NFL

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STAR NFL PREVIEW Sun: Kansas City Chiefs @ Buffalo Bills

Here we are again as for the 7th time since 2020 these two sides meet up including a third time in the playoffs — with the Chiefs hosting the previous five outings.

The Bills started their 6-game winning streak against the Chiefs in Week 14, and that head-to-head win is why Patrick Mahomes is on the road for the first time in his playoff career.

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The early weather reports suggest something better than what both teams experienced last week. It should be around 20 degrees with minimal wind for Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen to sling it as they meet for the 7th time since 2020. The series is tied 3-3, but the Chiefs hold the 2-0 edge in playoff games, so this is a huge opportunity for the Bills to finally slay that dragon in the postseason at home.

This is the first time all season the Chiefs (+1.5, 21-20) with Star Sorts and with Mahomes at QB are not favoured. They were a Week 18 underdog against the Chargers in a game where they rested starters. Either team winning should not come as a surprise in this one. Mahomes has never played a road game in the playoffs (not counting neutral Super Bowl sites). This will be a first. Historically, betting against Mahomes as an underdog has been one of the worst wagers in football. The Chiefs have been underdogs 10 times in his career. They are 8-1-1 against the spread in those games. The only time he didn’t cover. A Week 6 loss to the Bills in 2022.

This will be the first time these teams have played in Buffalo since the first time these quarterbacks faced each other in 2020. This pair have played out some crazy games none more mind blowing than the Chiefs win in this very round In 2021. The teams combined to score 31 points after the 2-minute warning in an instant classic that ended 42-36 in overtime with the Chiefs pulling off the improbable comeback after it looked like the Bills won the game with 13 seconds left in regulation.

With a win on Monday against the Steelers, the Bills are the hottest team in the league, winning six games in a row. That includes a Week 14 victory over the Chiefs in Kansas City. The Bills are now 6-1 against 2023 playoff teams while the Chiefs are 2-4, with both of their wins coming against the Dolphins.

The Wild Card Round showed how the Chiefs had changed though in team dynamics with the offence being far less explosive than it was but Kansas City now have a defence that can be considered elite. The Bills have been in playoff mode for weeks now but they are battling injuries on the defensive side of the ball and the Chiefs come in here with a rest advantage. For all that these are two closely matched sides as the spread on the game would suggest although since 2020, Buffalo are 29-6 SU (82.9%) as a home favourite. However, neither defence has given up more than two offensive touchdowns in a game over their last six games.

Unlike in the past the Chiefs offence with Mahomes at quarterback has become more and more condensed this season with the wide receivers in particular being a frustration to Mahomes this year with multiple drops in games and mistakes such as the one Kadarius Toney made in the infamous offsides incident when these two last met. There will be quite a chess match when the Chiefs have the ball as Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is terrific on the offensive side of the ball, and the Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott has been adjusting very well with the Bills defence this season.

The plus for Mahomes will be that he is facing a injury depleted Bills defence that has lost many of it’s first choices this season. The Chiefs offensive approach will largely be dictated by the Bills defensive approach. When you look at past games between these two teams it would seen likely that the Bills will want to try and slow down the Chiefs passing game even though that’s not as explosive as it once was and also try and limit Mahomes ability to extend plays with his legs outside of the pocket. Last Saturday and the win against the Dolphins was a microcosm of the season for Mahomes and the Chiefs offence it wasn’t perfect but it was good enough to get the job done.

One area where Mahomes was excellent on Saturday night was dissecting a Miami defense that was beleaguered and injured in the middle of the field. Mahomes was 17-of-23 (73.9%) for 204 yards (8.9 Y/A) with a touchdown throwing between the numbers. Miami were missing six defensive starters.

The Bills could be in a similar spot this weekend. If the Bills end up missing multiple pieces at linebacker and in the secondary the Buffalo pass rush will be the key to their defensive success as they can’t just let Mahomes pick them apart from the pocket.

Apart from Mahomes one of the three key pieces on the Chiefs offence is running back Isiah Pacheco who has taken almost sole control of the Chiefs backfield. Over his last eight appearances, Pacheco has converted 129 carries into 605 yards (4.7 YPC) and five touchdowns and caught 24 of 27 targets and he could see similar usage here behind an offensive line that is operating at a very high level and capable of imposing their power running game on the Bills. Pacheco is the 3-1 favourite in the Star Sports Specials Market “Most Rushing Yards On Sunday” and it’s not hard to see why when you look at his recent numbers. Pacheco has now played four full games without Jerick McKinnon. He has 20, 21, 25, and 25 touches in those games.

