a championship Buffalo Bills team.”
Additionally, the three-part story that came out painting Sean McDermott in a very poor light through more than 20 people who either played for or worked with him seemed to fuel the team. We don’t know whether the intent was to fuel them to success or influence a change at head coach, but the former certainly happened. That story broke almost immediately after they dropped the heartbreaker to the Philadelphia Eagles. Added to this was the arrest of edge rusher Von Miller. Since then, Bills are 6-0. It’s fair to say at this point that these guys would run through a brick wall for each other.
2. Do you think the Bills’ playoff record against KC will be on the players’ minds? Will revenge be a motivation?
From those who’ve been a part of every playoff matchup to the new faces in the room I’m certain everyone knows about it. In everything leading up to this game, the players seem focused on the task at hand, rather than be mired in that history. They acknowledge it when asked by the media, but they quickly point out how each meeting is different. That’s 100% true as teams constantly change, evolve, and adapt as need due to injury or scheme necessity.
That said, I would be remiss in failing to point out that I believe Josh Allen absolutely will use it as fuel. There’s this energy about Allen, a palpable sort of vibe to his playoff engine where he often performs like it’s a final boss situation. As one grows within themselves, often the most adverse of experiences helps to positively shape the future. The question is whether or not Allen finds a way to manifest what’s been building inside him to fuel the team to victory.
Revenge? I believe that’s at the forefront for fans more than players. Professional athletes are fueled by greatness, and the pursuit of it. While everyone says it’s a week-to-week league, the reason they don’t look ahead is because each step means one closer to a Super Bowl. I guess I wouldn’t discount the idea of revenge for some within the team, and you can be sure that no one on the roster (old or new) has forgotten about 13 seconds.
3. How can the Chiefs stop Josh Allen?
Humor me a bit here...
That’s similar to asking what our universe looked like immediately after the big bang. We can theorize, but lack the ability to clearly define at this point. Much like Patrick Mahomes, I don’t believe teams are ever able to fully stop Josh Allen. (Though the Dallas Cowboys did a splendid job of it this season when they simply let the Bills run at will on them.)
Perhaps the move is a robust game of keep-away, where the Chiefs simply win the time-of-possession battle and reduce the number of drives for Allen. If by “stop” you mean forcing him into negative plays, then that’s a different ball of wax. Again, like any quarterback, Allen very much dislikes pressure in his face — the head-on variety, like a diesel train run amok. When defenders manage to pressure Allen as such, he’s prone to choose potential chaos. Like Mahomes, he gets away with it often enough, but sometimes those ill-advised throws and attempts lead to turnovers.
The key is to avoid letting Josh Allen get into rhythm early. Committing extra blitzers to the equation is a catch-22. Time and again, Allen has shown a willingness to stand tall in the face of a blitz, absorb the pressure, and make the defense pay for their boldness. If a defender is going to blitz, he better make sure to get home quick and decidedly, because Allen’s a chore to bring down.
.@BuffaloBills v @Chiefs @JoshAllenQB to @thegreat__4 the overload into the overload blitz. Sometimes you get the bull; and sometimes the bull gets you. #BillsMafia #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/WGFVexyMIt— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) January 17, 2024
A hat tip to this fantastic article with Arrowhead Pride: Against Kansas City in Week 14, Allen dropped back to pass 36.7% of the time when under pressure, completing 11-of-17 passes (64.7%) for 119 yards and one touchdown, with a 104.8 rating.
Unlike many quarterbacks, pressure in general doesn’t always demonstratively affect Josh Allen. This season, he’s thrown just three interceptions when facing a blitz. If pressure is a must, defenses have to bring the perfect recipe to the table and serve him the check. Certainly Steve Spagnuolo is among the best at his craft, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he prefers allowing KC’s stout defensive backfield to play extended coverage while spying Allen to contain and frustrate him into a throw.
Interestingly, the New York Jets’ defense under head coach Robert Saleh has been remarkably successful in defending Allen. I’m guessing Spagnuolo and company have spent considerable time digesting the tape of Bills-Jets from this season.
4. What are your favorite prop bets for Sunday’s game?
I’ll mention two. Looking to walk away ahead of the game and only considering Bills players here, it’s hard to pass up:
RB James Cook anytime TD scorer (+140)
Cook is for sure the safer play here given his role as both a runner and receiver. However, he hasn’t been a touchdown machine this season with much of that due to Josh Allen’s knack for the end zone as a runner. I like Cook to cash in this bet more as a receiver, which he showcased well in Week 14.
That said, prop bets are about in-game fun — and even if it’s less “safe, I like this one better:
TE Dalton Kincaid anytime TD scorer (+210)
Kincaid has been everything advertised — and more — despite not being fully utilized as a downfield option like I believe he’s capable of becoming. I predicted more explosive plays from Kincaid given the potential for him to be a matchup nightmare, but his role as a between-the-sticks safety valve has been key. Kincaid continues to deepen his route tree and I see him as one of the best bets to score on Sunday night.
5. The Chiefs are underdogs according to DraftKings. Do you think this is fair? How do you expect this game to play out?
Absolutely. The odds are more than fair. Among all the divisional playoff games this weekend, Bills-Chiefs has the closest spread. I’d venture a guess the injury situation for both teams is weighing heavily with bettors. If we’re going off recency bias alone, their Week 14 battle was a close one and could be a factor in the line. In that game, the Bills started strong and put together an impressive first half on offense. In the second half, they were only able to add two field goals, which ultimately proved enough to sneak out with a win.
Of course we all recall how the end of that game played out — though the Chiefs did have three downs to gain the 15 yards needed to extend the drive, or recoup some of it for a tying field goal. What gets overlooked by most outside of Bills Mafia is that Buffalo’s defense absolutely clamped down in crunch time and forced a turnover on downs with the game on the line.
The other huge impact on Week 14 was KC being plagued by drops. Those played a gigantic role in the outcome, without a doubt. But the game of football is often equal parts luck and talent — and when one or both don’t go your way, it tends to favor your opponent.
So with tonight’s matchup, I’m curious to see how Buffalo’s defense responds to what the Chiefs are now doing better. There’s reason to be concerned about the defensive injuries, especially at linebacker — even if those hurt are able to play. That middle of the field is going to look appealing to Mahomes, but he’ll need to remember that the Bills’ defensive backfield is diverse with nickel cornerback Taron Johnson plus safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde.
I don’t necessarily believe that Bills Mafia and the crowd noise is going to severely affect Mahomes directly. He’s a seasoned franchise quarterback who probably shuts down outside noise on the regular. Until he proves incapable, the moment isn’t likely to be too big for him as a road underdog. Though, he’s yet to go up against the sort of noise that Bills fans generate, and it’s not bravado to say their playoff voice is like few others.
I’m more interested in seeing how Kansas City’s offensive tackles handle the noise and adversity. Sunday night is shaping up to be another classic installment in what’s perhaps this era’s best QB rivalry. The hope is that both sides are able to endure the game with their full complement of players and do everything they can to keep the game out of the officials’ hands, especially in key moments.
Much like the Chiefs having not played playoff games outside Arrowhead (yes, again, aside from Super Bowls whose crowds are often milquetoast), the Bills have yet to solve Kansas City’s playoff engine. Which side proves capable of overcoming their massive hurdle?
I guess I’m doing my best to avoid giving a score prediction; it’s just not my style. There’s always been something magical about the connection between the Buffalo Bills and their fans, within whom support is a lifestyle — family, if you will. Josh Allen is also often an absolute unit in big games.
I believe that bodes well for the Bills.
Be sure to check out the answers I gave to their questions by clicking here.