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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Bills vs. Chiefs preview: 5 key players to watch in Week 5

Written by John Sparaco

Buffalo Bills receiver Stefon Diggs stood alone with his hands on his helmet, watching distantly as red and yellow confetti rained throughout Arrowhead Stadium following the conclusion of the AFC Championship game on Jan. 24.

A little less than nine months later, Diggs returns to that same site with one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

Since their upset loss in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Buffalo Bills have won their last three games by a margin of 118-21.  Now, in Week 5, the red-hot Bills collide with the team that had their number last season, the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Bills (3-1) travel to Kansas City for a meeting with the Chiefs (2-2) on Sunday Night Football, a matchup that is certain to draw in a large national audience.

Despite the obvious storylines that will follow, Bills quarterback Josh Allen is downplaying any “revenge game” talk.

“It’s one game, it’s the biggest game we’ve got because it’s the next one,” Allen said. “You guys will make a big deal out of it.”

Buffalo lost to Kansas City twice last season; once in a rainy regular-season game by a score of 26-17, and again in the AFC Championship by a score of 38-24.

A historic Bills offense struggled mightily in both contests, as Allen completed just 42 of his 75 pass attempts between the two games.

However, the Chiefs’ defense that gave the Bills’ offense fits last season seems to have gone missing early on this season. Through four games, Kansas City has allowed over 30 points per game on average, ranking as the second-worst defense in the league this season, specifically struggling against the run and stopping teams in the red zone.

While the Chiefs’ defense has taken a step back, the Bills’ defense has been reinvigorated. In a 40-0 victory over the Texans this past Sunday, Buffalo pitched their second shutout of the season, becoming the first team to record two shutouts in their first four games since the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who went on to win the Super Bowl that season.

Among those who stood out was middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, whose six tackles and one interception during his performance on Sunday landed him AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for Week 4.

Buffalo’s defense currently leads the league in turnovers (11), showing a knack for disrupting opposing offenses. Against Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, that trait could make a huge difference this Sunday night.

Players to watch:

Spencer Brown

A surprise addition to the Bills’ starting lineup last week, Spencer Brown did not fail to impress in his first career start at right tackle.

Buffalo shook up their offensive line in the wake of Jon Feliciano’s concussion this past week, inserting Ike Boettger at left guard. However, it was announced shortly before kickoff that another change was put in place, benching former second-round pick Cody Ford, thus sliding starting right tackle Daryl Williams one spot over to guard, plugging Brown at right tackle.

The 6-foot-8 rookie from Northern Iowa instantly became a fan favorite on Sunday for both his strong play and playfulness on the field, which included reminding his opponents that they are much shorter than him.

Brown excelled as both a run blocker and a pass blocker, flashing limitless potential while impressing both his teammates and coaching staff.

“I thought Spencer had tremendous poise, he always has,” veteran center Mitch Morse said. “He rose to the occasion. Spencer is an incredibly talented football player. Like any guy on the offensive line, I think he would say he’s got some work to do but for the most part, I think Spencer performed admirably, was communicating very well, played beyond his years in that regard.”

Bills head coach Sean McDermott was also complimentary of Brown’s efforts.

“I thought (Brown) showed poise. I thought he showed physical and mental toughness. I thought he gave us a real boost there,” McDermott said.

It remains to be seen how Feliciano’s health will affect the starting offensive line moving forward, but based on Brown’s performance this past Sunday, it would be a massive surprise if he is not the starting right tackle against Kansas City this weekend.

Travis Kelce

A man that needs no introduction at this point, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has been a menace to Buffalo’s defense in the past.

Last season, Kelce recorded five receptions for 65 yards and two touchdowns against the Bills in Week 6 only to turn around and outdo that performance in the AFC Championship game, catching a whopping 13 passes that night for 118 yards and two more touchdowns.

Regarded by most as the best tight end in football, Kelce is often unstoppable as a receiving threat with quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The two have so much chemistry together that Kelce recently admitted to freestyling routes to get open while talking to Peyton and Eli Manning on their Monday Night Football broadcast a few weeks back.

“The best is, if it’s right before the play, I’ll look at Pat and give him the eyes like, yeah I’m about to make some sh** up right here,” Kelce said.

