The late afternoon (or evening in Europe) NFL window could spoil us again with another classic as this week we get the Bills and Chiefs to entertain us although if you said that this pair would be 14-10 combined at this stage of the season it would have come as a surprise.
The game will have a major bearing on the AFC playoff race where currently the Chiefs (8-4) are in as the third seed and the Bills (6-6) unbelievably are 11th in the seedings and with a lot of work to do.
The Bills and Chiefs are accustomed to playing each other with the NFL spotlight shining squarely upon them and whilst the Chiefs can probably afford to lose this game (although they won’t want to) the Bills are in a position where they need to be in playoff mode already. Let’s face it to get anywhere near the playoffs the Bills looks likely to have to run the table from here.
But who better to win at Arrowhead than Buffalo? The Bills did it in 2021 and 2022, and they would have won the last 3 meetings had they managed the last 13 seconds of a playoff game better. Despite being 6-6 the Bills measure up well statistically against the Chiefs and to a certain extent they only have themselves to blame for the predicament they find themselves in. For a start the Bills have blown a league-high 4 leads in the 4th quarter and overtime, but they have also lost to the Jets and the Patriots, and that’s a Patriots team that has struggled to score all season. Basically, Buffalo have beaten themselves on far too many occasions this year but still remain a team to respect. With Dallas and Miami still on the schedule, their path back to the playoffs won’t be an easy one and it starts at Arrowhead in a game they must win.
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The Chiefs also come into this game off a loss to the resurgent Packers last week 27-19, looking rather below-par in that encounter and that L meant that they more than likely squandered control of their own destiny when it came to the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, and the AFC’s lone first-round bye. Unlike the Bills, though, the Chiefs do not face anyone with a winning record the rest of the regular season.
The Bills offence does appear to be clicking again scoring 66 points in two games since offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was fired and quarterbacks coach Joe Brady took over; they had scored 123 in Dorsey’s final six games total. Overall, we should be expecting an aggressive offensive outlook from both teams here due to their respect for the opposing quarterback. Both Allen and Mahomes take high rank in the Star Sports Specials Market “Who Will Have The Most Passing Yards on Sunday” with Allen priced at 9-1 and Mahomes at 17-2, the Cowboys Dak Prescott heads the market at 4-1, with the pick of the prices the 49ers QB Brock Purdy at 10-1.
The Bills have beaten the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the regular season in each of the past two seasons in large part because Buffalo QB Josh Allen (six touchdowns, zero interceptions) has outplayed Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (four TDs, four INTs). Allen faces a Chiefs defence that has had plenty of plaudits thrown their way this season but the past two weeks have seen them display some tendencies that the Bills and Allen in particular will be looking to exploit.
The Bills have scored 59.1% of the points scored in their games this season, fourth in the league and the highest rate for a team without a winning record. They are also averaging a first down or touchdown once every 3.02 offensive plays, third in the NFL. The statistics make it clear that the Bills still have the capability to score points and be a dangerous offence. The Bills rank 5th in the NFL in cumulative point differential, having outscored their opponents by 101 points throughout 12 games.
Over the past few weeks Buffalo appear to be keener once again to use QB Josh Allen in all aspects of the offensive scheme. Allen set season highs in pass attempts, rush attempts, and rushing yards in their Week 12 loss to the Eagles and it’s hard not to see him having a big part to play in this contest. These teams have played five times since 2020, with Allen throwing 14 touchdown passes to two interceptions in those matchups. Allen has thrown multiple touchdowns in all five games including three or more touchdowns in each of the past three meetings. While Allen will be the backbone of the Buffalo attack, the running game against Kansas City’s bottom-5 run defense won’t be entirely ignored.
There has been a danger that the Bills backfield would become a committee situation but it would appear that James Cook may be the one who the focus will lie with. Cook has been very productive of late, going over 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his past three games. Since the offensive coaching changes, Cook has handled 20 and 22 touches after reaching 20 touches just once over his opening 10 games and more importantly he appears to have wrestled the red zone and goal line work back from Latavius Murray. Meanwhile, the Chiefs defence has allowed 4.9 yards per rushing attempt over the last three games. The Chiefs have also allowed monster rushing performances to running backs AJ Dillon (73), Josh Jacobs (107) and D’Andre Swift (76) over that time period and they could be vulnerable on the ground to a combination of Allen and Cook. Both the rushing lines set at +34.5 and +46.5 respectively on Allen and Cook at 10-11 with Star Sports would be in-play given the matchup.
