How the Chiefs-Ravens trade could affect the New York Jets’ draft plans

Baltimore and Kansas City’s deal might give the New York Jets some extra clarity at the 23rd overall pick in Cleveland next weekend.

A deal between contenders could have ripple effects on a team that’s desperate to join them.

The Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs swapped assets and names on Friday, six days before the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft will be staged in Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/NFL Network). Pro Bowl-nominated blocker Orlando Brown Jr. will join the refurbished wall in front of Patrick Mahomes while four picks, including the 31st overall choice on Thursday, move on to Baltimore. Two Raven draft picks also come over with Brown, the first of which will be a second-rounder on Friday.

One can argue that a trade between a pair of playoff teams should have little effect on the New York Jets, who are ready for a potentially franchise-changing weekend. But New York will turn in three draft cards within the first 34 selections next Thursday and Friday. The Chiefs and Ravens’ gambit could set them up for what they plan to do with the latter pair.

The Jets’ first pick, second overall on Thursday, is more than likely accounted for: unless they plan on starting James Morgan or Mike White in September, they’re taking a quarterback. But debate rages on in what they’ll do with the 23rd overall choice, obtained from Seattle last offseason. The Ravens also own their regularly scheduled pick in the 27th slot, giving them two picks before the Jets pick again at No. 34, the second pick of the second round.

This de facto Baltimore sandwich…including the 31st pick from Kansas City traditionally bestowed to the Super Bowl runner-ups…only strengthens the case that the extra metropolitan first-rounder could behoove the Jets to address their offensive issues with each of their first two selections.

Baltimore is at an interesting point on its franchise timeline. They’ve earned at least 10 wins in each of the last three seasons and won a playoff game for the first time since 2014 in the Wild Card round in January. Barring a jaw-dropping transaction, they’re set with Lamar Jackson at quarterback for the foreseeable future. Their ground game enjoyed a significant jolt with rookie JK Dobbins working with Gus Edwards (1,528 yards, 15 touchdowns combined).

 Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

With Jackson’s great power comes even greater responsibility (wrong city, we’re aware). Jackson is capable of beating teams both through the air and on the ground (1,005 rushing yards). His mobile prowess, however, leaves him open to sacks and injuries. The trade of Brown, a blindside blocker, leaves a mediocre offensive line (16th in Pro Football Focus’ final 2020 rankings) in somewhat dire straights. Former All-Pro Ronnie Stanley is expected back, but he’s coming off a brutal ankle injury suffered in November.

Additionally, Baltimore may also look to surround Jackson with more weaponry. They’re set with the young pair of Dobbins and Edwards in the backfield but their receivers leave something to desired. Is there a No. 1 receiver in this bunch? Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has potential (58 receptions, 769 yards, 8 touchdowns) but even if the Ravens want to roll with him, major questions reside behind him. Second receiver Willie Snead left for Las Vegas, leaving behind the unproven Miles Boykin and Devin Duvernay. Veteran Sammy Watkins was welcomed in this offseason, but he’s not somebody who’s going to be the difference in wrangling away control of the AFC from Kansas City or Buffalo.

Thus, it’s very possible that the Ravens could be going offense with each of their first two picks. From a Jets standpoint, it’s thus less likely they can afford to wait until Friday to address a non-quarterback need. Had Kansas City kept Thursday’s penultimate pick, it was more likely to see them addressing their pass rush woes. It’s quite possible Baltimore could go offense with each of their Thursday couple. Several teams between 23rd and 34th (Pittsburgh, Green Bay) already appear to be leaning toward an offensive pick as well. Baltimore’s extended prescience should at least help narrow the Jets’ choices. Several defensive talents should still be around by the time Friday’s proceedings start, but some elite blockers (Tevin Jenkins, Alex Leatherwood, Christian Darrisaw, Landon Dickerson) and weapons (Travis Etienne, Rashod Bateman) could be gone with another offense-seeker injected into the fold.

New York Giants, Rashod Bateman
 Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Granted, the Jets are working so far from behind that there’s almost nowhere to go but up when it comes to day one of the draft. But while the Jets will likely have to address defensive woes sooner or later, they’re about to put a big investment in one of the non-Trevor Lawrence passing talents of a strong 2021 passing class. Whether it’s Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, or an unknown party, they can’t lead the Jets’ resurrection on their own. They need help, namely on the offensive line after not doing too much to upgrade over the offseason.

Secondary and edge help will be around in the second round. Thursday should be a day dedicated to the new quarterback and getting him as comfortable as possible before the hard part begins. Giving him a more attractive offensive depth chart to look at before he makes his Florham Park entrance requires an offensive mindset in the earliest stages in Cleveland next week.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

ESM’s Super Bowl LV Preview: Everything you need to know

While the quarterback matchup has rightfully taken center stage, Super Bowl LV will be decided through team endeavors.

The road to the Super Bowl was a bit bumpier this time around. Nonetheless, the countdown to the regularly-scheduled has finally ended.

Sunday will mark the end of the tumultuous 2020-21 NFL season, culminating in a slightly stifled celebration at Raymond James Stadium’s hosting of the 55th Super Bowl (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS). The Kansas City Chiefs will look to defend their Super Bowl crown carrying over from South Florida last season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who return to the so-called Big Game for the first time since their victory over Oakland in 2003. The game also has the added subplot of being staged at Tampa Bay’s home of Raymond James Stadium, which will host its third Super Bowl.

This game has generated a significant amount of hype for its quarterback matchup, which unites greatness from the past, present, and future. Kansas City will send out Patrick Mahomes, the defending Super Bowl MVP from their prior triumph over San Francisco, while the Buccaneers counter with Tom Brady, who is almost as much of a staple as the halftime show and the commercials combined. Brady will partake in his 10th Super Bowl, seeking to win his seventh championship.

“Could you imagine if Michael Jordan got his team to the Finals in ’98 or when he was older, against a young LeBron James, who’s really the face of the league?” game analyst Tony Romo said of the matchup, per Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. “It would be the greatest thing in the history of sports. I think we might actually have that Super Bowl. We might have that game. It just has never happened.”

But, of course, this isn’t a matchup between the Patricks and the Bradys…it’s the Chiefs and Patriots.

ESM has everything you need to know about Sunday’s matchup…

Positional Battle

The Matchup
Buccaneers Position Chiefs
X Quarterback
Running Back X
X Receivers
Tight Ends X
Offensive Line X
X Defensive Line
X Linebackers
Secondary X
Special Teams X

Last Time Around

This is a rare case of a modern Super Bowl rematch, as the two teams previously faced off in the regular season. On November 29, Kansas City took home the finest Floridian souvenir, a 27-24 triumph in Tampa. Mahomes threw for three scores and 462 yards, 269 of which went to Tyreek Hill.

What lessons can be gleaned from that game?

  • Get out to an early lead: Facing a Tampa Bay team that was, at the time, in the thick of a crowded NFC playoff picture, the Chiefs jumped out to an early 17-0 lead on the road and never looked back, withstanding a late Tampa Bay comeback to hold onto the win. Kansas City has made a living off big playoff comebacks…they trailed in each of their three games to the Lombardi Trophy in last year’s playoffs…but champions won’t be so forgiving. If Kansas City jumps out to a big lead again, they must keep their foot on the gas pedal and not relent. Even a 25-point second-half lead wasn’t enough to put Brady away in the Super Bowl…as Atlanta found out the hard way.

