AFC Divisional Round preview: 5 key players to watch during Bills vs. Chiefs

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Written by John Sparaco

Two decades’ worth of frustration was unleashed on the Patriots on Saturday when the Buffalo Bills scored touchdowns on seven straight possessions to demolish their division rivals by a score of 47-17 in the AFC Wild Card round.

“You see how cocky these guys are…It’s an end of an era for them (Patriots) tonight,” Jordan Poyer yelled to his teammates huddled on the field while mic’d up before the game.

The Bills, who endured 17 division championships and six Super Bowl wins from New England since 2001, were clearly sick of hearing about the “Patriot Way” and their reign of dominance, even if most players on the roster were only present for a fraction of it. However, the cloud hanging over their heads from their last playoff meeting with their next opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, lingers just as strong.

One win away from last year’s Super Bowl, the Bills’ season came to an end at the hands of the Chiefs, losing 38-24 in a sloppy performance. Buffalo was unable to get their offense going, to no surprise after it was revealed at season’s end that wide receiver Cole Beasley was playing on a broken fibula and Stefon Diggs was working through an oblique tear. Still, the fact of the matter was the Chiefs were simply a tad better last season, as much as it stung for the Bills being that close to their ultimate goal.

A year later, that loss still remains fresh in the minds of players and fans alike. There is of course the viral photo of Diggs standing alone watching the Chiefs celebrate at the conclusion of the game, which has begun circulating on social media again as a motivational tactic. Bills offensive lineman Jon Feliciano recently shared on his Instagram story that the photo has been his phone background since camp, so it is apparent that this is the rematch they wanted.

Earlier this season, the Bills had their first chance at revenge, returning to Arrowhead Stadium in Week 5. The Bills prevailed in dominant fashion, propelled by a 374 total yard and four total touchdown performance by their quarterback Josh Allen to win 38-20. Patrick Mahomes struggled, throwing two picks, one to rookie defensive end Greg Rousseau and the other to Micah Hyde, who made another incredible interception on Saturday to rob a touchdown from New England. 

Leading 24-13 at the half, the Bills were forced to sit through an unprecedented hour-long weather delay in which they were famously served PB&J sandwiches in the locker room as they waited. Despite worries that the delay would kill their momentum, Buffalo picked right back up where they left off and outscored Kansas City again in the second half. 

A lot has changed since that last meeting, including each team’s placement in the standings after experiencing hot and cold streaks as well as changes to their rosters, but one thing that has not changed is the tension between these two new rivals. While winning the way they did in Week 5 was a fun moment for the Bills and their fans, the outcome of this upcoming game is what will be truly remembered.

Players to watch:

Dawson Knox

One of the biggest X-Factors that has made this year’s Bills offense much different than last year’s offense is the breakout of Dawson Knox. Coming off a rough 2020 campaign plagued by drops, Knox flipped the switch this season, recording career-highs in receptions (49), yards (587), and touchdowns (9).

Knox has proven to be a consistent and reliable weapon for Josh Allen and that has carried over into the postseason. In the AFC Wild Card game, Knox caught five passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns, one of which Allen thought he threw out of the back of the end zone.

“Everybody was celebrating and I had no idea what was going on,” Allen said, having not seen the replay until a few minutes after the play happened.

The Patriots’ defense had no answer for Knox, just as the Chiefs defense had no answer for him back in Week 5. Knox only needed three catches that night to accumulate 117 yards, scoring a 53-yard touchdown shortly before halftime to pad the Bills’ lead into a two-score deficit.

Knox is a legitimate playmaker that Kansas City should worry about in this game, however, given that they also have to game plan for Josh Allen’s arm and legs, Stefon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, and other emerging playmakers like Devin Singletary and Isaiah McKenzie, this may simply be a “pick your poison” type situation.

Chris Jones

As alluded to earlier, each team’s roster is different than what they presented in their last matchup. One notable absence for the Chiefs last game was star defensive tackle Chris Jones, who was out with a wrist injury. 

Jones has terrorized the Bills’ offensive line in the past, so his unavailability last game certainly helped the Bills. He recorded nine sacks this year, benefiting from moving from the defensive end spot back to his natural defensive tackle position after the trade acquisition of Melvin Ingram from the Pittsburgh Steelers. As a member of the Steelers, Ingram got the best of Bills’ left tackle Dion Dawkins way back in Week 1, recording five pressures. Dawkins, whose play has elevated significantly since that first matchup, is fired up to get a shot at redemption.

“I’m extremely excited to see his number flash across me,” Dawkins said to WROC-TV’s Thad Brown on Thursday.

