The Bills have ripped it up on their run to the AFC Championship game and won't go down easily against Kansas City, writes Mark Kirwan...
"Without their star quarterback, the Bills would have to be favourites for this game, even on the road. Veteran Chad Henne, despite his heroics last week, would be unlikely to keep pace with Josh Allen."
Bufaalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs
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It's impossible to start anywhere but Patrick Mahomes and the question of his health. So much depends in whether he plays - and how he can play - after he was taken out of last week's win over the Browns.
Mahomes remains in the concussion protocol after taking a hit against the Browns last week that knocked him out of the game and put the Chiefs' title defence in real jeopardy.
They'd be the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the '05 Patriots, but that dream would in all likelihood disappear on Sunday night if the Mahomes can't suit up.
Over the 17 weeks of the regular season, he's been the closest challenger to Aaron Rodgers for MVP. A completion rate of 66%, 38 TDs passing and just six interceptions took the Chiefs to the best record in the AFC at 14-2 and they're now in their third successive conference decider.
Without their star quarterback, the Bills would have to be favourites for this game, even on the road. Veteran Chad Henne, despite his heroics last week, would be unlikely to keep pace with Josh Allen.
The 25-year-old gunslinger has been practising this week and getting more snaps than his back-up, which suggests the Chiefs expect him to play on Sunday.
Even if Mahomes starts though, that's no guarantee he finishes the game. While all the focus is on the bang he took, there's also a possible turf-toe injury lingering. That's likely to curtail Mahomes even if he plays, and another serious hit could end his season.
The big playmakers, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, are still available, though Sammy Watkins and Clyde Edwards-Hilaire could miss this game, and they're significant components in this offence. There are questions about their defence too. They're solidly average, which is good enough when your offence can blow teams away, but if you need them to step up, Chris Jones and Tyrann Mathieu are who they'll look to.
And the offence hasn't been blowing teams away this season. They've repeatedly failed to cover handicaps. They've still won those games, but can they keep threading that needle to another Super Bowl as the competition stiffens?
Bills QB Josh Allen will test them for sure
Through the opening weeks of the season, he looked like he could take on Mahomes, Rodgers and any other challengers as the season's preeminent player.
A streaky run midseason that included a 14-of-27 loss to the Chiefs ended those hopes, but Allen didn't lose his confidence though his team dropped to 4-2 with the loss.
If Kyler Murray hadn't connected with DeAndre Hopkins on a hail mary in week 10, the Bills would be on a 12 game winning streak. In the eight games since their last reversal, Allen's thrown 19 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions.
Josh Allen joins Patrick Mahomes (2019) and Ben Roethlisberger (2005) as the only QBs under the age of 25 with multiple wins and a 100+ passer rating in a single postseason? NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 17, 2021
Mahomes & Roethlisberger went on to win the Super Bowl in those seasons#BALvsBUF @BuffaloBills
Stefon Diggs has been the crucial addition to this team. Combined with - and facilitating - Allen's improvement as a passer, the former Viking's arrival in western New York could've gone sideways if his QB hadn't stepped up his play this season. After all, Kirk Cousins was on the receiving end of Diggs' ire in Minnesota before he made the move.
Fortunately for Buffalo the pair struck up a rapport which made it one me of the most potent connections in the league. Even last week, against a Ravens defence playing about as well as it could, the connection showed up still with eight receptions and over 100 yards plus a TD, the only offensive one of the game.
The Chiefs won't be able to match Baltimore's defensive personnel, but if they can limit this one passing avenue for Allen it will would probably win this game.
That's because this game should be one where offence dominates, and if one team can shutdown the other's primary offensive threat, it will make the difference. The Bills defence had a great Divisional Round. They held the Ravens last week to just a field goal, and the defence came up with a decisive score on an interception.
It helped that Baltimore couldn't pass the ball though.
The Chiefs might look like Baltimore if Henne has to play, but the indications are he won't so I'd expect the Chiefs to win here. Still, on the handicap, my head says the Bills are better value +3, especially with the Chiefs nursing these injuries and the way they've been winning without covering this season. Instead, the Tri-bet market lets you bet on aclose game, with Either team to win by 7 or less priced 10/11. It should be worth a play as these teams look very hard to split.
Both teams should enjoy long, clock-sapping drives as their defences concede ground on short plays to avoid giving up big plays and quick scores. That makes me wary of the over on the 54.5 points. Under is a shrewder play at 10/11.
On touchdown scorers, Josh Allen has shown himself to be a great passer this season and hasn't had to use his feet as much as before. He can make plays on the ground though, and I'd take a punt on him featuring as a rusher in this game just to throw KC off a bit. Over 32.5 yards appeals at 5/6 for Allen, and I'd look at him for the First TD in this game at 9/1 as well.
Of the anytime options, I'd take another swing at a defence and special teams play. Kansas City's unit have playmakers on kick returns, Mecole Hardman in particular. Also, the defence average nearly two takeaways per game. At 9/2, they're worth a look.
1pt on Either Team by 7 Points or Less on the Tribet market @ 10/11 on the Sportsbook
1pt on Under 54.5 on the Total Points market @ 10/11 on the Sportsbook
1pt on Josh Allen First TD Scorer @ 9/1 on the Sportsbook
1pt on Josh Allen Over 32.5 Rushing yards @ 5/6 on the Sportsbook
1pt on Kansas City D&ST Anytime TD Scorer @ 9/2 on the Sportsbook