 

  • Don’t forget the defense: Hopefully, Raymond James Stadium has a backup scoreboard ready to go. Offensive fireworks are expected, but fans are quick to forget that Brady is only two years removed from a Super Bowl where the final score was 13-3. It may be a dying trend, but defense can still win championships. Kansas City certainly proved that in their November victory, forcing Brady into consecutive interceptions in the second half that helped secure the victory. Defensive antics came up big in the Chiefs’ triumph last season. As they mounted their effort, the unit preserved the win with a late interception and turnover on downs to wrap things up.

 

  • This matchup goes well beyond the quarterbacks: Make no mistake…Brady and Mahomes will go down as two of the greatest names to play the most complex and scrutinized position in sports. But the respective Super Bowl treks have come through team efforts. New heroes have arisen each week, each playoff level. In the conference championship round, it was speedy, reserve receivers like Mecole Hardman and Scotty Miller who helped fuel victories. There’s no reason to believe that the Super Bowl, producers of such unexpected heroes like Timmy Smith, Jermaine Lewis, and Adam Vinatieri, won’t have one here.

The Matchups to Decide It

Steve Spagnuolo vs. Tom Brady

Much to the presumed chagrin of the metropolitan area, there is plenty of local representation in Super Bowl LV. Kansas City has perhaps packed a secret weapon from East Rutherford, as defensive coordinator Steve Spagnulo’s ultimate claim to fame is his shutdown of the all-powerful, undefeated unit in Super Bowl XLII. The reunion has crossed Brady’s mind as he comes into the ultimate rematch.

“I think he really caters to the strength of his players,” Brady said this week, per Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News. “I think his scheme has evolved different times that I’ve played him several times over the last I dunno 13, 14 years. I think he’s a tremendous coach and everyone seems to love to play for him. I know he’s gonna have those guys ready to go.”

Jason Pierre-Paul vs. The Replacements

One of the most intriguing stories coming out of the 2021 postseason has been a delightful resurgence of Jason Pierre-Paul, one of several Giants defenders who made Brady feel uncomfortable in one of the two Super Bowl victories over New England. Now working with Brady in a collaborative Super Bowl effort, Pierre-Paul has been invading opposing backfields for him. Those efforts culminated with two sacks of Aaron Rodgers last week in Green Bay.

Making things even more difficult for the Chiefs is the loss of blocker Eric Fisher, leading to a reshuffling on the line in front of Mahomes. Andrew Wylie will take on an extended role in trying to contain JPP, as will Steven Wisniewski. While Kansas City has been lauded for their depth, trying to keep a hungry Pierre-Paul under control is one of the most unenviable tasks in Tampa on this Super Bowl weekend.

The Buccaneers will win if…

If you wanted to beat the Chiefs? Be the Chiefs.

Don’t take your foot off the offensive gas pedal. Go for it on fourth down. Take deep chances down the field whenever the opportunity presents itself. And, for the love of all things holy, make things difficult for Patrick Mahomes.

In our coverage of the Buffalo Bills’ AFC playoff endeavors, we’ve talked about how the best way to keep Mahomes in check is to keep him off the field entirely. Since Mahomes too over starting duties, Kansas City has lost nine games. In all but one of those contests, Kansas City lost the time of possession battle. To his credit, Brady was one to note this during the pair’s first playoff showdown in the 2019 AFC Title game. Including the extra session, New England held the ball for over 43 minutes of game time, leaving Kansas City a mere 20 minutes.

The Chiefs will win if…

Their defense is the difference-maker.

Everyone knows that the Chiefs’ offense should not be trifled with, and they’re well prepared to endure a shootout situation. But bigger games have often come down to down to defense, and the Chiefs have been happy to acquiesce. When Mahomes had to leave the Divisional game against Cleveland, the defense put Chad Henne in comfortable situations. Pressure allowed them to shut down Buffalo’s high-powered offense in the AFC title game, to the point where the Bills lost their composure entirely. This well could shape up to be a career-changing night for guys like Tyrann Mathieu, Chris Jones, Bashaud Breeland, and others. Coming back against the 49ers is one thing. But dealing a Super Bowl loss to Tom Brady…

Prediction: Chiefs 31, Buccaneers 27

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: Halftime takeaways from the AFC title game

The Buffalo Bills’ early endeavors in the AFC title game featured a rediscovered rushing game and a little bit of championship luck.

At halftime of the AFC Championship Game, the Kansas City Chiefs lead the Buffalo Bills 21-12.

ESM has three takeaways from an exciting first half of football…

-Chief Concern

If the Bills have had a consistent struggle, it’s been their defense’s issues covering opposing tight ends. Kansas City, of course, is armed with the ultimate weapon in that regard in Travis Kelce, and they’re taking full advantage of that flaw in the early going. They did so in the first 2020 meeting when Kelce had two touchdowns back in October, and now he’s running absolutely wild to the tune of 92 yards on nine receptions. Buffalo needs to strengthen their defense in the middle if they’re going to muster a comeback in the second half. Buffalo, to their credit, is taking advantage of their own tight end’s talents, as Knox has not only scored the Bills’ only touchdown but his other two receptions picked up crucial first downs (including one on a fourth down that kept Buffalo’s opening drive alive).

-Bold Rush

Devin Singletary appeared to be the odd man out in the Bills offense during their Divisional tilt last weekend, as it took nearly two full quarters for him to get a carry against the Ravens despite the loss of rookie Zack Moss in the Wild Card stage. But the Bills got him far more involved in the early going at Arrowhead, even granting him carries on two of the first three plays. Singletary also picked up a reception in the first half, though another drop could loom large later on if Buffalo fails to score again. Buffalo is 11-3, including playoffs, in games where Singletary has at least 14 touches. He’s not the only Bills rusher getting involved on a larger basis. T.J. Yeldon earned his first receptions since October 13 against Tennessee, including two huge first down touches through both the air and ground on the drive that narrowed the gap. Additionally, Taiwan Jones has had a strong game as a punt gunner, recovering Mecole Hardman’s muff at the three-yard-line (setting up Knox’s score) and doing another Corey Bojorquez punt inside the opponents’ 20.

-Cole Pursuit

Cole Beasley has proven himself to be a man of many talents this season. He has posted career-best receiving numbers and has even been shown to have a hankering for throwing. But if the Bills come back and win a nailbiter, remember Beasley’s big defensive play at the end of their first drive (shortly before Tyler Bass’ foot opened scoring). An errant Josh Allen pass seemed destined for the arms of Juan Thornhill, but Beasley was able to wrestle the ball away from the defender to preserve an incomplete pass and allow a good drive to earn a little reward.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

VIDEO: Buffalo Bills lead after 1st quarter after Dawson Knox TD

The Buffalo Bills took an early lead on Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game thanks to a short score for Dawson Knox and a field goal.

After one quarter of play at Arrowhead Stadium, the Buffalo Bills own a 9-0 lead on the Kansas Chiefs in the AFC Championship. Buffalo’s scoring came through a 51-yard Tyler Bass field goal and a three-yard scoring hookup between Josh Allen and Dawson Knox.

