On Sunday night, the Buffalo Bills take the No. 1 scoring defense into Arrowhead to take on the Kansas City Chiefs and the most efficient scoring offense in the NFL. This rematch of the 2020 AFC Championship Game could be a preview of the 2021 AFC Championship Game, but it is a huge opportunity for the Bills to take the lead in the conference and drop the Chiefs to 2-3 in a tough AFC West.
The Chiefs are a 3-point favorite at many of the top sportsbooks, a typical betting line for the home team in matchups of this caliber. But home-field advantage is not what it used to be in the NFL. This season, the home team is only 31-33 SU (.484) after going 133-134-1 (.498) last season, including the playoffs. But that 38-24 win by the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game is the only time in the last 15 games the Chiefs won a game by 14 points. Can Buffalo change the script like the Ravens did in Week 2 and get a win over Kansas City?
Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, October 10, 2021 – 08:20 PM EDT at Arrowhead Stadium
Buffalo: Team to Beat in the AFC?
The Bills come into this matchup with some very interesting numbers. They have scored just as many points (134) as the Chiefs to tie for the second most in the league, but they have allowed a league-low 44 points, including two shutouts over the Dolphins (35-0) and Texans (40-0). This has helped the Bills to the No. 1 ranking in both Pro Football Reference’s Simple Rating System and Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.
At plus-90 points, the 2021 Bills are tied for the fifth-best scoring differential through four games in the NFL since 1970. Now keep in mind that the team at the top of that list, the 1992 Bills (plus-108), was blown out 37-10 at home by Dan Marino’s Dolphins in Week 5, so a dominant start guarantees nothing in this league. Of the last 29 teams to allow fewer than 45 points through four games, only the 2006 Bears reached the Super Bowl where they lost to the Colts, the most efficient offense in the league that year.
Buffalo’s defense has only allowed four touchdown drives this season, and three of them were to Washington’s offense led by Taylor Heinicke, who started for an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills also played Miami when Tua Tagovailoa was injured, and they just played Houston in the rain where rookie Davis Mills had a complete meltdown in starting for the injured Tyrod Taylor. The only healthy, expected starting quarterback the Bills faced this year was Ben Roethlisberger in Week 1, and the Steelers scored their usual 16 points in that one but had no turnovers as the Bills blew a 10-0 lead.
Simply put, the Buffalo defense has not been tested much at all, so it is hard to say if this unit is ready to slow down a Kansas City offense that did whatever it wanted in both matchups in 2020.
This is a game where Buffalo’s offense has to shine against a defense that has played terrible football. Despite the points scored, Buffalo has not exactly looked as sharp as the 2020 unit that drew MVP votes for Josh Allen, who currently ranks 16th in QBR. Outside of the Washington game, he has not been as accurate or consistent as he was last year.
The Chiefs put pressure on teams to keep up with their scoring. Buffalo’s average touchdown drive this year has come with a lead of 13.8 points. It won’t be that easy this week. Buffalo’s average touchdown drive is 57.3 yards this year, the second-shortest average in the league. The Bills are feasting on short fields after turnovers as they have the best average starting field position in the league. But the Bills are 16th in yards per drive and 17th in yards per play this season. The Bills have been to the red zone a league-high 21 times, but they have come away with just 12 touchdowns, ranked as the 23rd-highest touchdown rate.
If the Bills have something different going for them offensively this year, it would be an increased role for tight end Dawson Knox, who leads the team with four touchdowns already and is on pace for over 600 yards, which would be a career high. New addition Emmanuel Sanders is second on the team with two touchdowns and almost has as many yards as Stefon Diggs. The Bills are also running the ball much better as they currently rank fifth in yards and ninth in yards per carry. Buffalo has rushed for at least 117 yards in all four games this season, a benchmark it only hit six times in 19 games in 2020.
Kansas City: The Defense Rests?
After some miscues in the draft and free agency, maybe it was inevitable that the Chiefs would devolve into a team that is completely reliant on its quarterback and passing offense to deliver each week. Still, it is surprising to see how far the team has fallen on the defensive side of the ball.
Through Week 4, no offense this year has scored more touchdowns than the Chiefs (17) and no defense has allowed more touchdowns than the Chiefs (16). The Chiefs have scored a touchdown on half of their league-low 34 drives. The highest known touchdown rate for an offense is 42.4% by the 2007 Patriots. Unfortunately, the defense is allowing a touchdown on 43.2% of drives, threatening to become the first on record to allow a touchdown on over 40% of drives.
