AFC Championship Preview: Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs will host the AFC Championship Game for the third consecutive year. Before we preview their AFC Championship bout against the Buffalo Bills, it’s important to note what happened on Sunday. That’s because the Chiefs’ 22-17 victory on Sunday over the Cleveland Browns in the Divisional Round of the playoffs was costly.

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Patrick Mahomes, already gimpy from an early-game foot injury, was knocked out in the third quarter with a concussion. Mahomes will likely play on Sunday — it is the AFC Championship Game, after all — but he may be limited. And the Chiefs have little margin for error. The Buffalo Bills team they face next week is much better, and much more self-assured, than the team they defeated 26-17 in Week 6 of the regular season.

Here’s the NFL Recap breakdown and preview of the Kansas City Chiefs as they prepare to host Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, January 24th at 6:40 PM.

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AFC Championship Preview: Kansas City Chiefs

How the Kansas City Chiefs got here

The Chiefs courted disaster throughout the first half against the Browns in this Divisional Round playoff. They settled for field goals, missed field goals, and received a huge break when Rashard Higgins fumbled a long reception into the end zone for a touchback. Disaster then struck when Mahomes’ head was driven to the turf on a designed option run.

The Browns came back as Chad Henne struggled to move the offense, but the Chiefs forced the Browns to punt with 4:09 to play. Two gutsy plays in the final moments — a 13-yard scramble by Henne on 3rd-and-14 and a shocking short pass to Tyreek Hill when conventional wisdom dictated that Andy Reid would merely run down the clock and punt — iced the game for the Chiefs, keeping their playoff hopes alive.

We expect Patrick Mahomes to play, but will he?

Mahomes began Sunday’s game his usual unstoppable self. Then he was shaky after the foot injury (he didn’t look comfortable stepping into his throws, resulting in some low sliders), and then he was out due to the concussion.

Here’s a sense of what a slightly gimpy Patrick Mahomes looks like. He played hurt through October of the 2019 season with a left ankle injury (not to be confused with the dislocated right knee that forced him to miss time). In that time, he averaged just 223.3 yards per game, a 60.0% completion rate, 7.9 yards per attempt, and just five touchdowns with one interception (plus five sacks) in three games. Two of those games were Kansas City losses.

The Chiefs need a better Mahomes in the AFC Championship Game than the one we saw last October.

Kansas City Chiefs’ weapons

You know these guys.

Tyreek Hill is the Cheetah. He’s essentially a glitch, etc. Travis Kelce is the best route-running tight end in the NFL and would probably rank among the top five route runners at wide receiver. He was last seen knotting Browns cornerback Denzel Ward’s ankles with some sick cuts on Sunday. Mecole Hardman is nearly as fast as Hill. Sammy Watkins could return from a calf injury next week. He would be the top receiver on many teams but is the third or fourth option in the Chiefs passing game.

Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who rushed for 161 yards against the Bills in Week 6, should return from hip and ankle injuries next week. The Chiefs’ Darrel Williams rushed for 78 yards in the playoff victory over the Browns on Sunday. Le’Veon Bell is also on the roster in LeSean McCoy’s old role of “well-known veteran running back who doesn’t really do much except foul up people’s DFS stacks.”

Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line

The Chiefs have been forced to cobble together their offensive line for much of the year due to injuries. Right tackle Mike Remmers, who replaced injured Mitchell Schwartz early in the season, was forced to play through an illness and take on Myles Garrett on Sunday. Remmers performed well against Garrett, who himself played most of the game hurt.

The patchwork line gets a break because opponents are forced to play on their heels and blitz at their own risk against Mahomes. But the Chiefs ranked 32nd in short-yardage rushing success in the regular season, per Football Outsiders. It’s a sign that their line can get pushed around at the point of attack. Those short-yardage struggles also explain why Mahomes was running a speed option on a bad foot on 3rd-and-short on Sunday.

Kansas City Chiefs’ defense

Defensive tackle Chris Jones, defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, and nine guys named Charvarius Ward.

OK, that’s a little snarky. But the Chiefs have an NBA style defense. They’re designed to force sacks and turnovers when the opponent is racing to catch up. Toe-to-toe, down-and-distance defense is not the Chiefs’ strong suit. Although they did come up big in the fourth quarter on Sunday, forcing the Browns to burn clock and timeouts by keeping plays in front of them and making rugged tackles.

Kansas City Chiefs’ special teams

Harrison Butker missed six extra points in the regular season, although he was 25-of-27 on field goals. Butker missed an extra point and a field goal against the Browns. Missed extra points are just one of those little unforced errors the Chiefs commit that allow opponents to linger in games.

The Kansas City Chiefs can beat the Buffalo Bills if…

Mahomes is operating at 75% capacity or better. The Chiefs need to make slightly fewer than their weekly allotment of self-inflicted mistakes as well.

The Kansas City Chiefs will lose to the Buffalo Bills if…

They settle for field goals or miss extra points. The Chiefs cannot allow easy short-yardage conversions or a touchdown on every Buffalo red zone trip.

They simply cannot lose the penalty battle and make all the other little mistakes they get away with when facing inferior opponents like the Denver Broncos, or the Cleveland Browns. Truthfully, it’s a battle they can afford to lose against any opponent except the Bills and whomever the Chiefs will face if they reach the Super Bowl. As good as they are, the Chiefs can ill afford mental mistakes this deep into the playoffs.

Bottom Line

Assuming Mahomes is good to go, this is the rematch we deserve for the AFC Championship. Two great young quarterbacks leading explosive offenses. The Chiefs are the superior team in most areas, but it’s close. Home-field advantage and Super Bowl experience gives them an edge, but not a massive one.

The betting line opened at Chiefs -1 and jumped quickly to Chiefs -2.5 (as of about 7:00 PM on Sunday night at NFL Recap’s favorite sportsbook app). That’s an early sign in this AFC Championship preview that this is no cakewalk for the Chiefs.

In addition, it’s a sign that the house may have a busy week as Mahomes’ health situation evolves. Like the house, Recap favors the Chiefs. Recap, however, is reluctant to over-commit to them against an opponent that might just have what it takes to beat them at their own game.

Early Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs defeat Buffalo Bills

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