Bills-Chiefs betting preview: Saving the best for last
It's a testament to how excited football fans are for this game, that with all the other great contests this weekend, the Bills-Chiefs rubber match is the crown jewel. That extensive anticipation usually comes from familiarity between the teams, knowing that both are contenders and that a January meeting is something of an inevitability. That's certainly the case here. The bad news for bettors is there are no secrets in the market, with this game being lined the same as it was both in Week 5 of this season and in the AFC Championship Game last year.
How much have things changed since Week 5? At the end of Buffalo's convincing win over the Chiefs, Al Michaels asked: "Who do you like right now - the Bills or the Chargers?" Yes, like dog years, a lot can change perception-wise in NFL time. The previous matchup between these two teams was so long ago that the Chargers were considered one of the best teams in the AFC. The Chiefs were in a downward spiral at that point but have since piled up wins against the Raiders, Broncos, Steelers, and the entire NFC East.
You could argue that the Bills spent the first four weeks of this season just waiting for their return trip to Kansas City, with the idea that a regular-season win would give them home-field advantage for the playoff rematch. While it didn't work out that way, it's worth comparing the two games to determine whether the Bills made the appropriate adjustments to compete with the AFC's king of the castle.
|GAME||TEAM||YARDS PER PLAY||RED ZONE CONV.||TURNOVERS|
|AFC Champ. (38-24 KC)||Bills||5.2||2/5||1|
|Week 5 (38-20 BUF)||Bills||8.1||2/3||0|
The Bills scored two red-zone touchdowns in each game but actually had fewer attempts in their win this season. Why? Because they scored from distance the second time around, regularly attacking Chiefs' safety Daniel Sorensen down the field. Those downfield shots are reflected in Buffalo's 8.1 yards per play.
Whether it's the better red-zone conversion percentage or the pair of long touchdowns, the Bills weren't compelled to kick field goals the way they were in the title game. In the previous playoff matchup, Bills coach Sean McDermott decided to kick on fourth-and-3, fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line, and fourth-and-3 at the 8-yard line. He also opted to kick a PAT late instead of going for two to make it a two-score game. The Bills barely kicked in the rematch because they never found themselves on fourth down in positive territory.
Where the Bills have adjusted their offensive game plan is their use of Josh Allen. In the first game, the box score will tell you he rushed for 88 yards on seven carries, but those were almost entirely via scrambles. His running backs only had 32 yards on nine carries.
In the rematch, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll stole a page from the Ravens' playbook by using designed inside runs with backside offensive linemen pulling for misdirection to gash the Chiefs. It helped Devin Singletary and Zack Moss run for 62 yards, and more importantly, get enough carries (17) to make the Bills multi-dimensional on offense.
When the Chiefs have the ball, only they can stop themselves. Kansas City had no chance earlier this season after turning the ball over four times against Buffalo, including a Patrick Mahomes pick-6 when Tyreek Hill dropped an easy pass. That wasn't an outlier this season, as the Chiefs had 1.8 giveaways per game against teams other than the Raiders and Broncos. Meanwhile, the Bills finished the year with 1.8 takeaways per game, the third-most in the league.
If you rewatch the AFC Championship Game and then the Week 5 game, the change in the Bills' collective maturity jumps off the page. Last January, the size of the stage felt new for the Bills when the game started going against them, as exemplified by Allen taking deep sacks, unable to throw the ball away. In October, when the Chiefs pushed back, the Bills stuck to their game plan to counterpunch en route to a victory.
This game will be closer than each of the previous two matchups, and the Chiefs' second-half success against the softer part of their schedule doesn't fool me into thinking they're notably better than Buffalo. In a coin-flip game, I'll take the plus money.
Pick: Bills moneyline (+110), Bills +8.5 (teaser leg No. 2)
Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.