Incremental as it may seem, the one-point movement in this week’s line is a loud testament to how well the Buffalo Bills are playing.
The line, which opened with the Kansas City Chiefs as 2.5-point favorites, has inched down to -1.5 at most legal New York mobile sportsbooks. That might be a surprise if you watched the Chiefs pound the Pittsburgh Steelers 42-21 last week, but it seems reasonable when you consider the aplomb with which the Bills dispatched a better opponent, the New England Patriots.
In fact, because Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. divisional-round game pits two of the preseason favorites who happen to be playing the NFL’s best football, many people view this showdown on CBS as the unofficial Super Bowl three weeks before the actual event. It’s fair to say the winner of this game stands an excellent chance of winning it all and will be favored the following week in the AFC Championship game. Undoubtedly the two best dual-threat quarterbacks left in the playoffs are opposing each other in this game.
When the Bills have the ball
The Bills never punted in their 47-17 win over Bill Belichick’s Patriots. They never turned the ball over. They didn’t allow a sack. Yeah, the Patriots struggled at the end of the regular season, but they still came into that game as the No. 4 overall defense in the NFL.
One of the reasons the Bills have won their last five games to get to this point is an improving run game, one that isn’t all about quarterback Josh Allen just taking off. Buffalo has rushed for 110 yards or more and averaged at least 4 yards per carry in six straight games, one of the most impressive runs on running in the NFL this season.
Ranking the remaining playoff QBs:
1. Josh Allen
2. Matthew Stafford
3. Aaron Rodgers
4. Tom Brady
5. Patrick Mahomes
6. Joe Burrow
7. Jimmy Garoppolo
8. Ryan Tannehill
— BetMGM 🦁 (@BetMGM) January 21, 2022
Make no mistake, Allen could do some serious damage with his legs in this game when he’s not handing it off to Devin Singletary or Zack Moss. Allen ran for 59 yards on 11 carries the first time these teams met, a 38-20 Bills win back on Oct. 10. The Chiefs’ run defense finished middle-of-the-pack after allowing 117.6 yards per game this season.
Allen could find more opportunities passing the ball against a Chiefs defense that finished 29th in the NFL by allowing more than 251 yards passing per game. The Chiefs are a bend-but-don’t-break defense and they did hold opponents to just 27 passing touchdowns despite all those yards through the air.
When the Chiefs have the ball
This game really could be as simple as the answer to the question of which quarterback plays better. Patrick Mahomes is the gold standard Allen is trying to reach.
Mahomes looked erratic while the Chiefs were stumbling out to a 3-4 start and he did throw the most interceptions of his career this season, but lately he has gotten the star-studded Chiefs offense on track.
The Bills’ defense will try to do what it did the first time the teams met: limit big plays. Mahomes completed just one pass of longer than 20 yards in that game. That won’t be as easy this time around, now that Mahomes is synced-up with Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and his other big-play threats. The Chiefs are averaging 36.5 points in their last six games.
The Chiefs love to throw the ball off play action and Mahomes led the NFL in touchdowns after faking a handoff. Bad news for the Bills: They allowed the league’s highest quarterback rating off play action in the league. It’s important to note that the Bills, too, like to run play action and Kansas City’s defense has allowed the league’s most touchdowns off play action.
What about the total?
The over-under opened at 52 and has now settled between 53.5 (at BetMGM) and 54.5 (at soon-to-launch-in-New-York PointsBet). It’s easily the highest total of any of the four playoff games for obvious reasons: two of the league’s best quarterbacks and a Kansas City offense that has historically had to find ways to win despite the defensive unit’s struggles.
The weather shouldn’t pose any obstacles to either offense, as the forecast in Kansas City calls for temperatures in the high 30s and light winds Sunday evening. This one has the potential to be a bit of a shootout and, if you can’t decide which brilliant young quarterback to take, jumping on the over might be the play.
Photo: Jamie Germano/USA TODAY