The Bills scored on their opening drive, going 42 yards on 10 plays to set up Bass’ long boot. Knox came up big prior to his score, as his eight-yard reception at circa midfield kept the driver going. Bass’ kick made a bit of history, as it was the longest field goal in Arrowhead Stadium’s playoff history, dating back to 1972.

Buffalo failed to keep the momentum alive on their next possession and were forced into a Corey Bojorquez punt. But they caught a big break when the ensuing launch was mishandled by Mecole Hardman. The muff was recovered by reserve running back Taiwan Jones, who couldn’t advance it past the Kansas City three-yard-line, but set up the Bills in prime position to grow their lead. Allen wasted no time in capitalizing, find Knox for the score. It was Knox’s second touchdown of the postseason. Bass missed the extra point, but the Bills held a two-possession lead at 9-0.

Though Buffalo owns a two-possession lead, Kansas City may have them right where they want them. En route to Super Bowl LIV, the Chiefs made up several sizable deficits in their playoff home games, including a 21-0 hole during the AFC Divisional playoffs against Houston.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: AFC title game is culmination of team efforts

The Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs are armed with MVP QBs, but their AFC title trips were earned through team efforts.

Save for the argument over what constitutes a catch, no modern professional football argument gets more heated than that of Most Valuable Player.

In a perfect world, MVP would be awarded to the player who best personifies its middle initial. But the honor becomes a popularity contest, often awarded to the best-trending player on a winning team. The Super Bowl MVP Award named after Pete Rozelle is particularly guilty of this, evidenced by the accolades sent to, say, Ray Lewis in Super Bowl XXXV (four tackles, five pass breakups in a 34-7 win over the Giants). Other times, the award goes to the player with the best highlights or statistics. The NFL has thankfully steered clear of this, but there was something questionable when Alex Rodriguez took home MLB’s title after his Texas Rangers mustered 73 wins in 2003.

It’s a delicate question and one Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes might have to deal with at the virtual NFL Honors on February 6, a day before one of them partakes in Super Bowl LV. Each is expected to be up for the seasonal MVP award, but they’ll first do battle in the AFC Championship Game when Allen’s Buffalo Bills visit Mahomes’ Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday evening (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS).

The NFL, frankly, couldn’t have asked for a better “final four” as an uncanny season nears its end. This could be the first of several showdowns between Allen and Mahomes with a Super Bowl trip on the line, while the other side of the bracket features one of the last opportunities for us to see Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers go at is. Each thrower’s name will undoubtedly be brought up in the MVP conversation. If Mahomes takes home the title, it would be his second league MVP award after first earning for his efforts in the 2018 campaign.

But, frankly, if we are truly defining MVP…neither AFC competitor should take it home.

There’s no doubt that Allen and Mahomes have been integral to their respective sides’ success. The pair constantly battle for supremacy at the top of not only the NFL’s statistical ledgers but the SportsCenter Top 10 as well. There’s no way of knowing if we would have a Bills-Chiefs matchup on Sunday if you removed only Allen and Mahomes from the equation, but let’s just say both Buffalo and Kansas City are undoubtedly glad that they don’t have to figure it out.

But what makes the AFC title game matchup so intriguing is not only the Allen-Mahomes matchup…it’s the fact that the 2021 postseason tournament has left zero doubt that these are the two best teams in the conference. This is not a battle between the Allens and the Patricks; it’s a struggle between the Bills and Chiefs. Look no further than last week’s Divisional playoff action. When Allen and Mahomes were shown to be human…or at least the closest they’ll ever be to human, anyway…their teams rose to the occasion to have their backs.

The cruel winter of Orchard Park got to Allen last week, his trademark deep balls getting lost in the Western New York winds. All in all, Allen did manage to post respectable numbers (23-of-37, 206 yards, and a score), but they were still far from the figures Bills fans have grown accustomed to. Buffalo remains in such a precarious position, one where they could be regarded as Super Bowl contenders one week and also-rans the next by a football-loving public that refuses to look beyond a team’s most recent showing. But the Bills have shown how far they’ve come in Allen’s three seasons at the franchise quarterback helm. Over their first two seasons, the Bills were 6-13 in his first two seasons as a starter when he posted a passer rating under 90. That included a dismal showing in last season’s AFC Wild Card playoffs in Houston, a game in which he failed to lead the Bills into the end zone after scoring through trickery on their first possession.

To his credit, Allen has cut down on such games, turning himself into a bona fide star and franchise man. But Buffalo victories no longer flow solely through him.

The Bills’ Divisional victory over Baltimore earned a massive exclamation point through the efforts of Taron Johnson, one of several day three draft picks making a difference in the Orchard Park football revolution. Jerry Hughes, one of the longest-tenured Bills on the team, has earned multiple sacks in two of his last playoff contests, including two of the Ravens’ mobile throwers Lamar Jackson and Tyler Huntley last weekend. It was part of a stellar defensive effort reminiscent of the Bills’ 1992 AFC title game efforts, one where the offense struggled to the tune of a single field goal, but earned a 10-7 victory headlined by Carlton Bailey taking a John Elway interception back 11 yards for a majority of the Bills’ scoring.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Allen’s protection has been assisted by the rise of Daryl Williams, who took over for an injured Cody Ford over the final quarter of the season. Williams also recovered a crucial Allen fumble in the Wild Card triumph over Indianapolis. Opposing defensive attention may center on names like Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley, but the reserve receiving ranks include a 1,000-yard catcher in John Brown and a master of trickery in Isaiah McKenzie, not to mention rookie Gabriel Davis, who has become one of the most dangerous red zone targets in the league. In their tight end corps, Dawson Knox has joined Davis as a reliable target close to the goal line. Hughes’ partner in longevity, Lee Smith, has been one of the team’s most reliable blockers.

Shocked as the football world may be at the emergence of so many, Buffalo’s depth was of no surprise to head coach Sean McDermott or Diggs, one of the most impactful on-field contributors.

“You’ve got to be able to count on depth,” said head coach Sean McDermott, per team reporter Chris Brown. “You’ve got to have depth in this league, this year in particular, with not only injuries occurring but the virus, knocking people out. So, it’s highly critical.”

“I feel like we’ve got a lot of guys that can play well at the receiver position,” Diggs added in the same report. “A lot of guys can make plays, and not even just at the receiver position. Whether it’s (running back Devin Singletary) out wide or (Dawson) Knox out wide. It’s somebody that you’ve got to account for because guys can make plays on the outside. As far as lining up four wide, it isn’t just one of us out there. There’s a lot of us out there.”

On Sunday, the Bills face a team that has matched their team efforts, albeit having done so on a higher level thus far. Their six-year playoff streak is the longest active endeavor in football, one that began long before Mahomes’ arrival. There’s no denying that Mahomes, acquired through a pick the Bills sent to Kansas City, has brought the Chiefs to the next level, but the Chiefs have proven they’re equally dangerous if he’s unavailable for whatever reason.

When Mahome was forced to leave Kansas City’s Divisional tilt against Cleveland with a head injury, the insertion of Chad Henne could’ve led to certain doom for the Chiefs. Instead, not only did Henne wind up playing an integral role in the victory…in part thanks to head coach Andy Reid’s confidence in him, bringing the theme of a team effort full circle…but he was assisted by reserve rusher Darrel Williams, more than a year after Damien Williams took over Super Bowl LV while Mahomes struggled with the San Francisco defense. The defense also rose up to the occasion, holding Baker Mayfield and an upstart Browns offense to get no further than a 22-17 final.

