Bills vs. Chiefs Preview & Prediction: Game of the Year on Sunday night

The Bills vs. Chiefs Divisional Round matchup is the most anticipated game of the season, and our preview and prediction explain why.

Before the season, if you asked NFL media to predict the AFC’s representation at Super Bowl LVI, a majority probably would have selected either Buffalo or Kansas City. It feels like cheating that Bills vs. Chiefs comes one week earlier during the Divisional Round, but at least we get to preview the game and put our names down on an NFL betting prediction. If their roads were different, maybe we never would have gotten the opportunity. 

It’s the most anticipated game of the Divisional Round and easily the most desirable game we could have imagined this weekend. 

Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs preview

Advanced metrics loved the Buffalo Bills in 2021 despite their mind-numbing inconsistencies week-to-week. They finished the regular season second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Their defense looked as if it might be the most efficient unit of all time for a while. 

Meanwhile, the Chiefs might as well have been playing 9 vs. 11 on defense for the first few weeks of the season. For the first nine weeks of the year, they ranked 29th in expected points added (EPA) per play defensively. From Week 10 on, they ranked sixth in the NFL in EPA/play against. The difference was inserting Juan Thornhill into the lineup as a traditional deep safety instead of relying on Daniel Sorensen to get lost in the sauce back there. 

From an analytical perspective, what is so intriguing is each team’s schedule and variance in performance from week to week. Football Outsiders ranked the Bills schedule as the easiest in the NFL, while Kansas City faced the sixth-hardest slate of opponents. Buffalo also had the highest variance in the NFL. This made it hard to hone in on what exactly the Bills were throughout the season. Meanwhile, Kansas City ranked 19th in variance.

The variance could be explained in a couple of ways. Having massively impressive DVOA performances makes it challenging to reach that level consistently. However, the Buccaneers and 49ers ranked fourth and fifth in weighted DVOA and fourth and second in variance, respectively. So, which Bills team will show up on Sunday Night?

The Bills own an elite safety duo

Having a good safety tandem is a bit like having duct tape in every room of the house. Something might break, but there’s a good chance the duct tape can keep whatever it is from completely collapsing. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see teams continuously ignore the value of the position. Many teams’ second-level sins can be forgiven with good safety play.

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Take a look at the eight Divisional Round teams. Aside from the Rams (who had to sign Eric Weddle off the couch), every team receives top-tier safety play, whether from one elite player or an outstanding duo.

Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are gnats in Patrick Mahomes’ living room

No duo is better than Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Their ability to disguise coverages pre-snap is second-to-none, and we saw the type of range Hyde has against the New England Patriots.

Given the Chiefs’ current injury woes at running back, the Bills should feel even more emboldened to remain in their two-high shell against Kansas City. Clyde Edwards-Helaire should be ready for Sunday night, but he hasn’t exactly inspired confidence since becoming the Chiefs first-round pick in 2020.

Hyde and Poyer aren’t just deep safeties who thrive in half-field coverages, either. Their experience puts them in outstanding positions based on QB intentions. This makes them particularly dangerous when one drops down to play as a rat in the hole or when they rotate down late to play curl-to-flat.

Kansas City won’t be able to play a bomb-and-gouge style against Buffalo. They’ll need to rely on the quick passing attack to move the ball downfield. But even the best can get turned around at times. Patrick Mahomes and the offensive line must take advantage when given those fleeting moments.

Chiefs OL vs. Bills front seven is the matchup to watch

I spent 17 regular-season weeks heaping praise on rookie center Creed Humphrey, who I believe played at an All-Pro level. Rookie guard Trey Smith was a stalwart on the Rookie Rankings and finished the year ranked 12th. Left of Humphrey is Joe Thuney, who is one of the best guards in the NFL.

Orlando Brown Jr. will be looking for a lofty left tackle contract in the offseason, but he must first get through the gauntlet of pass rushers the Bills will throw at him. The matchup to watch is on the other side. The Chiefs can’t seem to keep tackles healthy, forcing Andrew Wylie to play right tackle.

The Bills quietly have one of the most underrated fronts in the league. Tremaine Edmunds remains a polarizing player, but there’s no questioning the value Matt Milano brings at the second level. But it’s the bodies on the front line that excite me against the Chiefs’ fierce unit.

Bills DL is an underrated unit

I’ve never heard the “you know this guy used to wrestle?” more than I did in Mobile, Alabama, during the Senior Bowl in 2018. That wrestling background has finally begun bearing fruit for former Stanford standout Harrison Phillips. He did not play in the first matchup between these two teams, and I’m sure the big man is ready to battle it out with a great Kansas City interior.

There were a lot of Aaron Donald whispers when people evaluated Ed Oliver. He possessed some of the same traits and played a similar style in college as the perennial All-Pro. Oliver hasn’t found that same success, but he had a solid second half of the season in 2021. All 5 of his sacks came after Week 12, and 20 of his 40 regular-season pressures came after that point as well.

Jerry Hughes is the elder statesman on the Bills defense, but he’s still a problem for tackles as a pass rusher. Greg Rousseau has acclimated to the pro game better than I would have imagined as a rookie. He was among the best in a season where more rookies contributed than in recent memory.

But the real key to having a legitimately elite defense is depth on the defensive line, which the Bills have accomplished. Star Lotulelei, A.J. Epenesa, and Mario Addison contribute to Buffalo’s defensive success. The Bills don’t have the star power on the defensive line that the Chiefs do on the offensive side, but they have more than enough firepower to wreck a rushing attack.

Chiefs must beat Bills’ Cover 5

Unless you’re the Twitter doofus that tried to tell me Cover 6 doesn’t exist, you might be aware by now that Cover 5 has overtaken the long used Cover 2 Man call we grew up with while playing Madden.

The Bills used it often against the Chiefs in their Week 5 matchup, and I’d be shocked if they didn’t deploy it in heavy doses on Sunday night. Most defensive coordinators avoid Cover 5 in neutral situations because it takes so many defenders from the run fit. However, during their first matchup, the Bills ran it in neutral game scripts. They begged the Chiefs to run on them.

There are a few ways the Chiefs can beat this. First, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce have to quickly win their matchups because that front will get after Mahomes. Additionally, Andy Reid has had a very long time to scheme up rub concepts to find open receivers and force matchup problems for Buffalo.

There are three other paths toward success, and they are all by way of Mahomes’ two legs. First, the Chiefs need to have a read-option check for Mahomes when he gets that look pre-snap and they aren’t actively behind the sticks. Second, they can run a few designed draw plays (presumably with fast motion from the back to occupy another linebacker). Third, by asking Mahomes to do what he does best — improvise on passing plays.

Man coverage, especially with two-deep safeties, means there are a bunch of backs turned to Mahomes, making it easier for him to take off. Just as he was in Week 5, I suspect that Mahomes ends up the team’s leading rusher for the game.

Bills vs. Chiefs Prediction

  • Spread: Chiefs -1.5 (Odds Courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Moneyline: Chiefs -115, Bills -105
  • Total: 54

I hate everything about this game from a gambling standpoint, at least from a team-specific perspective. Yet, as I rewatched their Week 5 matchup and each team’s late-season performances, I have a hard time picking against the Bills.

Josh Allen’s rushing ability has brought a new element to their offense, making them incredibly difficult to stop. Since Week 14 (including the Wild Card game), the Bills rank fifth in dropback EPA/play and second in rushing EPA/play. They’ve become well-balanced on offense while boasting a defense that can contain anybody. Obviously, they need to show up, but I can’t see them folding, even to the Chiefs.

Bills vs. Chiefs Prediction: Bills 31, Chiefs 28

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch.