While the NFC Championship Game features a battle of two established veterans, the AFC Championship Game features two of the most promising quarterbacks of the next generation. Patrick Mahomes has taken the NFL by storm in his first three seasons, and established himself as the best quarterback in the league. Josh Allen has taken a little longer to develop before finally having a breakout year, and is looking to prove he is in the same class as Mahomes. While these two star QB’s will be the headline for the matchup, the game will most likely be determined by a number of different players. Let’s take a look at who some of those players will be, before finishing up with our prediction.
How the Chiefs will win: Shut down the Bills offense
Despite the high profile offenses, this game could come down to whichever team slows down the opposing teams offense the best. When these two teams faced off earlier in the season, the Chiefs were able to keep Allen off rhythm for most of the afternoon, and killed them off with a deadly run game. It’s safe to say that this Bills team is not the same one the Chiefs beat easily earlier this season, but the game plan remains the same. The Bills rushing attack has been very inconsistent throughout the year, but it’s important for the Chiefs to not allow it to get going, as the Bills haven’t lost a game where they’ve rushed for over 100 yards. If they thwart the running game, that makes stopping the Bills mercurial passing attack a bit easier. If the Chiefs secondary can lock in on Stefon Diggs and slow him down, the Bills offense may be in trouble.
How the Bills will win: Get everyone involved on offense
Everyone knows about the Josh Allen/Stefon Diggs connection, but no one can seem to slow it down. The Bills run the risk of relying too much on the connection, which is why it’s beyond important to get the other options in the passing attack involved. The Bills were able to do this successfully against the Indianapolis Colts in the the Wild Card round, and were able to move the ball well throughout the game. Last week against the Ravens, the Bills struggled to get anyone else involved aside from Diggs and fellow wideout John Brown. Had the Ravens not suffered an untimely interception and injury from Lamar Jackson, it could have come back to bite them. This offense functions at it’s peak when everyone is able to get open involved, and they will need contributions from everyone if they are going to pull this one out.
Chiefs Key Matchup: The Rushing Attack vs The Bills Front Seven
In the previous matchup between these two squads, the Chiefs ran for 245 yards, as the Bills tried their best to limit Patrick Mahomes. While they slowed down Mahomes to an extent, they were helpless to the Chiefs ground game. The Bills will be sure to switch up their defensive gameplan for this one, but the Chiefs can get the upper hand by running the ball with similar success. Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is questionable to play, and could be a huge boost to the Chiefs offense considering their other backs have struggled to make much of an impact this season. Mahomes is dangerous enough on his own, but if you give him a decent rushing attack, he’s nearly impossible to stop.
Bills Key Matchup: The Secondary vs The Chiefs Passing Attack
The Bills secondary has to be able to slow down the Chiefs aerial attack if they want any shot of winning this one. The secondary, led by CB Tre’Davious White, has the pieces to slow down the Chiefs. White will most likely line up across from Tyreek Hill for most of the afternoon, as he helped hold Hill to only 3 catches for 20 yards in their previous meeting. Star tight end Travis Kelce will probably see a heavy dose of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde throughout the game. Tremaine Edmunds, A.J. Klein, and Matt Milano can all hold their own in coverage if called upon, and could see action on Kelce or the Chiefs running backs throughout the game. The other Bills cornerbacks, such as Levi Wallace and Josh Norman, will need to hold their own on the Chiefs secondary receivers. Demarcus Robinson led the way for the Chiefs last time they played, and could see another heavy volume of targets in this one. It’s vital for the Bills to keep Mahomes and co. somewhat in check in order to stay afloat.
Chiefs Key Player: Tyrann Mathieu
Mathieu is the backbone of this defense, and he will have a large role in how well the Bills offense moves the ball. Mathieu can play over the field, as he can hold his own in coverage with wide receivers and tight ends alike, while also being able to play in the box as a linebacker-safety hybrid. He’s a weapon in every situation the Chiefs face, and he’s proven it throughout this season, picking up six interceptions in the regular season and another last week against the Browns. He will see time all over the field in order to keep Allen on his toes, and if he can have his typical impact on this game, the Chiefs have a good shot to slow down Allen and the Bills.
Bills Key Player: Cole Beasley
Beasley has been quite a revelation for the Bills since coming over from the Dallas Cowboys. While Diggs is the Bills top receiver, Beasley’s ability to make an impact on this game will be vital for offense. Beasley is your typical slot receiver, and his ability to get open on the underneath routes opens up so many different options for the rest of the offense. If he can establish himself as a constant threat for those third and short situations, that will open up the Bills offense, and allow them to take some deep shots throughout the game. Beasley does much of the dirty work for the Bills offense, but his role is so vital to the point where they may need him to pick up 75+ yards for the Bills to even have a shot to win this game. If he can get it going, the Bills offense opens up, and it gives them a good shot to pull off an upset.
Much of the buildup this week has been focused on whether or not Patrick Mahomes would be ready to suit up after taking a shot to head that knocked him out of last week’s game. But Mahomes is good to go, and the Chiefs are worthy favorites in this contest. However, don’t write off the Bills so quickly. They slowed down Mahomes earlier this season, and they can certainly do it again. Edwards-Helaire status may play a huge part in determining the outcome, but even if he plays he most likely won’t be 100% healthy. We all love a good underdog story, and while the Bills aren’t your typical underdog, they may have the best shot at stopping the Chiefs from repeating as champions. Josh Allen throws for 250 yards and has four total touchdowns (3 passing, 1 on the ground), Cole Beasley leads the team in receiving yards, and Tyler Bass kicks the game winning field goal as time expires. Bills 30 Chiefs 27.
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