“The thing I’m proudest about, is the guys persevering through and winning games. You kinda go back and look at the schedule you had and there’s some pretty good football teams that we the opportunity to play against. To be able to get yourself in a position to win each and every week, that’s pretty good, you’re headed in the right direction, at least,” Reid said of team unity on 610 Sports Radio (KCSP-AM) this week. “It’s tough enough to win one game in this league, let alone win 14 of them. I’m proud of them for that, maybe most of all, I’m proud that they’ve taken a humble approach to everything. They haven’t sat there beating their chest and said, “We’re the Super Bowl Champs and you can’t beat us. That’s not the way they’ve gone about it, they’ve not let up an inch on the process of getting ready to play each team.”

One team will emerge victorious on Sunday, advancing to Super Bowl LV. Not one player…but a team.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: A lesson to learn from each AFC champion

Thurman Thomas, Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills are back in the AFC title game for the first time in 27 years. What can they learn from those that came before them?

A lot of cherished memories from the 1990s seem to be making a comeback these days. If the Buffalo Bills play their cards right on Sunday, their appearances in the Super Bowl can join Saved by the Bell, The Matrix, and Dunkaroos.

For the first time since 1994, the Bills will partake in the AFC Championship Game, shipping off to Arrowhead Stadium to battle the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday evening (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS). Their last AFC title tilt appearance likewise came against the Chiefs, when earned a 30-13 win at RIch Stadium en route to Super Bowl XXVIII, the last of four consecutive Big Game appearances. In the long interim, Bills fans have continued to appreciate the efforts of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, and many, many others.

Over a quarter century later, worthy successors have finally risen in their place. Josh Allen has begun toppling Kelly’s franchise passing records. The tandem of Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley has emulated that of Reed and Don Beebe. Jerry Hughes has risen up in Smith’s place in pass rushing duties.

Speaking with Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News, Reed confirmed that he and his old teammates have been keeping up with the Bills victorious’ modern endeavors. The receiver was pleased to see that the young Western New Yorkers seemed to be eumulating those conference champion squads throughout their historic season.

“It takes you back in a lot of ways, because they’re scoring a lot of points,” Reed said. “They are taking a lot out of the book of our teams, and I’m sure Sean McDermott has referenced us many times during the season and the last four years he’s been there. They’ve got a quarterback that, from one year to the next, has just made a complete turnaround. And they’ve got the weapons. I just think they’ve got everybody that that front office wanted to get. You can get all the pieces you want, but if they don’t work in the system, it really doesn’t matter.”

In honor of the Bills’ big day, ESM looks back on what the present Bills can learn from the champions of the past, as they seek to reach the first of what they hope is far more than a mere four consecutive Super Bowls…

1990-91: Keep up the pace

With their propensity for big yardage and scoring outputs, the 1990 Bills wouldn’t be out of place in the modern NFL, one that worships the offensive side of the ball. One of the ways Buffalo turned up the heat on their opponents was an uptempo attack that wore defenses down. Even when the New York Giants neutralized the offense by holding the ball for over 40 minutes in Super Bowl XXV, the Bills were able to quickly set themselves up for a game-winning field goal attempt when they got the ball back at their own 10 with 2:16 to go in the game.

Kelly confirmed in December that he had gone over his no-hiddle endeavors with modern offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. The Hall-of-Fame said that the Bills’ current setup makes them a good fit for an up-tempo setting.

“I got to spend a lot of time with Brian last year we got together and sat and watched film when I was playing with our no huddle offense,” Kelly said, per a report from team reporter Chris Brown. “Looking at some of the plays that I ran a lot because I liked them and they were an easy read and you can utilize all your receivers that you need to especially the one-on-ones that I had with James Lofton and Andre Reed. And Josh now has (Cole) Beasley, (John) Brown and of course (Stefon) Diggs.”

1991-92: Defense (still) wins championships

No one’s denying that the Bills are prepared for a shootout with the Chiefs. But while NFL scoreboards routine reach the 30s these days, there have been plenty of examples where the value of a strong defense has come to the forefront. After all, we’re two years from the slugfest in Super Bowl LIII that saw the Patriots take a 13-3 decision from the Rams.

The Bills were sure to keep their defense up to par, and far beyond it, during their conference dominance. Their uptempo offensive antics were brought back in their first AFC title defense, once again leading the league in yardage and finishing second in scoring. But after easily handling Kansas City in the Divisional round, they ran into a determined Denver Broncos team that would allow only a late Scott Norwood field goal in the championship game.

Their defense, however, took care of a potent Denver. The Broncos invaded Buffalo territory on each of their first five possessions, but crucial sacks and stops forced them into uncomfortable situations. Buffalo recovered only one of four Denver fumbles, but it led to longer field goal attempts for David Treadwell, who missed each of his three chances. Carlton Bailey provided the biggest scoring chunk of the afternoon with an 11-yard touchdown through a John Elway interception.

Today, the Bills defense has apparently saved their best for last. When Allen’s usual passing antics were stifled by Orchard Park’s winds during last week’s Divisional round, they likewise held their opponent, Baltimore, in check and provided a death blow through a pick-six. Taron Johnson’s return as a little bit longer than Bailey’s going 101 yards for the clincher in a 17-3 win.

1992-93: Contributions can come from all over the depth chart

We’ve seen countless promising seasons derailed through an injured quarterback, particularly in the latter stages of the season. This postseason was no exception, as we saw John Wolford and Taylor Heinicke start games on the NFC side when Jared Goff and Alex Smith were respectively sidelined with late ailments. The 1992-93 Bills are, of course, best known for “The Comeback”, the rally from 35-3 down against the Houston Oilers in the AFC Wild Card round. That historic march was overseen by Frank Reich after Kelly went down with a Week 17 injury. Reich came up big against in the Divisional win over Pittsburgh with two touchdown passes, but he wasn’t the only reserve who rose up. Kenneth Davis tallied 104 yards when the Steelers’ defense bottled up Thomas, while Cliff Hicks earned a sack. The latter earned an interception a week later against Miami in the AFC title game.

Josh Allen is (knock on wood) ready to go for Sunday’s visit to Kansas City, but some unsung heroes have helped fuel the ongoing Buffalo playoff run. Johnson not only had last week’s runback, but his crucial takedown of Jonathan Taylor on third-and-goal at the one helped change the course of the Wild Card victory over the Colts two weeks ago. Daryl Williams has not only been serviceable in replacing the injured Cody Ford, but he earned a crucial fumble recovery in that Wild Card triumph. When John Brown and mastery of trickery Isaiah McKenzie are perhaps your fourth and fifth viable options at receiver, you know you have a deep squad. Head coach Sean McDermott noted the importance of having such a deep unit in a year affected by unprecedented obstacles prior to the playoffs.

“You’ve got to be able to count on depth,” McDermott said, via Chris Brown. “You’ve got to have depth in this league, this year in particular, with not only injuries occurring but the virus, knocking people out. So, it’s highly critical.”

