23 January, 2022

AUTHOR: James Dowen

STAR PREVIEW Sun: Buffalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs

ANDY RICHMOND is a lifelong punter and sports enthusiast who now writes extensively on horse racing and the NFL. His CV includes long spells on Timeform Radio and Racing UK having previously held several positions at the then-fledgling Betfair Exchange where he worked for six years. He has a particular love for the statistical and analytical side of sports which fits in well with the NFL. He writes all the NFL content on Paul Jones subscription service as well as having his own betting advisory service.

Given the way that the NFL is structured I’ve always thought it a great shame that certain teams can never ever clash in a Super Bowl. This is one of those games and in fact with all due respect to the Titans and the Bengals it really ought to be the AFC Championship game at the very least as it was last year.

The Chiefs were the AFC favourites going into the season, and the Bills took over that spot when they won 38-20 in Kansas City in Week 5. Since then if one was to be critical of the Bills it’s the fact that they have been a little inconsistent but they come to Arrowhead on the back of compiling an almost perfect offensive game against their divisional foes the Patriots dismantling them 47-17 in freezing conditions scoring a touchdown on all seven of their possessions. The Bills have punted zero times in three of their past four games and are clearly on a roll.

The Chiefs after stumbling earlier in the year have gradually found their mojo especially on defence where the addition of Melvin Ingram has provided a spark and since Week 6 their defence has the second-best turnover rate in the NFL at 18%. Mahomes and his offence turned the ball over four times in the previous matchup, but they have been much better protecting the ball since Week 12 with Mahomes not as prone to forcing things now and taking what he’s given.

Mahomes and the Chiefs looked back to their best last week admittedly against a rather pallid Steelers team but Mahomes threw five touchdown passes in a span of 11:31 and this will therefore be the first playoff game between two quarterbacks who each threw five touchdown passes in the previous week. This could be the next great rivalry in the NFL. This will already be the fourth meeting between Mahomes and Josh Allen in the last two years and this one should be well worth watching. The Chiefs sent Buffalo home last year to end an eight-game winning streak but the Bills got some revenge this year by handing Mahomes the worst home loss of his career (18 points). His other home losses have been by no more than eight points.

The real question here is can the Chiefs turn around an 18-point home defeat? On Wild Card weekend all of the five rematches were won by the team that won the previous meeting so on that portent the Chiefs have work to do. Since 2002, teams that win the regular-season matchup by at least 18 points are 25-9 (.735) in the playoff rematch. When those teams are the underdog in the playoffs, a rare situation but one that the Bills face here, they are still 5-1 in the playoffs.

Looking at the Bills first, the one element of their Week 5 win that stood out was the big plays which had been absent from their two defeats in the 2020 season. In Week 5 Allen had pass completions of 61, 53 (TD), 41, and 35 (TD) yards as he completed 15-of-26 passes for 315 yards without a sack or turnover. Once again I’d expect the Bills to script plays to get Allen going early especially with his legs. The Chiefs surrendered the league’s sixth-most QB rushing yards (389) and a league-high seven QB rushing TDs and Allen won’t need a second invitation to take advantage. Devin Singletary is now cemented into the lead running back spot and he enters this game with touch counts of 19, 21, 23, 17, and 23 over his last five appearances with eight TD’s to his name and it would not surprise given the matchup were Singletary not to hit the TD counter again.

The receiving corps takes some unravelling but is as strong and deep as any in the NFL with five pass catchers all bringing something different to the party. The fact that they have so many options in the passing game makes it difficult to be high on any particular receiver when looking at the prop markets but Stefon Diggs is the elite talent who and remains Allen’s “go-to” receiver. Outside of Diggs, Gabriel Davis is occupying a bigger and bigger role in the Bills passing game with the markets not quite having caught onto his value whilst Isaiah McKenzie remains a wild card on the offence.

Davis has been a reliable secondary option for Allen down the stretch, hauling in 22 catches for 325 yards over the last seven games. More importantly, he has put up 39 or more yards six times over that seven-game stretch. Dawson Knox has the tight end position to himself and in his last two meetings with the Chiefs has given them considerable problems recording receiving lines of 6/42/1 and 3/117/1.

The Chiefs offensively looked frustrated earlier in the year with teams adopting the defensive blueprint that saw them beaten in the Super Bowl with the minimal use of blitzes and a deep-secondary to limit big plays in the hope that Mahomes forced the issue. Gradually the Chiefs have adapted to this method of playing them becoming more methodical on the drives and spreading the ball around their backs and receivers a lot more, some of the lesser lights really stepping up. The question is can they continue to play this way or do they need the select triumvirate of Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to really step up again to beat the Bills.

The Chiefs backfield is another intricate issue Darrel Williams and Clyde Edwards-Helaire both return from injuries but the likelihood is that Jerick McKinnon may well retain the lead back role that he assumed against the Steelers. Against Pittsburgh McKinnon turned 18 touches and a 78% snap rate into 142 yards and two touchdowns. Whilst I don’t expect McKinnon to go off to that extent again he will play an important role in the Chiefs screen game against Buffalo’s two-deep zone coverages that they tend to play.

Like the Bills the Chiefs have a diverse and effective receiving corps with the two main pieces Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Hill who has suffered some injuries this year led the Kansas City pass catchers in playing time and routes run in the Wild Card win over the Steelers will once again be an integral part of the offence and it won’t be a surprise if he’s more heavily targeted.

Behind Hill, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, and Demarcus Robinson are likely to share playing time although it does look as though Pringle is the favourite and most trusted target of that trio. Tight end Travis Kelce has scored 5 touchdowns against the Bills while Sean McDermott has been in charge at the Bills, it won’t be a shock of Kelce adds to those touchdown numbers this time around.

The Chiefs are trying to get back to a third consecutive Super Bowl and that’s really hard to do and we’ve seen that they are vulnerable this year losing to the Ravens, Chargers, Bills, Titans, and Bengals. They are 0-3 against the remaining playoff field in the AFC but the Bills may need to play a near perfect game again if they are to take another step nearer getting back to a Super Bowl and end the Buffalo hoodoo has seen them visit the game’s biggest stage four times and lose every single time.

BACK Dawson Knox to score a TD 1pt at 7/4 (Latest Star Price ? CLICK TO BET NOW)
BACK Travis Kelce to score a TD 2pts at Evens (Latest Star Price ? CLICK TO BET NOW)

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