Unlike the Bills, the Chiefs have been tested by some quality offenses, but this is still a historically bad start to the season. The Chiefs are the 14th team since 1940 to allow more than 28 points in each of their first four games. Twelve of those 13 teams started 0-4 while the other was 1-3. Only the Chiefs have been able to start 2-2 thanks to having something those other teams didn’t: Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes is off to another incredible start in his fourth season as a starter. He is No. 1 in QBR (82.9) and his 14 touchdown passes through four games trails only the 16 thrown by Peyton Manning (2013) and Russell Wilson (2020). Mahomes joins Steve Young (1998) and Kurt Warner (1999) as the only quarterbacks to throw for at least 250 yards and three touchdowns in each of the first four games of a season. On Sunday, Mahomes threw five touchdowns in Philadelphia, leading the Chiefs to six touchdowns on just seven possessions.
The Chiefs and Bills have the fewest punts and three-and-out drives this year, but for the Chiefs to win this game, the offense will simply have to continue being historically great. Kansas City is No. 1 in yards per drive (49.82) and points per drive (3.74), and both numbers would be records for all seasons since 1993 according to Football Outsiders. The Bills are doing a great job on third down as they convert 50% of the time. But the Chiefs are converting on third down 64.1% of the time, the best mark through four games since 1991.
While they are unlikely to sustain this for 17 games, the offense is hot right now despite turning the ball over on a fifth of their drives. Mahomes has been intercepted four times and the Chiefs have lost three fumbles, including that costly one by Clyde Edwards-Helaire at the end of the Baltimore loss.
In both meetings last year, the Bills and Chiefs each had one turnover. If that happens again on Sunday night, then it should be advantage Kansas City as the better offense.
Where Can Buffalo Improve on 2020’s Shortcomings vs. Chiefs?
Since 2019, the Bills have only lost four games by more than seven points, but two of those games were to the Chiefs last year: 26-17 in Buffalo and 38-24 in the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City. The common link between both games was that Kansas City did what it wanted on offense while the Bills failed to generate big plays.
In the game in Buffalo, the Chiefs rushed for 245 yards. Buffalo has not allowed anyone to hit 80 yards this season, but again, it has been playing lousy offenses. The Chiefs have cranked up the running game again behind a revamped offensive line with 200 yards in Philadelphia on Sunday.
In that 26-17 loss, Allen was under more pressure than he has been in any game the last two years. The Bills had just one play gain more than 15 yards. In the playoffs, the Bills only had one play gain more than 23 yards, and that didn’t come until the team was down 38-21 with just over four minutes left. Stefon Diggs has played the Chiefs three times since 2019 and has been held to 127 total yards in those games.
Mahomes had great pass protection against the Bills, who only pressured him eight times total in the two games. He had two of his four lowest games in 2020 in air yards per attempt, utilizing quick passes and watching his receivers gain a lot of YAC. In the playoffs, the only drive of the game where the Bills “stopped” the Chiefs from scoring
was the first one in the game, which saw Tyreek Hill drop a pass downfield on third-and-4 that would have been a big gain.
As is often the case, the Chiefs can be their own worst enemy on offense. The Bills will have to hope the Chiefs make some mistakes in the form of drops, penalties, and fumbles in this one. Travis Kelce is coming off a very quiet performance with 23 yards in Philadelphia. With Hill having 186 yards and three touchdowns last week, this feels like a good week for Kelce to be the featured target again while Hill cools down. Kelce had 13 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs against the Bills, who sometimes forgot to even cover him.
The Chiefs are certainly setting themselves up for more playoff disappointment with this defense if things do not improve fast. But can the No. 1 offense still outdo the No. 1 defense? Since 2001, the top offense is 5-7 SU and 3-9 ATS in those matchups against the No. 1 defense, but those are rankings based on the end of the season. We still don’t know if the Bills are going to be an elite defense even despite the chance to play two games against Zach Wilson and the Jets. However, we know Davis Mills isn’t on the schedule again. The Bills probably will finish closer to 10th when the season ends.
Since 2001, teams that were a 3-point underdog and finished the season top five in scoring on offense and defense were 7-7 SU and 8-4-2 ATS. A 3-point underdog with a top five offense and a top 10 defense is 22-12 SU since 2001.
This is an opportunity Buffalo must seize. With the schedule looking the way it is, a win here that drops the Chiefs to 2-3 would give Buffalo an incredible advantage of not having to worry about coming back to Arrowhead this season. The Bills may only be underdogs one more time this season when they travel to Tampa Bay in Week 14. This game could easily determine the No. 1 seed in the AFC much like it did last year.
But like I did with Chiefs-Ravens, I am going to trust Kansas City to cover an AFC rival it has gotten the best of before. Like with Baltimore, I want to see that this Buffalo team can get the job done before I start picking them in a matchup like this. If the Bills pull it off like Baltimore did, and the Chiefs are still this pathetic on defense come playoff time – assuming they still get there – then I’ll know better who to pick in January. But for your Sunday night NFL picks, I will take the Chiefs.
Remember, the time for offensive juggernauts to conquer is October, the time for them to crumble is January (or February).
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.