He also has scored six touchdowns over his past five games played. Five of those have come on the ground and he’s 7-1 to score the first touchdown with Star Sports or a more conservative Even money to score a TD during the game.

Trust has been in short supply for the Chiefs receivers and it’s really only Rashee Rice and Travis Kelce who look to be of any major account for Mahomes. Rice has worked his way up the pecking order through the season and he will have a major upgrade to his matchup opportunity if All-Pro corner Taron Johnson misses the game with concussion. Over his past seven games, Rice is averaging 9.7 targets, 7.3 receptions, and 92.6 yards per game with four touchdowns and the Bills have been susceptible to inside/slot receivers all season.

Scoreless in seven straight appearances, TE Travis Kelce is nevertheless positioned to capitalize on Buffalo’s linebacker losses. Whilst not the player he was he’s still a receiver that Mahomes trusts and he caught 7-of-10 targets for 71 yards on Saturday night. his yardage was his highest since Week 14, the last time these teams played. In that game, Kelce caught 6-of-10 targets for 83 yards. The Bills have done a good job in limiting tight ends to 6.6 yards per target (sixth) and a 2.6% touchdown rate (fifth) this season but the possible absences at linebacker enhance the possibility of Kelce rolling back the years.

The Bills will be playing on short rest after having their Wild Card round game against the Steelers pushed back to Monday due to the blizzard their area was dealing with. This is the last game of the weekend, but the Bills will still be playing only six days after their physical victory over the Steelers and whilst it may not be a deciding factor it should be remembered that the Chiefs have had an extra 48 hours to rest and prepare. The Bills, since firing their offensive coordinator have been a team on a roll though and they are a hard team to beat if they don’t beat themselves which in the past they have been guilty of doing.

The Bills can approach this game in various ways and they have of late been very sensitive to the attacking the weakness of the opponent and here that weakness would be the run defence of the Chiefs. From a purely schematic standpoint, it would make the most sense for Buffalo to pound their running game and heavily feature their running backs and tight ends in the passing game. Much of how this game goes for the Bills will depend on how QB Josh Allen plays and whether he can keep the mistakes that can blight his otherwise impressive efforts to an absolute minimum.

Against the Steelers Allen only passed for 203 yards, but he threw three touchdowns and added 74 yards and another touchdown on the ground. Allen is no stranger to this matchup. These teams have played six times since 2020, with Allen throwing 15 touchdown passes to three interceptions in those matchups. We should also expect Josh Allen to run the ball often as he did in the first round of the playoffs but the Chiefs could well put a “spy” on Allen in an effort to limit his effectiveness in the run game which they managed in the first game.

In the first game between these two this year the Bills used RB James Cook on the ground and out of the backfield as a receiver and he handled a big workload against the Steelers on Monday turning 22 touches into 84 yards. This would be a good spot for the Bills to get Cook involved as a receiver once more and overall keep him involved in the game throughout.

Bills main wide receiver Stefon Diggs has seen his progress slowed this year and he’s now failed to reach the end zone since Week 12 and has gone 12 straight games falling below 100 yards receiving, averaging 51.3 yards per game over that period. Whilst Diggs should benefit from Allen getting the ball out quickly Diggs is likely to draw coverage from Chiefs top CB L’Jarius Sneed who has shutdown some elite receivers this year including Tyreek Hill. With Gabe Davis likely to miss the game it looks likely that Khalil Shakir will be the #2 receiver for the Bills. With TE Dawson Knox back from injury the Bills have two very useful players at that position with Knox joining Dalton Kincaid and that pair could be very effective in this game. Kincaid in particular has been used downfield by the Bills, Buffalo needs to keep using Kincaid in an extended role here if Diggs is held in check and the team are missing Davis at wide receiver.

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Either team winning should not come as a surprise in this one but these two sides are not built the same way they used to be and perhaps we should not expect the shootouts that we have had in the past. Both defences have been terrific during the regular season and by the same token both offences have been dialled down looking more conservative, looking to control the ball and the game. Will the pair be sparked into life by the matchup or will their methodical approach to offence continue although both these quarterbacks are capable of something special and far to talented to let defences totally take over?

The Chiefs had their chance to knock the Bills out of the playoffs back in Week 14 and if it had not been for that offsides penalty they may well have done. That was a marginal decision and it may well be another one that decides this game which is a close one to call but is destiny just on the side of the Bills this time around on home turf after previous playoff disappointments to the Chiefs.

ANDY RICHMOND


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BACK Josh Allen to score a TD anytime 1pt at 5/6 (⭐ ? CLICK TO BET NOW)


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