For the 3rd consecutive season, the Kansas City Chiefs will host the AFC Championship Game at home. Luckily for Chiefs fans, QB Patrick Mahomes has cleared concussion protocal and is set to return Sunday night after being knocked out of last week’s divisional round win against the Cleveland Browns. His return and ability to take over this game with his out of this world football intelegance and athleticism will be the difference between the Chiefs repeating as champs or the Bills returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1993 season.
With Mahomes sideline most of the second half last week, the reins were turned over to backup Chad Henne. If you’re just looking at the numbers he put up during his time under center, going 6 for 8 for 66 yards and interception doesn’t seem that impressive. And let’s be honest when he threw that terrible 4th quarter interception on his first full drive under center, everyone in Chiefs Kingdom was biting their nails and worried about their season ending after just one game. The good news for Henne was that they had a 22-10 lead heading into the 4th quarter and their defense surrendered just 7 points the rest of the way. This set up one of the most insane two play sequences in playoff history.
First, Henne scrambles on 3rd and 14 for 13 yards to put his team in striking distance to win the game. Then Andy Reid shocked the NFL world by calling for a short pass play on 4th and inches, when everyone assumed they would draw the Browns offside or call a timeout and punt. But instead, Henne tossed a quick pass to Tyreek Hill for a 5 yard completion to send his team to the AFC Championship. The confidence in your playmakers to execute this play and to be aggressive to ensure victory still leaves my jaw on the floor. More heroics like this will be needed this week, even with Mahomes under center with another explosive offense on the other sideline.
Let me be crystal clear about this: the Chiefs are not the same team without Mahomes under center. There is simply no replacing a 2 time MVP who has a jaw dropping 24-1 record in his last 25 starts (including the postseason), throwing 56 touchdowns and 12 interceptions during that span. He is the reigning Super Bowl MVP for a reason and nobody questions him being the new face of the NFL for years to come. Henne on the other hand has started just 54 games in 13 years and his last meaningful start was in 2014 with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mahomes is the clear leader of this team and arguably it’s best player, so Chiefs Kingdom gladly welcomes his return.
The Chiefs explosive offense features a dynamic duo that keeps defensive coordinators up at night. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are capable of defeating any coverage thrown at them and simply use their freakish athletic ability and/or strength to make defenders look foolish. They combined for 192 receptions for 2,692 yards and 26 touchdowns in the regular season. Keep in mind Mahomes threw 38 touchdowns this season. Those two playmakers accounted for 68% of them. You let those two have big days and your season is over. Add 16 receptions for 219 and a touchdown in last week’s win and this duo’s legends continue to grow.
However this week they faced a Buffalo defense that held this duo in check with a combined 8 catches for 89 yards and touchdown in week 6, where the Chiefs eked out a 26-17 win. Luckily for Kansas City, they used a 245 yard performance from their rushing attack to ensure they escaped Buffalo with a hard fought win.
That game plan made sense if you considered the fact they surrendered the 5th best passer rating in the NFL this season (86.9) and were tied for the 7th most interceptions (15). This will mean you can expect to see a lot of tight coverage on Hill and Kelce, especially by star corner Tre’Davious White, who has a passer rating of 63.9 since week 12 when QB’s test him. Mahomes has proven time and time again that he can matchup with any defense in the league and I think he trust both Hill and Kelce to win their one on one matchups. That duos ability to win one on one down the field will determine if the defending champs will defend their Super Bowl title in 2 weeks.
Bills’ QB Josh Allen on the other hand has been a huge surprise and a lot of his success can be attributed to the newly acquired Stefon Diggs, who’s proven his worth and then some as Buffalo’s top receiver this season. He leads all Bills’ receivers with 127 catches for 1,535 yards and 8 touchdowns. His ability to get open and score from any part of the field makes him almost impossible to cover. Allen has been more than grateful for his presence on the field, as he finished the season with a 69% completion percentage, eight 300 yard passing games and four games with 4 touchdown passes. Oh and let’s not forget his 8 catches for 106 yards and a score against the Ravens last week in the divisional round. He’s clearly made for the playoff stage and is unafraid of coming up clutch when his team needs it most. Just ask the Saints.
Diggs isn’t the only Buffalo playmaker that can give the Chiefs’ secondary nightmares. When you cover Diggs, you still have Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis and John Brown to worry about and Allen has no problem spreading the ball around. Diggs has clearly been Allen’s favorite target this postseason with 14 receptions, 128 yards and 2 scores, but both Davis and Allen have been solid #2 options in the last two games. Davis finished with 4 catches for 85 yards against the Colts and then against the Ravens, Brown hauled in 8 catches for 62 yards to support Diggs’ big night.
Now one player I haven’t mentioned yet is Cole Beasley, who has been dealing with a gimpy knee, limiting him to 7 receptions for 57 yards (all in the wildcard round). While he may not be a 100% healthy, his mere presence on the field draws coverage and opens up opportunities for other receivers. Whether he can make a difference in this game, is yet to be determined but he’s a slot defender’s nightmare to cover and Bills’ Mafia would love to have him on the field.
With all the weapons the Bills have for Allen to throw to, the pressure now falls on the Chiefs defense to dig deep and use their championship experience to overcome one of the league’s best offenses. This all starts with pressure from their front seven, led by pass rushers Frank Clark and Chris Jones. Both players combined for 13.5 sacks this season. They must be in Allen’s face a lot if they want to prevent the Bills offense from taking over this game and ending their title defense.
The problem is this defense is ranked middle of the pack in 3rd down defense (15th) and points per game (10th). Even worse, they are dead last in red zone defense. The good news is they kept the Browns in check last week with just a 46% conversion rate on 3rd down and forced two huge turnovers to hold on without their MVP signal caller. Regardless of who’s under center, they must find a way to keep Buffalo’s offense off the field and forcing turnovers and pressuring Allen are the key.
AFC Championship Prediction
The news of Mahomes returning on Sunday, gives me the confidence to say that the Chiefs will win by 3 points. This offense is clearly more explosive and dangerous with him under center. He keeps even the most dire looking plays alive with ridiculous athleticism and his no look passes that leave jaws dropped all across the world. I mean he clearly wasn’t afraid to use his legs to escape trouble after injuring his toe in last week’s game, but that will be something to keep a close eye on.
However, it doesn’t seem that anything fazes him and his 24-1 record in his last 25 starts speaks for itself. And if last postseason proved anything, he’s unfraid of overcoming any deficit. Pair that with Kelce and Hill burning defenses with their own unique set of height, strength and speed and this a offense that you don’t want to face at anytime of year. They will need to win a shootout with how powerful the Bills offense can be, but they have the pieces and championship expierence to do it.
Get your popcorn ready and tune in this Sunday at 6:40 pm on CBS to see who wins the Lamar Hunt Trophy and the right to play in Super Bowl 55. Will it be Chiefs Kingdom or Bills Mafia? Leave your thoughts and predictions in the comment section below or the CruelFan Facebook page.
By: Whitney Dowds CruelFan.com