1993-94: Go all out, because you never know when you’ll be back

By the 1993 season, many had tired of the Bills’ schtick. While Norwood’s memorable miss capped off a one-point loss against the Giants, Buffalo’s next two visits to the Super Bowl were one-sided affairs, falling to Washington in a 37-24 debacle that was never really close and avoiding Super Bowl infamy only through Beebe’s strip of a showboating Leon Lett in a 52-17 defeat at the hands of Dallas.

But as the situation became more dire at the Rose Bowl against the Cowboys, likely sending the anti-Bills factions into full fury, Kelly reportedly turned to pass rusher Jeff Wright and suggested they make the return trip yet again.

“We laughed and had a couple of drinks over it,” Wright said in a report from Jerry Sullivan of WIVB. “By God, we did it.”

The Bills defied the doubters, many of whom were questioning players’ efforts and abilities. Those partially died down when they earned a 13-10 upset win over the Cowboys in Irving. Afterwards, they once again posted a dominant effort, capturing the top seed in the AFC once more and winning their last six games prior to Super Bowl XXVIII. Another loss to Dallas awaited, but the Bills’ camaraderie and strength was unmatched.

Thomas, one of the biggest targets after the 1992 season, capped it off with one of the most dominant performances in conference championship history. He tallied 186 yards and three as the Bills crushed the Chiefs 30-13.

“We were a force to be reckoned with. You had to bring your breakfast, your lunch, your dinner and a snack for afterwards, because we were going to be there playing football for 60 minutes,” Thomas said in Sullivan’s report. He seems to feel that the modern Bills have the same brand of hunger and intensity going into Sunday.

“They have that same confidence in who they are and what their abilities are. You can tell they’re having fun. Like us, these guys love going over there to the facility and practicing and being around the guys. And that’s how you bring a great team together.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: Three reasons why this isn’t the same team from October

The Kansas City Chiefs topped the Buffalo Bills in one-sided fashion back in October, but a lot has changed in Orchard Park.

Why is the NFL even bothering to play the AFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon? We already saw what a nationally televised matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS) had to offer back in October.

The Monday late afternoon tilt in Orchard Park (wth health protocols moving the game from its original Thursday night slot) wasn’t as close as the 26-17 margin in Kansas City’s advantage indicated. The defending champion Chiefs outgained Buffalo 466-206 and Josh Allen’s box score (14-of-27, 122 yards) was conjured from the sweetest dreams of his detractors. To make things even scarier, the Chiefs’ comfortable victory came with megastar Patrick Mahomes posting relatively pedestrian numbers (225 yards, two scores). Mahomes’ status for Sunday remains in question after he left last week’s Divisional round victory with a head injury.

With their loss, combined with a listless showing in Nashville the week prior, the Bills had apparently missed their chance to prove why they belonged amongst the NFL’s elite. Sure, they were content to win an AFC East featuring the woebegone Jets, declining Patriots, and developing Dolphins, but keys to the AFC penthouse would have to wait, granted only to Kansas City and their guests from Tennessee and Pittsburgh.

But a lot has changed since October. Vaccines to combat the ongoing health crisis were still in the development stages. In the Star Wars galaxy, Grogu was still known as “Baby Yoda” and, as far as we knew, Boba Fett was still in the belly of the Sarlacc.

The Bills, meanwhile, have cleaned themselves up…

 Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Their offense has gotten better at controlling the game

Offensive control goes far beyond the yardage battle, though the BIlls are handling their business in that department. Since putting up only 206 against the Chiefs in October, the Bills broke the 300-yard mark in each of their next 11 games, a streak that ended in the Orchard Park winds of the Divisional playoff victory over Baltimore. In that span, Buffalo eclipsed 400 six times, including a whopping 534 in their playoff-clinching win over Denver.

Perhaps more important, however, is what Buffalo can do in the time of possession affairs. When one leads such a battle, it means their offense is still on the field and that the opponent’s unit…in this case, one featuring Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and other scoring titans…can only watch from the sidelines.

If any franchise knows the value of winning the time of possession column, it’s the Buffalo Bills. Scott Norwood’s memorable miss in Super Bowl XXV could’ve been avoided bad the Bills had held the ball for more than 20 minutes. The New York Giants, reduced to a backup quarterback, methodically milked the clock with a rushing attack headlined by MVP Ottis Anderson. They wound up keeping the ball for over two-thirds of game time (40:33) to secure a 20-19 victory. The Giants kept their offense on the field while Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, and Co. could only helplessly look on.

The modern Bills have appeared to have taken that lesson to heart. Though they’ve lost the battle in each of their postseason pair thus far, odds considerably tilt to their favor when they hold the ball longer. The Bills are 6-0 when they hold the ball for at least 33 minutes, notably keeping it for 41:17 in their Week 1 win over the Jets. In contrast, Buffalo had only 22:15 of offense during their prior excursion against the Chiefs. Winning the TOP struggle has proven effective in neutralizing a Mahomes offense before. Kansas City has lost nine games with Mahomes under center since he took over the starting role in 2018. The Chiefs have lost the time of possession battle in all but one of those games. Included in the negative tally is their overtime defeat to New England in the 2018-19 AFC Championship Game.

(Photo: Getty)

They’ve cracked down on opposing rushing efforts

How did Kansas City manage to look so dominant with Mahomes looking uncharacteristically average? Simple…they’re known as the Kansas City Chiefs, not the Kansas City Mahomes (more on this from a Buffalo standpoint later).

The Chiefs have built their new NFL dominion through a team effort. Though Mahomes has obviously played a role in the Chiefs’ ongoing success, new heroes have surfaced in times of trouble. Sub-Mahomes efforts, or even his medical-induced disappearances, are not immediate causes for on-field panic. Kansas City’s run game has routinely stepped up when Mahomes is held in check. That was true during the early stages of last year’s Super Bowl, as Damien Williams put up 104 rushing yards and the final two touchdowns in the 31-20 victory. When Mahomes had to leave the Divisional proceedings against Cleveland, the unrelated Darrel Williams put up 47 yards on seven carries to help take the pressure and load off backup Chad Henne, ticking precious time off the clock in the process.

In the first Buffalo meeting, it was first-round rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire who rose up with 161 yards on the ground, while Darrel Williams put in a second-half touchdown that gave the Chiefs a two-possession lead. If Mahomes plays but isn’t at 100 percent on Sunday in Missouri, there’d be little surprise in

But the Bills defense has cracked down since Edwards-Helaire’s Western New York stampede. While it’s still not at a level they’re truly satisfied with the betterment has nonetheless played a role in their success. Only two rushers (Damien Harris and Kenyan Drake) have gotten to the century mark since Edwards-Helarie’s infantile career day at 102 and 100 respectively. They additionally held another stud rookie rusher, Jonathan Taylor, to under four yards a carry during their Wild Card victory over Indianapolis (21 carries, 78 yards). Buffalo later held Baltimore’s top-ranked run game in check in the Divisional round, allowing no rushers greater than 15 yards from Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins, and Lamar Jackson.

“We said, OK, we’re going to dare them to stay with the run game, and lo and behold, they stayed with it, and had a lot of success running the football,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said of the October game, per Jourdon LaBarber of BuffaloBills.com. “You know, we learned a lot from that ballgame, hopefully some lessons that will help us going forward, but that was the strategy going into game. We’ll have to find a balance, do a better job against the run than we did in that first encounter.”

 Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

They’ve improved far beyond Josh Allen

In a cruelly ironic twist, would an MVP Award for Josh Allen actually hurt the Bills?

In a perfect world, distribution of Most Valuable Player awards would truly live up to its definition. But it too often simply goes to the best players on the best team or relies solely on stats. Magnificent as Mahomes has been, Kansas City has shown that they’re more than capable of competing when a backup quarterback like Henne or Matt Moore has to take the reins.

Since his drafting in 2018, the Bills fortunes have been perceived as rising and falling through the play of Allen. That’s ridiculously unfair in a sport that relies so heavily on team antics, but those who believe in such philosophies had evidence through Allen’s shortcomings. Over his first two seasons, Buffalo posted a 6-13 record when Allen posted a passer rating of 90 worse. That tally included his 69.5 posting in the Bills’ Wild Card defeat in Houston last year.

Granted, Allen has improved himself to the point where he’s not posting these kinds of numbers on a regular basis. Additionally, his jaw-dropping highlight reels often speak for themselves. But, as mentioned above, the 2020 version of Allen has gotten by with a little help from his friends. Buffalo’s record now stands at a much more tolerable 4-3 when Allen’s passer rating is at that precipice. A perfect example came last week against Baltimore in the Divisional tilt. By typical 2020-21 standards, the game was a struggle for the Bills offense, which put up only 220 yards and 17 first downs.

The defense, however, had Allen’s back, upping the pressure on Jackson and providing the most crucial score through Taron Johnson’s 101-yard interception return for a touchdown. They likewise added four sacks, including two from Jerry Hughes, his second multi-sack game in his last three postseason contests. Momentum-shifting turnovers have been nothing new in Buffalo. Since picking up only one in the Kansas City loss, the Bills have earned multiple turnovers in six games.

As for blocking, Allen’s pocket has been relatively clean, having been sacked four times in the two playoff showings. When the pressure has raised a few octaves, to the tune of a pair of fumbles that could’ve shifted the courses of those games, but Darryl Williams and Dion Dawkins each came up big with recoveries.

In short, since their pair of defeats…the Bills could well have been holding a 12-game winning streak if not for Kyler Murray’s miracle…the Bills are providing a whole new meaning to “All-22”. Time will tell if it’ll be enough to topple the budding dynasty in Kansas City. But it won’t come through relying solely on the prescience of Allen.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills headed to Kansas City for AFC title game

The Buffalo Bills will run into a familiar foe for their first AFC Championship Game appearance since 1994.

It would appear not much has changed in the American Football Conference after 27 years.

With the AFC Divisional playoffs decided, the Buffalo Bills will meet the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2020-21 AFC Championship Game. The game will be the latter segment of the NFL’s conference championship Sunday situation. It will kick off at 6:40 p.m. ET at Arrowhead Stadium and air nationally on CBS.

Buffalo (15-3) clinched their ticket to the AFC title game with a 17-3 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night, anchored by Taron Johnson’s 101-yard interception return for a touchdown and a three-yard scoring hookup between Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. Meanwhile, the defending champion Chiefs (15-2) made their 2021 postseason debut on Sunday, topping the Cleveland Browns by a 22-17 final. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce united for 219 receiving yards on 16 receptions, with the latter scoring a touchdown.

The Bills and Chiefs met once this season in Orchard Park, with Kansas City prevailing in a 26-17 decision. Buffalo was held to a season-low 206 yards in defeat, while rookie rusher Clyde Edwards-Helaire had 161 yards for Kansas City. The matchup was initially set to be held on a Thursday night but was moved to the following Monday after Buffalo’s prior opponent, Tennessee, experienced COVID-19 complications.

Buffalo and Kansas City previously met in the 1993-94 AFC Championship, with Buffalo earning a 30-13 victory to advance to Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta, clinching their ticket to the last of four straight Super Bowl appearances. Thurman Thomas stole the show, earning 186 yards and three scores on the ground. This will mark the third time that the Bills and Chiefs will meet with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Kansas City earned a ticket to the original Super Bowl, then known as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, with a 31-7 win over the Bills in the 1966-67 AFL Championship. The two sides also met in the 1991-92 Divisional round, with Buffalo prevailing 37-14.

As the hype for the conference title game begins, the major headlines will likely center on the status of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The defending Super Bowl MVP earned two scores in the Sunday victory over Cleveland (one on the ground, one in the air) but was forced out of the game after taking a tough hit that put him in concussion protocol. Veteran backup Chad Henne stepped in and managed things well, completing 6-of-8 passes for 66 yards. Henne threw an interception but later came up big on Kansas City’s final drive, with his 13-yard rush and five-yard toss Tyreek Hill clinching the game for the Chiefs.

Arrowhead Stadium is now set to host the AFC title game for the third consecutive season. The Chiefs fell to New England in 2019 before topping Tennessee last year. Buffalo’s last playoff triumph on the road came in January 1993, when won in Miami to advance to Super Bowl XXVII.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

3 reasons why the Buffalo Bills are (and aren’t) the team to beat in the AFC

The Buffalo Bills are firing on all cylinders as the NFL playoffs get underway. But does the AFC still belong to the Chiefs? ESM investigates.

Are you ready to party like it’s 1994? For once, someone other than New York Rangers fans are willing to do so in the Empire State.

Five months before Mark Messier accepted the Stanley Cup at Madison Square Garden, the Buffalo Bills battled the Kansas City Chiefs for AFC supremacy in January’s conference title game at what-was-then-known-as Rich Stadium. Through a dominant effort from Thurman Thomas (186 rushing yards and three scores), Buffalo rolled to a 30-13 victory that clinched their fourth consecutive Super Bowl berth.

27 years later, the two teams appear to be on a collision course toward a rematch in the game’s 2021 edition. Kansas City (14-2) and Buffalo (13-3) are the top two seeds in the first edition of the revamped AFC playoffs. Fulfilling the star-crossed prophecies of Western New York sports, Buffalo secure the second overall seed…in the first year that the conference runner-up is not entitled to a bye week (or at least first since the adjusted 1982 playoffs due to a players’ strike). The lone automatic advancement goes to the defending champion Chiefs, while the Bills take on the first extra wild-card, the seventh-seeded Indianapolis Colts, in the official postseason opener on Saturday afternoon (1:05 p.m. ET, CBS). Buffalo missed out on a first-round bye, but, on the brighter side, the earliest they would face the Chiefs is the potential conference title game.

So should the Bills, slowly becoming America’s adoptive squad, be the favorite as the playoffs get underway? ESM investigates why…and why not:

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Why: They’re taking care of business

If not for Kyler Murray’s miracle in Glendale back in November, the Bills may have entered the playoffs on a 10-game winning streak…with their last loss coming to Kansas City. Since that heartbreaker in the desert and the ensuing week off, Buffalo has won six in a row, each victory coming by no less than 10 points. They and the Green Bay Packers enter the postseason with the longest active winning streak in the NFL (though Kansas City would probably have a streak of 11 in a row if they hadn’t rested their starters in a Sunday loss to Los Angeles).

