The Game Matchups Preview series is dedicated to breaking down how the Buffalo Bills match up with their opponent in every game of the 2023 NFL season. This series will look at five key matchups; Bills Pass Offense vs. Opponent Pass Defense, Bills Rush Offense vs. Opponent Rush Defense, Bills Pass Defense vs. Opponent Pass Offense, Bills Rush Defense vs. Opponent Rush Offense, and Bills Special Teams vs. Opponent Special Teams. This entire analysis will conclude with three sections; “Why Buffalo Will Lose”, “Why Buffalo Will Win”, and a score prediction for the game.
Below I present 2023’s thirteenth edition of this analysis for the Bills’ Week 14 clash with the Kansas City Chiefs. Included is my “patented” 👏 scale which ranks the advantage in each matchup from 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage) to 👏 (Minimal Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Chiefs Pass Defense
In their past two games, the Bills have played one of the league’s best defenses in the Jets and one of its most talented in the Eagles, and Josh Allen has eviscerated both. In that span, Allen amassed 691 net yards and seven touchdowns while turning the ball over just twice. Spurred by the change from Ken Dorsey to Joe Brady at Offensive Coordinator, Allen seems to be playing more versatile with an eye on the occasional big play, something that had been missing in Buffalo for most of the season. That’s the level of play expected of the perennial MVP candidate, a level he will need to achieve over the next five weeks if Buffalo has any hopes of making the playoffs. That journey continues this week, against one of the Bills’ biggest rivals in a matchup that is extremely important to both teams.
The opponent, the Chiefs, is a team that features an elite defense that just so happens to be coming off their worst points-against performance of the season giving up 27 to the Packers in a Week 13 loss in Green Bay. Still, Steve Spagnuolo’s defense is fast and versatile making for a difficult matchup for most opposing quarterbacks. Their secondary is chock full of talent including a borderline elite outside corner duo in L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie as well as one of the NFL’s most consistent safeties in Justin Reid. These three players alone should make it difficult for Allen to feed Stefon Diggs while simultaneously being able to clamp down Gabe Davis and/or Khalil Shakir. That’s the good in the secondary for the Chiefs, the bad, or better yet the question mark, is how they handle the likely loss of their other starting safety Bryan Cook. This should push Nickel DB Mike Edwards into Cook’s starting safety rule and up the snap counts of Joshua Williams and/or Jaylen Watson in Nickel and Dime subpackages. A dangerous scenario for the Chiefs and one Buffalo may be able to take advantage of with Dalton Kincaid running routes out of the slot and Dawson Knox possibly running routes up the seam.
Where Kansas City does earn some benefit of the doubt is up front where they can dominate opponents in the trenches. Chris Jones remains one of the league’s best pass rushers (more on him later) whilst George Karlaftis and Michael Danna are above-average edge rushers. Add to that Kansas City’s propensity and efficiency in blitzing linebackers and/or cornerbacks and Allen, the least-sacked quarterback in the NFL this season, may be taken down multiple times at Arrowhead. The good news for Buffalo though is that its left tackle, Dion Dawkins, is playing at an All-Pro level while their Right Tackle, Spencer Brown, has played well above expectations as a better-than-average offensive tackle. Buffalo just needs to bank on the trio of Connor McGovern (LG), Mitch Morse (C), and O’Cyrus Torrence (RG) to contain Chris Jones and they have the chance to dominate this matchup.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Chiefs Rush Defense
Much in the same way that Allen has seen a recent surge in production. so has the Bills rushing offense. Over the past three games, they have averaged 165 rushing yards while designing a three-man rotation at running back and unleashing Allen on the ground. The result is arguably the most versatile offense in the McBeane era and one that is difficult to scheme against. Drop seven or eight into coverage and you expose yourself to the ground-and-pound run game of the Bills. Stack the box to slow down the run and Buffalo will have multiple mismatches through the air. Slowing down the Bills on offense means containing one of their dimensions and doing that requires multiple playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
A boon for the Chiefs is that against the run they have multiple playmakers to control the traditional ground attack of the Bills. That begins up front with arguably the best defensive tackle in the NFL, Chris Jones. While he is highly regarded for his pass-rush abilities in recent years, he has buffeted that skillset with a newly developed run-stopping acumen. Over his last 31 games, he has an impressive 29 tackles for loss as a player opponents must consistently scheme against. This dominance results in his presence alone opening the box for other players to attack downhill and make plays against opposing runners. The result is the ascension of such players as Leo Chenal (LB), an impressive young linebacker, as well as Nick Bolton (LB) and/or Drue Tranquill (LB) depending on their availability in any given week. This duality on defense helps Kanas City clog the interior while they simultaneously possess the abilities to chase down runners outside the tackle, something which will be paramount against the Bills.