Allen has a very similar cast amongst his receiving corps that he’s had in the past couple of visits to Arrowhead, with Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis his two main wide receivers. Diggs had a hot start to the season although his production has slowed of late and Davis has been a boom-and-bust performer all season. It may well be that with TE Dawson Knox expected back from injury that the Bills run plenty of two TE “12 personnel” with Dalton Kincaid the other tight end. Kincaid had his role elevated when Knox was out through injury and those two could be productive targets for Allen.
Despite the presence of Mahomes at quarterback the Chiefs offence isn’t the well oiled points scoring machine that it used to be and it no longer takes masses of points to beat them. The Chiefs have scored 50.25 points fewer than their implied team totals this season, 31st in the NFL and have now scored fewer than 20 points in five games this season after having six such games from 2019 to 2022.
Mahomes enters this game missing his left tackle Donovan Smith and his main running back in Isiah Pacheco, and that’s an absence that will hurt the
Chiefs on offence. The teams that the Chiefs have had success against offensively in points terms this year, the Bears, Chargers and Raiders have failed to pressure Mahomes and he’s been able to pick them apart and Buffalo do play a similar defensive style to that trio. The Bills defence has been a disappointment this season, and the four best offenses they have faced, Miami, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia have averaged over 400 yards of offence per game against them. The likelihood is that the Chiefs are going to need to score points here against a Bills side that will be desperate and capable of scoring and there’s a reasonable chance of this turning into another Bills/Chiefs shootout.
Given that premise it’s no surprise to see this game at priced at 4-1 in the Star Sports Specials Market “The Highest Scoring Game on Sunday”, with the Eagles/Cowboys matchup favourite at 5-2. The two games that would make most appeal at the prices in out book would be the Bengals/Colts game at 8-1 and the 49ers/Seahawks contest priced at 11-2.
With Pacheco missing from the lineup the Chiefs backfield will consist of a combination of Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon both significant downgrades on Pacheco considering his output and play over the past five Chiefs games. The Kansas City passing game has been riddled with mistakes all season long and the wide receiver corps looks in a state of flux although it looks as though Rashee Rice is now the Chiefs No1 wide receiver.
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After drawing a season-high 10 targets in Week 12 (8-80-1), Rice caught 8-of-9 targets for 64 yards last week against the Packers. TE Travis Kelce may have lost a step but he’s still the most reliable option for Mahomes in the passing game and Kelce has been a thorn in the side of the Bills over their last five meetings with Mahomes at quarterback. Only once has he failed to score a TD in those five meetings with his combined receiving line reading 40-444-6, with 51 targets in those games. Kelce’s box scores are well down on last year but he’s still topped 80 yards and/or scored a touchdown in three straight contests and remains a difficult customer to dismiss.
It’s hard to say that these two sides haven’t disappointed to a certain degree this year although both would have set the bar high on their respective expectations. That being said, both teams can still achieve their ultimate goals and make a run in the wide-open AFC. As poor as the Bills have looked on occasions they have the personnel to beat anyone on their day and the same can be said of the Chiefs.
This feels like one of those games where the two offences will push each other along and we have two of the best quarterbacks of their generation to enjoy in a contest that has huge implications for the AFC playoff picture.
BACK Over 5.5 Match Touchdowns 2pts at 3/4 (⭐
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BACK Josh Allen over +47.5 rushing yards 1pt at 10/11 (⭐
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BACK Travis Kelce over +68.5 receiving yards 1pt at 10/11 (⭐
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BACK James Cook over +46.5 rushing yards 1pt at 10/11 (⭐
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BACK James Cook to score a TD anytime 1pt at 7/5 (⭐
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PROFIT/LOSS (DEC 2023): LOSS -1.45 points