Slowing down both Jones and Ingram will be a tall task for the Bills’ offensive line, however, the Chiefs unit is not the only one that has changed since their last meeting. After inserting Ryan Bates into the starting lineup at left guard towards the end of the season, Buffalo’s offense has flourished thanks to the resurgence of their offensive line, which is playing their best football of the season. They have prevented Allen from getting sacked in four straight games and look to keep that streak going in Kansas City.

Dane Jackson

On the other side of the spectrum, there are also players who were present last time these two met that will not be able to make their impact on the field this time around. Bills All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White tore his ACL on Thanksgiving Day in his home state of Louisiana against the Saints, ending his season.

White played a major role in limiting the damage created by speedy Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill last time out, holding him to just 63 yards as opposed to the 172 he had in the AFC Championship last year. The Bills’ secondary took away the threat of Hill beating them over the top, which hindered the firepower of Kansas City’s offense. This time around, they will try to do the same with another starter at cornerback – Dane Jackson.

Jackson has filled in tremendously so far in White’s absence, helping the Bills’ secondary and defense maintain their standard of excellence down the stretch. The former seventh-rounder faces his toughest test yet against this explosive Chiefs offense, making him one to watch especially closely this Sunday.

Patrick Mahomes

There is no downplaying the fact that all eyes will be on the quarterbacks this weekend as Josh Allen vs. Patrick Mahomes is already being coined this generation’s Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, expected to battle in countless playoff games for years to come.

“Like you said, we’ll probably play them a lot of times, it’ll be great competition and it’s definitely a great challenge for us as a team to compete with them,” Mahomes said in his Wednesday press conference.

Mahomes was destined for success from the very moment he joined the Chiefs’ organization, paired with an offensive mastermind at head coach in Andy Reid and weapons that any young quarterback would kill to have in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Mahomes entered the spotlight in his first year as a starter during his second season as a pro, passing for 50 touchdowns and 5,097 yards, becoming a superstar instantly. The league had no answer for him. Since last year’s Super Bowl, that has not always been the case.

Though Mahomes’ numbers were still impressive this year and he remains one of the league’s premier talents, he has shown a tendency to throw the ball around recklessly when faced with pressure. If a team can generate pressure with four pass rushers and play sound coverage just as the Buccaneers did in Super Bowl LV or how the Bills did in Week 5, they will have a good chance at slowing down Mahomes and even forcing multiple turnovers. On the other hand, slipping up just once can prove costly as Mahomes can burn teams deep on any given play, just as he did in the AFC Wild Card game last week, passing for 404 yards and five touchdowns against the Steelers.

This playoff game will be the first in NFL history to feature two quarterbacks who threw for five touchdowns in their previous game, as pointed out by CBS Sports.

From the Bills’ perspective, they will have to generate consistent pressure from the likes of Ed Oliver and Harrison Phillips, who have been excellent in recent weeks, along with Greg Rousseau, who gave the Chiefs fits in Week 5. They will benefit from having Matt Milano, who missed their last game versus Kansas City, but most importantly all attention will be focused on the Bills’ secondary’s ability to contain Hill and Kelce. 

Josh Allen

Josh Allen played a flawless game last week that almost certainly cannot be replicated, right? Well, given that it had never been done in NFL history, scoring touchdowns on every drive seemed impossible, even in the eyes of Allen.

“We want to score every drive, but we know that’s not statistically possible,” Allen said in an interview with Maria Taylor of NBC Sports just three months ago.

Allen has proved a lot of people wrong since entering the league, but this time he even proved himself wrong, leading touchdown drives on seven straight possessions while throwing five touchdown passes, also passing for 308 yards while rushing for 66 more. Though it is unreasonable to expect that to happen again anytime soon, it is fair to say that the Bills offense has been dangerously good as of late, having not punted in three of the past four games.

Allen has benefited from the improvement from the offensive line, which has boosted pass protection and revived a once dead rushing attack, helping Buffalo become less one-dimensional and reliant on Allen to do all the work offensively. Heading into this highly-anticipated shootout between two of the NFL’s top gunslingers, Allen has no shortage of weapons to help him out, including Devin Singletary, Dawson Knox, several dominant wide receivers, and even offensive lineman who can catch touchdown passes as Tommy Doyle did last weekend. Like Mahomes, Allen can make mistakes when he tries to do too much, so he must stay composed as he was in Week 5 and last week to give his team their best chance at moving onto the next round.

The Bills will be wearing their all-white “stormtrooper” uniforms this weekend. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS as Jim Nantz and Tony Romo will be on the call with Tracy Wolfson reporting from the sidelines. Whoever wins will advance to the AFC Championship game next week against the winner of the Cincinnati Bengals vs. Tennessee Titans game

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