And that’s not just because of players like James Cook (RB), Latavius Murray (RB), and Ty Montgomery (RB), it’s also because of the player Buffalo has at quarterback. Coming off his first 80+ rushing yard game since November of 2022 there is no reason to expect Allen to run less against this Chiefs team. After all, the only truly mobile quarterbacks the Chiefs have faced in 2023 have been Justin Fields, who went for 47 yards, and Jalen Hurts, who scored two rushing touchdowns. In situations like this, spies become necessary but this is something the Chiefs can avoid if players like Karlaftis and Danna rush the quarterback with integrity. If they don’t, and Allen rushes early and often the Chiefs may be required to go with a spy and utilize a player like Reid or Mike Edwards, which should open up passing lanes for Allen. The Chiefs have a very good defense, but the Bills match up really well against them.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏
Bills Pass Defense vs. Chiefs Pass Offense
The Bills pass defense needed to find ways to survive until they could get healthy and fully integrate Rasul Douglas into the entire scheme. To an extent, this has been accomplished. They currently rank No. 22 in Pass Defense DVOA (+10.2%) and ahead of teams like the Eagles, Patriots, and Seahawks despite consistent injuries at every level of their defense. By no means perfect, the Bills still must improve down the stretch, and with quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott, Justin Herbert, and Tua Tagovailoa remaining on the schedule not doing so could spell trouble. Still, there is reason for optimism, and with the bye week now behind them Buffalo looks as healthy as it has been in weeks as they go up against the best quarterback in the NFL.
There is no reason to remove that title from Patrick Mahomes even though he is having a down year. Through 13 weeks he ranks No. 10 in QuBeR (53.73) as he has struggled to integrate all the new and inexperienced pass catchers at his disposal. Travis Kelce remains his primary target and is on pace for nearly the exact stat line he has averaged the past couple of seasons as the NFL’s unquestioned TE1. After him though there is a dearth of talent at the receiver position. Second-round pick Rashee Rice is the Chiefs’ unquestioned WR1 as a player with the potential to be an above-average WR1 but requiring some work to get close to that point. Behind him are Justin Watson, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Skyy Moore, all of whom are fine wide receivers but none one-on-one world beaters. In fact, TE2 Noah Gray may be the Chiefs’ true receiver three as they struggle to find any consistency through the air with pass catchers.
Making matters worse for the Chiefs’ passing attack is an offensive line that despite being talented has some major issues. Their starting left tackle, Donovan Smith, seems unlikely to play this week meaning that rookie Wanya Morris should get the start and have to contend with Leonard Floyd (DE) and his team-leading 9.5 sacks. On the other side of the line Jawaan Taylor (RT) isn’t much more reliable as he currently leads the league in penalties with a whopping 16 as he struggles to legally block pass rushers with skillsets similar to Greg Rousseau (DE) and AJ Epenesa (DE). The inside is far more consistent where Joe Thuney (LG), Creed Humphrey (C), and Trey Smith (RG) are all above-average blockers and should cause issues for Buffalo’s internal pass rush. Expect Buffalo to approach defending the Chiefs in much the same way it did Jalen Hurts with a containment pass rush aimed at keeping Mahomes in the pocket and forcing his receivers to run free downfield.
ADVANTAGE: Chiefs 👏👏
Bills Rush Defense vs. Chiefs Rush Offense
Much like the Bills Pass Defense, the Bills Rush Defense has remained afloat despite losing two of their front-seven studs in Matt Milano (LB) and DaQuan Jones (DT). They rank No. 16 in Run Defense DVOA (-11.7%) holding four of their prior six opponents to under 100 rushing yards. The credit for this is owed largely to dark horse All-Pro candidate, Terrel Bernard, and the surprising Tyrel Dodson, each of whom have played well above expectations at linebacker. They are meeting players in the hole consistently while possessing the ability to scrape down the line and make plays at the edge when necessary. Against the Chiefs, and their next five opponents, the Bills will rely on both Bernard and Dodson to hold down the fort with hopes that if a playoff run were to occur Milano could make a surprising return.
This week there are major questions over who the Bills will need to defend against in the traditional run game. Isiah Pacheco is the Chiefs hard-running RB1 but has popped up on the injury report with a shoulder issue this week. When healthy Pacheco has generated 779 yards with a 4.4 yards per attempt as arguably the most consistent part of the Chiefs offense. Behind him is veteran Jerick McKinnon who is a better option through the air than on the ground, but he is working his way back from a groin injury and remains questionable for Sunday’s contest. This may leave Clyde Edwards-Helaire (CEH) as the Chiefs only healthy proven running back. Now 24, CEH’s yards per attempt has slowly decreased throughout his career and now in 2023 is producing just a 3.5 Y/A as a shell of the player he was in his rookie season in 2020. There are too many questions around the Chiefs’ RB room to fully understand just how successful the Chiefs will be on the ground but knowing Buffalo must bail out to stop the pass should open at least a handful of running lanes for the Chiefs.