The Bills are just winning games…they’re dominating them. Their point differential of 119 over the past six weeks is by far the best in football in that span (fellow AFC participant Baltimore is in second at 92) and the Bills’ offense is averaging just under 430 yards per game (also best in that timeframe). Team records are falling on both the individual (through Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs) and team level. For example, last week’s 56-26 victory a Miami Dolphins team that had much to play for allowed the Bills to set a personal-best for most points scored in a single season (501).

It’s not like the Bills are bullying AFC slouches, either. In addition to eliminating Miami, Buffalo’s winning streak featured a healthy Sunday night win over Pittsburgh. Save for the Arizona nightmare, they won every leg of their interconference slate, which included wins over the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks (who face off in the NFC wild-card match immediately after the Bills-Colts game). If this were the College Football Playoff, we’d likely see the Bills swiping one of the top four spots..probably to play Alabama.

Buffalo’s domination contrasts the relatively exciting football Kansas City has played. Most of the Chiefs’ contributors from their Super Bowl run are back, headlined by the lethal duo of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce. But each of the team’s past seven victories has come by only a single possession. The last game featuring Kansas City starters was a sloppy 17-14 slugfest against the eliminated Atlanta Falcons, a game that avoided overtime because of a rare Younghoe Koo miss. Their top unit has another week to get things rolling as they simmer in a first-round bye.

Why Not: They have little playoff experience

The Bills have broken countless streaks of futility this season. One, however, looms large: a postseason win drought dating back to December 1995, when they topped Miami in the Wild Card round. The dry spell nearly ended in Houston last season, but victory slipped through their grasp in overtime. For most of the players on this team, their knowledge of January football stems from either the heartbreaking visit to Buffalo or the 10-3 Wild Card slugfest in Jacksonville back in 2018. The former loss still looms large on the Bills’ psyche as they prepare to attempt to finally get over the hump against the Colts.

“It still lingers a little bit, just knowing the situation of the game, knowing what I could’ve done differently, reads I could’ve changed. If I could change it, obviously would, but I can’t, and I’m glad for the lessons I learned throughout that game and throughout the three years I’ve been playing so far,” quarterback Josh Allen said to Mary Margaret Johnson of WIVB. “Without failure, you wouldn’t know success. We’ve got to find ways to put our best foot forward and try to get a victory.”

Kansas City, on the other hand, is the only team in the league that has won playoff games in consecutive seasons, reaching the AFC title game before their Super Bowl triumph over San Francisco last season. According to Mahomes, the former playoff trip played a vital role in his eventual Vince Lombardi Trophy hoist. In his first full year as a starter, the Chiefs topped Indianapolis in the Divisional round before bowing out in overtime to the eventual champions from New England in the AFC title game.

Mahomes mentioned just how important the prior experience was when gearing up for the run to Super Bowl LIV last season.

“For me, I think the only thing that is really different is having the experience,” Mahomes said prior to the AFC Divisional round against Houston, per Charles Goldman of Chiefs Wire. “Being able to play in games like this at Arrowhead and being able to win one and lose one. I understand that every single play counts, how much every single rep in practice counts, and how you have to take advantage of every single opportunity that you get.”

Mahomes’ quick adaptation from playoff heartbreak led to a Super Bowl title. Buffalo will have to channel similar energy if they’re hoping to end this season on the right note.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Why: Their defense is finding a dominant stride

Any battle between the Bills and Chiefs would likely require a backup scoreboard on standby at Arrowhead Stadium. Buffalo (501) and Kansas City (473) are good for first and third respectively in the AFC in scoring, sandwiching Tennessee. The Chiefs top the NFL at just over 415 yards a game, with Buffalo the first team behind them at 396.

But that’s where the Bills’ defense can step in. The NFL may be a league that worships an offensive deity known as “fantasy football”, but several important games over the past few seasons (i.e. Super Bowl LIII) have proven that defense still has its place in modern professional football. Buffalo’s defense is getting hot at the perfect time. Not only did they hold three consecutive opponents under 300 yards in December…almost an impossibility in today’s offense-happy NFL..they’ve been forcing turnovers as well. The Bills have forced at least one turnover in all but one of their past 11 games, the rare exception being their most recent visit to New England, when they allowed only 201 yards of offense in a 38-9 win. In their elimination victory over the Dolphins, they earned four takeaways, headlined by Josh Norman’s interception return for a touchdown.

In a report from team writer Jordan LaBarber, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds described the Bills’ defensive endeavors as “fun” after they dismantled fellow division champion Pittsburgh on national television.

“The biggest thing is starting fast, playing physical, playing free, and guys just having fun. I think, if I had to say the number one thing, it’s having fun. If you have fun, a lot of those things kind of take care of itself,” Edmunds said. “I honestly take my hat off just to the whole, you know, the team, just the people I have around me. I can’t do it all by myself. I think just us as a team, we are having fun. And any time you have fun, I think those plays just kind of show up.”

Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Why Not: They’re hurting

For most of the season, the Bills dodged the 2020 demons brought on by COVID-19 and injuries. Reserve tight end and goal line target Tyler Kroft, for example, was placed on the reserve list twice but was activated each time without further incident. But the Bills have some major question marks when it comes to their receiving corps as they enter Saturday’s game in Indianapolis.

Diggs would be the scariest absence, as he has missed out on practice on Wednesday due to oblique issues. The NFL’s leading receiver (127 receptions, 1535 yards, both Bills records) has indicated that he’ll be ready to go for the Colts’ visit, but head coach Sean McDermott was more cautious. Diggs did partake in Thursday’s preparation at Bills Stadium, as did Cole Beasley, per photos from Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com. The slot receiver Beasley set new career-bests this season (82 receptions, 967 yards) but missed the Week 17 contest with a knee injury. Thursday’s proceedings were his first form of football action since the week prior in New England. Isaiah McKenzie, fresh off a career-game against the Dolphins (three touchdowns, including a punt return), has also been limited all week.

Though Bills fans may exhale about Diggs’ confidence to play this week, the receiver noted how well the Buffalo depth compliments each other. Fourth-round rookie Gabriel Davis has tallied seven scores this season while John Brown made his return in the regular season finale after missing the past five games with a knee and ankle issue.

“Having that depth, having guys, in this playoff run, you don’t what’s going to happen,” Diggs said in a report from Parrino. “Guys can get hurt, (with) COVID and all the stuff that’s going on. Having depth doesn’t hurt you. It kind of puts you in space where that next man up is really, really real. I say more so give all the credit being able to find the open man, deliver a strike and being able to have success offensively with the guys you haven’t typically had a lot of reps with.”

Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Why: They have Josh Allen

There’s little doubt about Allen’s ability at this point. He has silenced pretty much any doubters with an MVP-worth season that has yielded 46 touchdowns through the air (37), ground (8), a trick play from Brown (1). To put that number in perspective, punter Corey Bojorquez has been called upon only 37 times.

But the feel-good stories of the NFL, particularly those found under center, can quickly be neutralized by a lack of playoff success. For example, it took one botched field goal for Tony Romo to be eternally labeled as a fourth-quarter choker (though his stats often proved otherwise). Jared Goff’s reputation with the Rams hasn’t been the same since a brutal day in the aforementioned Super Bowl against the Patriots. Conquering the postseason is the last hurdle Allen has to clear before officially cementing his superstar status.