Football is a guessing game when it comes to diagnosing what play the opponent is about to run, but it is especially difficult for defenses to guess correctly when even the opposing players do not know exactly what they are going to do, which is in part what makes Kansas City so tough to play against.

Bills starting linebacker Matt Milano exited last game early with a hamstring injury, leaving his status up in the air for Sunday Night. If Milano is unable to go, it will be a huge blow to Buffalo’s top-ranked defense, especially when it comes to covering Kelce in the middle of the field.

Emmanuel Sanders

In last year’s AFC Championship game, Kansas City limited the damage caused by superstar wideout Stefon Diggs to 77 yards on six receptions, but it was the lack of another outside threat that really held Buffalo’s offense back as John Brown finished the game with just two catches for 24 yards.

Enter Emmanuel Sanders, Buffalo’s biggest free-agent addition this offseason. Sanders is no stranger to big games, playing in three Super Bowls during his 12-year NFL career.

The 34-year-old wideout has not disappointed since arriving in Buffalo, catching 16 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns in the first four games. Allen has quickly developed a rapport with Sanders, relying on the veteran to stretch the field on a consistent basis.

Sanders has a long history against the Chiefs, largely because he played for their division rivals, the Denver Broncos. In 12 career games versus Kansas City, Sanders has accumulated 52 catches for 749 yards and three touchdowns.

Despite his success against them, Sanders’ history with the Chiefs goes even deeper than that. In a radio appearance on Denver’s 104.3 The Fan in 2019, Sanders shared the story of how he actually agreed to terms with the Broncos while sitting inside the Chiefs facility.

“I’m getting ready to sign with the Chiefs, so right when I call my agent, my agent literally picks up the phone while I’m talking to him and he goes, ‘hold on’, he clicks back over, he says ‘this is the Broncos, John Elway said he’ll offer you three (years) for $15 (million),” Sanders said. “So right then, there in the Kansas City Chiefs facility, I made my decision. I said, say less. I’m playing with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.”

As one might expect, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid was not a happy camper once he found out he lost out on his potential free-agent acquisition. Seven years later, Sanders still lines up on a rival sideline.

Tyreek Hill

Much like with Travis Kelce, Buffalo’s defense had no answer for Tyreek Hill in last year’s AFC Championship game. Hill went off for 172 yards on nine catches, showing why he is one of the most explosive talents in the NFL. 

Through four games this season, Hill is still putting up huge numbers. Hill already has 30 receptions for 453 yards and four touchdowns on the season, ranking second in the NFL in receiving yards.

Hill possesses top-flight speed, making him an unbelievably dangerous threat paired with Mahomes’ strong arm. Buffalo’s defense has done a great job limiting big plays from opposing offenses this season, but they will certainly have their hands full this week with Hill and Kelce.

Greg Rousseau

Buffalo was praised for retaining most of the same core from last year’s 13-3 team, but like Spencer Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, Greg Rousseau was not there when Kansas City defeated them last season.

One of the main factors the Bills identified as to why they were unable to slow down the Chiefs last season was the lack of a pass rush. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers laid the blueprint for disrupting Kansas City with their stout pass rush in the Super Bowl, hitting Mahomes 10 times on their way to a decisive 31-9 victory.

Bills general manager Brandon Beane took note, approaching the offseason with an emphasis on bolstering the defensive line. That began with selecting 6-foot-6 pass rusher Greg Rousseau with their first-round pick.

Rousseau earned a starting spot straight out of training camp, playing a key role in the resurgence of Buffalo’s number one defensive unit. So far this season, Rousseau has recorded 13 tackles, three for a loss, and two sacks.

Buffalo’s defensive line has terrorized opposing offenses this season, generating pressure from everyone on the depth chart. Even Star Lotulelei, who is not typically known for getting after the quarterback, leads the league in pass-rush productivity, according to PFF.

Calling this a revenge game might be a stretch, considering that the only way Buffalo can truly get revenge against Kansas City is by defeating them in the AFC Championship this season. However, this game can be a statement game, proving to the rest of the league that this is not the same Bills team that got pushed around by the Chiefs in January.

The Bills will be wearing their all-white uniforms under the bright lights of Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday Night Football, which airs at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC.

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