The time is now: Why the third time can be the charm for the Buffalo Bills against the Chiefs

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – On Sunday night at 6:30, the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs will play a Divisional Round playoff game.

If that sounds like deja vu, don’t freak out. The two teams met in the same round, at the same time, in 2022. Kansas City won that game, 42-36 in epic fashion, as the Chiefs forced overtime in just two plays and a field goal with 13 seconds left.

“We understand that every time we play them, it’s an all-or-nothing game,” said Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Dion Dawkins.

And if the part about the Chiefs beating the Bills in a playoff game also sounds a bit too familiar, keep it together! They also played in 2021, this time in the AFC Championship game. Kansas City also won that edition, 38 to 24. Buffalo had their chances, but it wasn’t nearly as memorable as the second installment.

This time around, it’s Sean McDermott vs. Andy Reid again. It’s still Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. Stefon Diggs? He’s still there with the Bills. Travis Kelce? Still the Chiefs’ unstoppable tight end. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde still anchor this Buffalo Bills defense. Josh Allen will still have to prepare for Chris Jones and Willie Gay.

Not much has changed since the last two playoff meetings, so there’s not much else to say. Kansas City looks to be headed to their fifth straight AFC Championship Game.

Hold up, wait a minute! Ya’ll thought I was finished? – Meek Mill

Yeah, I’m going there. Straight to Dreams and Nightmares. Because a game of these proportions deserves a soundtrack that doesn’t need much of an introduction.

While a lot has stayed the same since the previous two playoff meetings, this is a different Buffalo Bills team and a different Kansas City Chiefs team.

I don’t think you need to look further than the grit at One Bills Drive. Buffalo hasn’t lost a game since Nov. 26 against the Philadelphia Eagles. That’s nearly a two month span in which the Bills have gone 6-0, taking down the Chiefs at Arrowhead, the Dallas Cowboys at home, the Dolphins to win the AFC East title, and the Steelers in the Wild Card game. That’s a lot of winning and coming against some of the top teams in the league.

But they don’t want this season to end short like the past few have. This Bills team wants to be that team. To do that? They’ve gotta go through Kansas City.

“They’ve been at the top of the mountain. They know what it takes to get there,” said Allen. “We’ve yet to do that.”

In 2024, that statement could finally change. For the first time in his playoff career, Patrick Mahomes will have to play a road game. Highmark Stadium is the setting on Sunday and that means Bills Mafia can play an extra role in giving the Bills a boost.

“It’s nice to have the fans behind you. I think little nuances like not having to use silent cadences is always a plus,” said Bills center Mitch Morse.

“For them to step into our home, it’s gonna be drastically different,” said Dawkins.

Of course, raucous Arrowhead Stadium didn’t seem to slow down the Bills two playoffs ago. Though it was a losing effort, 36-points in four quarters is about all you can ask for in a road playoff game.

Morse said he expects the same for this week – a Chiefs team to be ready for “a great atmosphere.”

But Morse also mentioned adversity. Kansas City has dealt with their fair share this season. Taking rookie standout Rashee Rice out of the equation, the rest of the KC wideout group has been… well… disastrous.

Kadarius Toney’s ‘highlight reel’ of dropped passes might rival Tavon Austin’s college football mixtape of jaw-dropping plays. Marquez Valdes-Scantling was supposed to be an important free agent addition. Instead, he caught a career-worst 21 passes for 315 yards and 1 touchdown. There’s also no Tyreek Hill, who departed for the Miami Dolphins in the 2022 offseason.

Even Kelce, who has dominated the tight end position for a decade, failed to go over 1,000 yards for the first time since 2015. He didn’t play in the final game of the season, but still likely would have had his fewest yards since 2017. The 34-year-old is hitting the last days of his prime.

Somehow, the Chiefs defense carried Kansas City to a Wild Card win over the Miami Dolphins. But don’t let that distract you from the fact that Patrick Mahomes has never lost in the Divisional Round. If there’s one quarterback who can overcome some offensive struggles, I’ll take Mahomes.

But the problem there is there’s isn’t just one quarterback that falls under that criteria. Josh Allen exists, and his Buffalo Bills have handled adversity like nobody’s business.

Defensively speaking, the Bills defense has overcome as many injuries as any team in the league. That isn’t stopping them from playing at a high level every week, especially during this winning streak.

“I give our guys a ton of credit. It’s really the way that they’ve taken the bull by the horns and said, hey, we’re gonna figure this thing out,” said McDermott. “That takes special people with special mindsets.

The offense hasn’t had to deal with injuries as frequent as the defense had, but had different obstacles to overcome. After the team let go of Offensive Coordinator Ken Dorsey on Nov. 14, Joe Brady was promoted and practically forced to figure things out. For the most part, things have run smoother.

“We’re just a group that’s used to playing freely, understanding that if you can do that and not worried about making mistakes, then usually good things happen,” said Morse.

Those good things would be the six straight wins, all coming with the pressure of a loss potentially sending the Bills packing to Cancun, the Steelers game all the more literal.

“There’s guys that are home,” said Dawkins. “It is a week to week league and when you get to the postseason, it’s literally a day to day league. We could be here today and gone tomorrow.”

So how do the Buffalo Bills plan on doing the impossible and sending the Kansas City Chiefs home before the AFC Championship Game? It’s not rocket science, really. It’s not a secret wing sauce or anything unheard-of before. Nope, this is all about execution.

And trust me, I wish it were something else. I’ve heard Sean McDermott say “execute correctly,” more than I’ve heard my own mother say “good morning.” But at this point in the season, the head coach’s words couldn’t be truer. The team is on board.

“It’s all about us doing our one-eleventh,” said defensive end Greg Rousseau.

If all 11 starters on offense and defense, all 53 players on the active roster, all of the coaching staff can do their part, there’s no reason why the Bills can’t come out on top and stop Kansas City’s run short at a third Super Bowl in five years.

It would also seem fitting if the Buffalo Bills are the team to put an end to the Chiefs’ AFC Championship appearance streak. They’ve been there before and have come up short. The City of Buffalo has had some great sports teams, but they’ve been known as second-place finishers.

Sunday won’t win the Bills the Super Bowl, but it can be a necessary step to get there.

“This is exactly how I want it and I’m pretty sure I can talk for the whole locker room, yes, this is how we want it,” said Dawkins. “Come to us. Be cold with us and feel it.”