Kanas City also has a fair number of alternative approaches to moving the ball on the ground. Skyy Moore is occasionally used in jet sweeps while a healthy Kadarius Toney could be used in that regard multiple times in a single drive. With Buffalo being susceptible to rushes to the edge don’t be surprised if Kanas City attacks them in this manner with hopes that Buffalo’s defensive ends are biting towards Patrick Mahomes. Speaking of Mahomes, though not as mobile as quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen, he has the ability to extend drives with the best of them. On the season he has accounted for 21 first downs with his legs as he possesses an uncanny ability to sense pressure and attack open running lanes as they appear. Buffalo will need to account for this, and if they don’t will struggle to keep the Chiefs under 28 points this weekend.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Chiefs Special Teams
We are getting awfully close to having a Tyler Bass problem, but we aren’t there yet. He has still made a solid 52 out of his 58 kicks for a kick rate of 89.7% making him an above-average option in the kicking game. Not as reliable is the Bills Punter, Sam Martin, who has had a rough go of things as of late. Amongst 37 qualifiers, Martin currently ranks No. 31 in yards per punt (44.5) and No. 36 in net yards per punt (38.1). Though rarely used there is some concern that if Martin must enter the game the ability to flip field position is lacking. Even less reliable for Buffalo is the return game where we literally do not know who will be returning kicks and punts. The answer to both is dependent on if Deonte Harty is healthy. If he is expect him to return punts and Khalil Shakir to return kicks but if he isn’t don’t be surprised if you see Shakir on punts and someone else on kicks.
For Kansas City Special Teams has been a bright spot. On the season its kicker, Harrison Butker, has attempted 51 kicks and made…51 kicks. That’s right, to date, Butker has yet to miss a kick, and against a Bills team that rarely benefits from missed kicks there is no reason to expect a missed kick to occur this week. Punting for the Chiefs is the reigning First Team All-Pro, Tommy Townsend. Though not playing as well as last season his 48.1 yards per punt and 42.3 net yards per punt has still been impressive in 2023. Last but not least is the Chiefs return game which has been as in flux as the Bills have. Most recently Richie James has handled both kick and punt returns for the Chiefs but is a player far shy of the ability of elite NFL returners.
ADVANTAGE: Chiefs 👏👏👏
Why Buffalo Will Lose
When you have Mahomes, there is always a chance you can win no matter what is happening around them. Despite a major dip in statistics, the talent is still there for Mahomes who has a history of overcoming obstacles in major games such as this one. At home in front of the Chiefs faithful don’t be surprised if Mahomes puts up his best numbers of the season and produces a shootout with the Bills. If, or better yet when, Mahomes starts succeeding through the air the Chiefs should find some success on the ground with Pacheco…or McKinnon… or Edwards-Helaire… or anyone else Kansas City elects to carry the ball.
On the other side, the Chiefs are going to look to beat the Bills in the same way every other team does: force Allen into multiple turnovers. This can occur through a pass rush led by players like Jones and Karlaftis or defensive backs like McDuffie and Reid jumping passes, or better yet some combination of both. They will have to force at least one turnover to win this game but if they can do that and hold the Bills in check on the ground this could be a guaranteed victory for Kansas City.
Why Buffalo Will Win
When you have Allen, there is always a chance you can win no matter what is happening around them. What we saw against the Eagles was a player with the ability to carry an entire team on his back, even though the game did not end victorious. Allen and his receivers match up well against Kansas City this week and even though most teams have struggled against the Chiefs, they have yet to play a passer playing at Allen’s level this season. Couple that with some yardage from Cook and the Bills’ other runners and don’t be surprised if the Bills push 30 points in the game.
On defense, the Bye Week should do Buffalo well as it can get healthy and on the same page as an entire defense. The scheme will rely on slowing down Kelce and Kansas City’s running game and forcing Mahomes to beat Buffalo by way of his other receivers. Expect Buffalo to approach this game with a lot of one-on-one matchups with hopes that a four-man rush can find its way to Mahomes multiple times this game. Toss in a turnover or two for a Chiefs team as prone to such events as the Bills and Buffalo could keep their season alive with a big win in Kansas City.
Prediction: Bills 27 – Chiefs 24
Yes, the Chiefs are 8-4 and the Bills 6-6 but if you have watched these teams the last few weeks one is clearly playing better than the other, and that’s Buffalo. The advantage provided by the Bye Week is likely removed by Kansas City’s advantage as the home team so expect this game to be pretty even throughout. It may come down to the last drive of the game and while the Bills haven’t faired well this season in that regard just remember what Taron Johnson did to the Chiefs the last time the game was on the line. The Bills win a nail-biter and head home to take on Dallas in another borderline must-win contest.