AFC Championship Game Preview

A preview of the 2021 AFC Championship Game between Kansas City and Buffalo.
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The Kansas City Chiefs host the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship for the right to go to Super Bowl LV. The Chiefs are the AFC's top seed, finishing with a 14-2 record and winning the AFC West for the fifth consecutive season. They appear in their third straight conference title game and are defending Super Bowl champions, defeating the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 in Super Bowl LIV.

Standing in their way of a second conference title is the AFC's second seed, the Buffalo Bills, who finished with a 13-3 record and won the AFC East for the first time since 1995. Buffalo and Kansas City met once this season, with the Chiefs taking a 26-17 win in Buffalo during a Week 6 clash. Kansas City outgained the Bills 466-206 in total yardage that game, picking up a season-high 245 rushing yards.

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CREDIT: JAMIE GERMANO/ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Both of Kansas City's losses this season were at home; a 40-32 defeat to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 5 and a 38-21 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers during a meaningless season finale. The Chiefs have a 26-6 record over the last two regular seasons. Five of those losses were at home, where they have a 4-3 playoff record under head coach Andy Reid. Buffalo has a 13-3 road record over the past two seasons behind head coach Sean McDermott.

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CREDIT: JAMIE GERMANO/ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Kansas City has one of the league's most explosive passing attacks behind All-Pro QB Patrick Mahomes, who has averaged 316 yards per game and 38 touchdown passes with just 6 interceptions. Mahomes has a track team of wideouts to target, with 1,000-Yd receivers, Tyreek Hill and record-setting TE Travis Kelce among the best in the league at their positions. 

The Chiefs also have a capable ground game with rookie RB Clyde Edward-Helaire. Mahomes was questionable with a concussion that forced him out of last week's Divisional Playoff win over the Cleveland Browns but has cleared all protocols to play this week.

The Chiefs have been vulnerable on defense most of the season, but have playmakers at all three levels on that side of the ball. All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu has 6 interceptions and is one of the league's most dangerous defensive backs. Linebacker Daniel Sorensen is always around the ball and has 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. Pro Bowl defensive linemen Frank Clark and Chris Jones have a combined 13.5 sacks and 43 QB hits, consistently pressuring opposing passers.

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Buffalo has gone from upstart to legitimate contender thanks to the talents of third-year QB Josh Allen and an explosive passing game. Allen has completed over 69% of his throws for an average of 284 yards/game with 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. 

Like Mahomes, Allen is also a threat with his legs, picking up 421 rushing yards and a team-high 8 touchdowns. The Bills had the league's most productive receiver in WR Stefon Diggs, who had 127 receptions for 1,535 yards.  Allen has several weapons for the team's downfield passing game, but WR Cole Beasley is the top complement to Diggs.

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Buffalo's defense, like the Chiefs, hasn't been overly impressive, but the Bills have an opportunistic unit capable of changing momentum. Edge rushers Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, along with DT Ed Oliver, have just 12.5 sacks combined but are all able to disrupt opposing quarterbacks. Matt Milano and former Saint A. J. Klein makes a heady pair of linebackers with excellent play recognition, while Pro Bowl MLB Tremaine Edmunds is an outstanding sideline-to-sideline defender. Cornerback Tre'Davious White is one of the NFL's best at the position, and the Bills have two active safeties with Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde.

Both these teams showed flaws in their Division Round wins last week, but the Chiefs are far more seasoned in close games on the big playoff stage. The health of Mahomes and Edward-Helaire bear close watching, and I think the Buffalo defense can keep plays in front of them to potentially force Mahomes into mistakes if he’s just a bit off target.

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CREDIT: JAMIE GERMANO/ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Offensively, this could be a coming-out party for Josh Allen, who has the athleticism to escape pressure and create big plays against Kansas City secondary with Diggs, Beasley, and deep threats like John Brown and Gabriel Davis. I think Mahomes will be just a bit off his usual playmaking self, allowing Allen to outgun him and send the Bills to their first Super Bowl since 1993.

PREDICTION

BILLS - 38 CHIEFS - 31