The last time the Buffalo Bills played the Kansas City Chiefs, a trip to the Super Bowl was on the line. The Bills got off to a 9-0 start in the AFC Championship Game before the Chiefs scored 21 points in the second quarter on their way to controlling the rest of the game, winning easily 38-24 to secure a second straight Super Bowl appearance. A team with one of the league's strongest home-field advantages continued its streak of cruising through the postseason at Arrowhead Stadium. In the Andy Reid era, the Chiefs haven't had to travel for a road AFC playoff game since 2015.
That's what makes this highly anticipated regular-season rematch on "Sunday Night Football" so important. This year, the Bills look to flip the script by forcing teams to travel to frigid Buffalo in January, securing a little home-field advantage of their own. After an awkward season-opening loss to the Steelers, they're well on their way, cruising to three straight wins to produce an NFL-leading point differential of +90. (The undefeated Arizona Cardinals, by comparison, sit second at +55).
Those dominant performances have given the Bills a two-game lead in the AFC East. They've also got a game in hand on the Chiefs, sitting at 2-2 after two brutal fourth-quarter collapses to the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers. A leaky defense has left them vulnerable, sitting last in their own division and outside of playoff position if the year ended today.
Can the Bills deliver an early knockout blow? A win here puts the Chiefs three games behind the Bills, costing them the tiebreaker and all but eliminating their chances for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Bills have one of the easiest NFL schedules the rest of the way, with just two remaining opponents currently possessing a winning record (at Buccaneers, vs Panthers). It's an early do-or-die moment for Patrick Mahomes and Reid, looking to reconjure this magic from the AFC Championship Game.
Those pictures on Instagram, posted on #ThrowbackThursday, show the Chiefs haven't lost their swagger. Can they put their money where their mouth is Sunday night?
Sunday Night Football: Buffalo (3-1) at Kansas City (2-2)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 10 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Spread: Chiefs -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Patrick Mahomes vs. Bills' defense
The former NFL MVP has gotten a little sloppy with the football. In his last seven regular-season games, Mahomes has thrown seven interceptions. That's unheard of for a quarterback who threw seven picks in his previous 26 games before that.
Unlucky number seven also applies to the total number of giveaways by the Chiefs' offense this season. Only the New York Jets and Jacksonville, teams with a combined record of 1-7, have more. It's unheard of for the league's second-ranked offense to be this careless with the football.
The Bills' defense will be more than happy to take it from them. The top-ranked unit has a league-leading 11 takeaways, producing an NFL-best turnover margin of plus-seven. They've allowed just 148 passing yards per game and just 4.92 yards per play, a buzzsaw for the last three quarterbacks they've seen: Jacoby Brissett, Taylor Heinicke and Davis Mills.
Of course, those three are all backup quarterbacks. One might say Mahomes is a little bit tougher of a challenge. His top target, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, racked up 186 yards and three touchdowns just last week.
But don't tell this Bills defense they can't get the job done.
"We feel like," Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said, "With the way our guys are playing and the confidence they have going into this game, we're not the same team or defense that we were a year ago."
Winning their last two games by a combined score of 75-0, the Bills are just the third NFL team to post two shutouts four weeks into the season. Look for them to set the tone early and seek to put more pressure on Mahomes, who they sacked just once in last year's AFC Championship Game.
"Our goal is to slow them down," Frazier added. "I don't know that anybody really stops them."
2. Will Josh Allen get some help on the ground?
Allen, seeking an MVP trophy of his own, will look to match Mahomes punch-for-punch. He's racked up eight touchdown passes and just two interceptions the last three weeks for an offense that's looked to be on cruise control.
But where Allen might make the difference Sunday is with his legs. While the Chiefs' defensive struggles are well documented, they're especially vulnerable against the run, allowing a league-worst 5.41 yards per play. Allen, like Mahomes, has the ability to be a game-changer there and force defenses to respect him sprinting out of the pocket at any time.
He's not alone as a backfield threat. A season-high 199 rushing yards against the Texans showcased the 1-2 punch of Zack Moss and Devin Singletary. Neither one has a 100-yard rushing game this season but together they do a nice job of splitting carries and producing 4.54 yards per play on the ground, eighth in the NFL.
Just a few key runs will be all the Bills need to spread the defense and get wide receiver Stefon Diggs separation in coverage. Add in the emergence of Emmanuel Sanders and Allen could be set up for a career night.
3. Who will own the fourth quarter?
These are two very different teams when it comes to closing out games. The Chiefs have been outscored 28-7 during the fourth quarter in their two losses, producing key turnovers in each (fumble, interception) to seal their fate. There needs to be a moment where they put the recent past behind them.
The Bills? They've entered the fourth quarter averaging a 20-point lead these last three weeks. So it's been a while since they've been involved in a close one. Have they put the demons of their own fourth-quarter collapse against the Steelers behind them?
Wild Card: Josh Gordon
Gordon, the talented but troubled 30-year-old wide receiver, was put on the Chiefs' 53-man roster this week. Whether he'll play is anyone's guess as he's still learning the team's offensive scheme. Suspended six times for drugs and other issues, simply making it back onto a roster has to be considered a victory in itself.
Will Gordon step up and become this year's Antonio Brown comeback story? He won't play enough to give us the answer Sunday night. But simply using Gordon for a handful of plays could produce a red-zone threat capable of beating the Bills' defense one-on-one.
"The talent, you can just see how fast he is, how big he is, the way he's able to get in and out of cuts," Mahomes said to the Kansas City Star this week. "I think we'll try to do whatever we can to bring him up to speed as quickly as possible and utilize his skill set."
On paper, it's hard not to like the Bills. They come in red hot, on a mission to get over the hump with both the offense and defense running on all cylinders.
Yet in some ways, this game means more to the Chiefs with all three division rivals looking like playoff contenders. Reid teams don't sit last in the AFC West at 2-3 midway through October. His team has looked disinterested at times this season, perhaps the product of too much winning, but understand the hole they need to dig out of. The Philadelphia Eagles found that out the hard way last week.
Games against teams like the Bills are where MVPs pull their teams across the finish line. Mahomes has done it before … and he'll do it again here.
Prediction: Chiefs 24, Bills 21
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.