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NFL playoffs: Four things to watch for in Chiefs-Bills in AFC Divisional Round

Fearsome foes prepare to face off on a frozen field as Buffalo digs itself out of another snowstorm.

Mother Nature dumped heaps of wintry powder on Western New York, providing a frosty backdrop for one of the hottest rivalries in the NFL. After a snowstorm blasted the region last week, Bills fans are again digging themselves out of more snow ahead of Sunday's date with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Snow isn't expected to disrupt the Divisional Round, with temperatures expected to hover in the 20s Sunday with winds around 12 mph and gusts up to 20 mph. The January setting offers the latest twist to the AFC rivalry.

The Bills and Chiefs have met six times since 2020, with the last five played in Kansas City. Now it's Buffalo's turn to host. The Bills won the past three regular-season tilts, with the Chiefs taking both playoff matchups -- 2020 AFC Championship Game and 2021 Divisional Round.

Will Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs continue their postseason dominance, or can Josh Allen and the Bills finally exorcise their playoff demons? Let's dig into the matchup.

Here are four things to watch for when the Chiefs visit the Bills in Sunday's Divisional Round:

1) Josh vs. Patrick. You can't talk about Bills-Chiefs without first acknowledging the star quarterbacks. Allen authored a roller-coaster 2023 campaign, offering breathtaking throws and spectacular scrambles accompanied by a trove of turnovers. For the season, including playoffs, Allen has completed 66.7% of his passes for 283.7 yards passing per game with 32 touchdown tosses and 18 interceptions. His 48 total TDs leads the NFL. Allen's ability to make big plays will be critical against a physical Chiefs defense, but can he avoid the game-changing turnovers Sunday? Meanwhile, Mahomes' season has been plagued by inconsistencies in an offense that goes through extreme lulls. Mahomes completed 66.5% of his passes, including playoffs, for 286.8 yards per game with 28 passing TDs and 14 INTs. The key Sunday will be which QB can find pay dirt in the red zone. Allen has led the Bills to a 63.24% TD rate in the red zone, fifth best, including playoffs. The Chiefs, by contrast, have bogged down in tight quarters, converting 52.24% of their red-zone opportunities into touchdowns (19th) -- 30% in their last three games. Through Super Wild Card Weekend, Allen has posted a 16.3 total EPA with a 3.8% completion percentage over expected inside the 20, while Mahomes earned a -3.3 total EPA with a -2.9 CPOE, per Next Gen Stats. Whichever QB can power their club for touchdowns Sunday rather than settle for field goals will have a leg up.

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2) Can the Chiefs D continue to carry the load in Buffalo? It's striking to suggest a team with Mahomes at the helm would be led by its defense, but that's precisely who the Chiefs are this season. Kansas City has allowed 20 or fewer points in six straight games, including giving up just seven last week to Miami, and allowed 24-plus points twice all season. K.C.'s defense ranks second in the NFL in points allowed (16.7) and total yards per game allowed (288.3) in 2023, including playoffs. Chris Jones is a load up front, generating 11.0 sacks on the season and 31 QB hits. His ability to push the pocket will be essential for K.C. in slowing Allen on Sunday. The secondary is led by physical corners L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie, who make life miserable on receivers. In the Week 14 matchup with Buffalo, K.C.'s defense gave up early scores but settled in, forcing three-and-outs and giving up just two second-half field goals. The matchup between Sneed and Bills wideout Stefon Diggs will be key. In the previous game, Sneed lined up against Diggs on 23 routes (65.7%), allowing just one catch on five targets for three yards. The Chiefs did a magnificent job on Diggs, allowing just four catches on 11 targets for 24 yards (long of nine). If they can take out Diggs again, it will make life miserable for Allen. However, K.C. must do a better job on James Cook (5 catches, 83 yards, TD) out of the backfield Sunday. One other thing to watch: Allen's scrambling ability, particularly on third downs. Allen has scrambled on 21.4% of his third-down drop backs versus the Chiefs in his career (9.9% vs. other defenses), per NGS. The QB has picked up nine first downs on 12 scramble runs on third down versus K.C. (75.0%; 60.2% vs. other defenses in career). Keeping Allen in the pocket and forcing difficult throws into coverage will be pivotal for Kansas City.

3) Which offensive weapons will step up? Both the Chiefs and Bills have dealt with offensive inconsistencies throughout the season, struggling to find secondary playmakers. Kansas City famously struggled with drops and poor play from its wideouts. Travis Kelce usually gets his, particularly in the playoffs. The tight end has 50-plus receiving yards in 10 straight playoff games, tied for the second-longest streak all-time, per NFL Research (Julian Edelman, 13). Will Rashee Rice continue his hot streak and provide Mahomes a go-to target when Kelce is blanketed? The rookie leads the Chiefs with 1,068 receiving yards and eight receiving TDs in 2023, including playoffs. Since Week 12, Rice averaged 92.6 receiving YPG, the sixth-most in the NFL during that span. In the Super Wild Card Round, he put up a career-high 130 yards, showing off fantastic run-after-catch ability. Can the rookie continue his hot play with the Bills throwing extra attention his way?

Buffalo has found more consistency since changing offensive coordinators, giving the reigns to Joe Brady. The run game came to life behind Cook, averaging 5.4 yards per touch in 2023, including playoffs (second-highest among 21 RBs with 250-plus touches, behind only Christian McCaffrey). Buffalo is 7-1 in games that Cook has 17-plus touches in 2023 (5-5 in all other games). Expect the Bills to lean on the slashing runner on the ground and target him again in the passing game out of the backfield. But Buffalo needs to get Diggs going. He's averaged just 57.5 receiving yards per game with no TD catches in his last playoff games. That won't do on Sunday. With Gabe Davis, who generated eight catches for 201 yards and scored four touchdowns in the 2021 Divisional Round vs. K.C., ruled out with a knee injury, the Bills need someone else to produce. Rookie Dalton Kincaid and fellow tight end Dawson Knox need to step up against a Chiefs defense that allowed the ninth-fewest yards to TEs during the regular season.

4) It's the Bills Mafia's time to shine. Finally, Buffalo gets Mahomes and Co. at home for a playoff game. The pregame festivities and broken tables are sure to light fires and stoke a crowd ready for a postseason rematch. The Bills Mafia will be loud and let Mahomes hear them from the jump. Can they rattle the two-time MVP? Mahomes enters the first true road playoff game of his career. The only postseason games the QB has played not at Arrowhead Stadium were Super Bowls LVI, LV and LVII. The one time Mahomes played in Buffalo came in 2020, during the COVID-19 season when no fans were in the stands. The Chiefs won that day, 26-17. But facing a raucous Bills Mafia crowd at full throat offers a much different backdrop than an empty stadium regular-season affair. The Bills went 8-1 in Buffalo this season, scoring 5.8 more points per game, allowing 6.4 fewer points per contest, and earning a plus-8 turnover differential (compared to -4 in all other games). Can Bills Mafia be a difference-maker for the home team, or will Mahomes add yet another feather to his cap during his latest postseason march?

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