Allen escaped a good share of the blame for the heartbreak in Houston, even though he mustered only one receiving touchdown (another toss from Brown) and he had a fumble at the onset of the fourth quarter that led to a Texans field goal. But, with more postseason futility, the inevitable, if not unjust, question of “how many playoff wins does he have?” is inevitably going to come up.

But, going into the postseason, Allen isn’t worried about his personal case. His perspective is entirely team-focused.

“The only thing when I’m on the field is my fear of letting my teammates down,” Allen said to LaBarber. “As quarterback of the team, your job is to move the ball and to score points. So, when we’re not scoring points, that’s my biggest fear. It’s putting our defense in a bind if we’re not moving the chains on third down, again, that puts us behind the eight ball and we’ve got to punt the ball away. That’s what drives me. That’s what motivates me. I fear letting the guys who drafted me, this front office, and this organization, down.”

Why Not: They don’t have Patrick Mahomes…and Travis Kelce…and Andy Reid…and…

October gave us a potential preview of this matchup, with Kansas City prevailing in a somewhat sloppy 26-17 triumph. Each side’s discombobulation could potentially be attributed to the fact it was a Thursday nighter shifted to a Monday late afternoon due to COVID-19 issues with the Bills’ prior opponent in Nashville. But the Bills weren’t looking for excuses.

“We weren’t good enough. I was not good enough,” said Allen, held to a season-low 122 yards, to LaBarber and Dante Lasting. “I got to do a better job. It’s plain and simple. I didn’t play very good tonight. I know that, understand that. This team can’t afford to have me play poorly. Early on, just not being as accurate with the ball as I should have been, making the right reads, making the right throws.”

There is, technically, no shame in losing to Kansas City. Last season’s Super Bowl run was a firm statement that they didn’t save the AFC from New England monopoly…they simply declared the conference was under new management. The Chiefs were not only set up for short-term success but packed things up for the long-term, locking Mahomes to his infamous half-billion-dollar deal that somehow seems like too little. Super Bowl hero Damien Williams (understandably) opted out of the 2020 proceedings and the Chiefs didn’t lose a step, sustained by Mahomes’ passing antics to weapons like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. So there’s little shame in colliding with a team of destiny and coming out on the wrong end.

But the Bills know that success in the NFL is far too fleeting to rely on the future. That Jacksonville team that beat them in 2018 went to the AFC title game and seem destined for a return trip. The Jaguars are now choosing first in the 2021 NFL Draft this spring.

It’s going to be hard to top Kansas City, but first thing’s first…beating the Colts on Saturday.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Four plays that shaped the New York Jets’ Sunday fate in Kansas City

New York Jets

Another loss awaited the New York Jets in Kansas City, but they put out a respectable effort against the defending champs.

Only in modern New York football could a 21-9 deficit at halftime spell progress. But even that rare display of gridiron understanding from the New York Jets fell by the wayside in yet another brutal defeat.

Patrick Mahomes earned 416 and five touchdowns, two of which went to Tyreek Hill, and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs rolled to a 35-9 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium. The Jets (0-8) wound up scoring on each of their first three possessions (albeit only through Sergio Castillo field goals) but were unable to keep the momentum rolling in the second half under offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains’ playcalling. New York put up only 63 yards over the final 30 minutes, allowing Kansas City (7-1) to mostly coast the rest of the way.

ESM looks back on the four plays, one from each quarter, that shaped the Jets’ present and future in Kansas City…

1st Quarter: Denzel Wins

“Needings” a fake punt against the winless Jets potentially says more about Kansas City than it does about New York, but that’s a conversation for another day. But the Jets were able to leave the quarter on a good note thanks to the antics of second-round pick Denzel Mims.

Earlier this week, ESM spoke about the importance of including rookies in the game plan. At least in the first quarter, the Jets seemed to follow through on that philosophy when it came to Denzel Mims. The Baylor product managed to tally 42 yards on a pair of catches, including this 27-yard spectacular to end the frame. Earned on 2nd and 10, it eventually led the Jets to boot a Castillo field goal, his second of the day.

Alas for the Jets, they failed to capitalize on the potential Mims displayed over the rest of the game. He was targeted only one other time, as the Jets offense struggled in the second half for the second consecutive week after displaying some promise over the first half-hour. The playcalling became a lot more conservative, with little, if any chances taken downfield. Yet, Mims was still the Jets’ leading receiver for the second straight week.

2nd Quarter: Segi-Noooooo

If the Jets send any representatives to the 2021 Pro Bowl…or at least the symbolic rosters…it’ll probably whichever one of their kickers stays healthy over the final stages. Castillo, who celebrated his 30th birthday on Sunday, accounted for the Jets’ points, and even booted a 55-yard triple, the longest since Jason Myers’ departure. His field goals weren’t making a maximum impact in the grand scheme of things…Kansas City led 21-9…but some strong offensive execution showcased by Darnold and company allowed Castillo and company to line up for a 47-yard try that could’ve narrowed the gap to single digits.

The kick became a turning point…for the Kansas City hosts.

New York’s special teams have been a rare silver lining this season, but failure to adjust blocking allowed Armani Watts to invade the kicking area and ruthlessly block the attempt. The Jets were able to prevent the ultimate disaster with a tackle on the run back, but it permanently shifted momentum to the Chiefs’ side.

3rd Quarter: Not So Lucky Fellow, Mr. Smith

It’s impossible to argue that the Jets’ defense isn’t innocent in this grand scheme of football affairs. But, frankly, they can only do so much.

Gregg Williams’ unit actually provided one of the brighter plays of the second half. They gave Kansas City a one-yard fourth down at their 14-yard-line, but a big stop by Henry Anderson, bringing down Le’Veon Bell of all people short of the first down, kept the deficit at the manageable 21-9 tally. Alas for the defense, the celebration might’ve lasted longer than their time off the field.

Conservative playcalling doomed the Jets over their next drive, as a pass behind the line of scrimmage to Braxton Berrios lost six yards on second-and-five. The idea of throwing downfield was more or less taboo in the second half, and the Jets paid the price. Their third down play was a throw short of the stick to Jeff Smith, who did what he could with the run after the catch, but he was stopped just short of the line to gain.

Possessing the ball for a mere 96 seconds (after winning the time-of-possession battle by nearly six minutes in the first half), the Jets immediately had to punt away. They wound up surrendering an 83-yard drive that took six plays to pull off, capped off by Mahomes’ penultimate score of the day to Demarcus Robinson.

4th Quarter: Opportunity Knock-Out

Injuries have provided opportunities for the Jets’ young talents. They have high hopes for both Bless Austin and third-round rookie Ashtyn Davis, but their first test was brutal. Mahomes knew to attack the pair’s area for the remainder of the game, and wounder capping off scoring with a scoring strike to Hill, a 41-yard toss that created the final margin.

There’s plenty of time for both Austin and Davis to recover, and situating their first opportunity against Mahomes and the high-voltage Kansas City Chiefs was an act of gridiron cruelty. But while it’s good that the Jets are giving their younger players opportunities, they need to post better result to give the team even the slightest reassurance going into an offseason of uncertainty.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags