On Sunday (1/21/24), the Buffalo Bills host the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL Divisional Round. In this article, find the latest betting odds for the game and a full matchup preview. In addition, get our Chiefs vs. Bills best bet which is the Bills -2.5 and under 45.5 points.
Kansas City Chiefs Vs. Buffalo Bills Prediction
The NFL’s best rivalry gets renewed on Sunday as Patrick Mahomes faces Josh Allen in Buffalo. The series rivalry is 3-3 with Mahomes owning a 2-0 advantage in the playoffs. However, both of those postseason games were at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. This marks the first road playoff game of Mahomes’s career, and he’ll be greeted by a raucous crowd in Buffalo with Bills Mafia in full force.
In this AFC grudge match, where do the advantages lie? And who will come out on top? Let’s dive in.
When the Chiefs Have the Ball
For most of the Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid era, the Chiefs have had the most fearsome offense in the NFL. From 2018 (when Mahomes became the starter) to 2022, Kansas City ranked first in the NFL in offensive EPA per play. The second-ranked team – the Green Bay Packers – was closer to the 21st-ranked team than they were to the Chiefs.
This season, that offense has hit a wall as the Chiefs rank just 11th in offensive EPA/play. That steep decline isn’t the fault of any one player, but in my opinion, this offense is sorely lacking receivers who can separate downfield. Defenses can sit back in coverage and force Mahomes to make throws into tight windows as his receivers fail to separate.
Entering Week 18 before the Chiefs rested their starters, Mahomes had an average time-to-throw of 3.08 seconds. That was the third-highest in the NFL. Remarkably, he had a pressure to sack rate of just 11.2%, the third-lowest in the league. Despite holding onto the ball for longer than he ever has before, he’s been elite at avoiding sacks.
That balancing act resulted in Mahomes averaging just 7 yards per attempt, which ranked 21st out of 44 qualified quarterbacks behind the likes of Will Levis and Desmond Ridder. He simply hasn’t been an efficient passer this season, and that extends to the deep ball where he had the league’s worst passer rating entering Week 18.
The deep ball likely won’t be on the menu this week as the Bills play a high rate of Cover 2 and Cover 4, keeping everything in front of them and relying on elite coverage from Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer on the back end. I expect Travis Kelce and Rashee Rice to catch plenty of passes underneath, but the Bills will force the Chiefs to drive methodically down the field and finish drives in the red zone.
The red zone has been a problem area for the Chiefs this season as they rank just 19th in red zone touchdown rate. That’s the lowest rate of the Mahomes-Reid era and a major departure from what we’re used to seeing from this team – they were second in the league last year. It’s easy to envision the Chiefs moving the ball at times but relying on Harrison Butker’s leg for field goals rather than extra points.
If you want to get deeper into the numbers, I broke down the Chiefs’ offensive downfall in depth for Lineups in this article
When the Bills Have the Ball
The Bills were reeling at 5-5 after their shocking Monday Night Football home loss to the Broncos, and they needed a spark. Enter Joe Brady, who was promoted to offensive coordinator and underwent a full scale identity shift with this team during the middle of the season. Buffalo became a power run team on early downs with Josh Allen spending more time under center and taking advantage of downfield opportunities on play action passes.
James Cook has been a revelation for this offense and the Bills are using Josh Allen’s legs more than ever before. As a result of all of this, the Bills rank second in rushing success rate behind a road-grading offensive line that ranks third in adjusted line yards. Allen has also taken real strides as a passer that have flown under the radar.
This season, Allen has just a 2.9% turnover-worthy play rate, which is the lowest of his career. He isn’t making the bad mistakes as often and he’s grown more comfortable throwing to open receivers in the short and intermediate areas rather than forcing the ball downfield into coverage. As a result, he ranks second in the NFL in completion percentage over expectation, which is a measure of accuracy. For reference, he was 13th last season.
This Chiefs defense is the best of the Patrick Mahomes era. They rank sixth in defensive EPA and are especially stout against the pass, ranking second in passing success rate allowed. Steve Spagnuolo has been in his bag this season with his man-heavy coverage scheme and a front that blitzes at the seventh-highest rate in the NFL.
However, the Chiefs have struggled to defend the run all season. They rank bottom six in DVOA and EPA and they’re dead last in ESPN’s run stop win rate metric. That’s a huge issue against the Bills, who will lean heavily on the run on early downs and take well-timed play action shots with Josh Allen who finished the regular season with ten touchdowns and three interceptions against the blitz.
I’m not buying back into the Chiefs after last week. They played at home with a full rest advantage in sub zero weather and beat up on a broken down Dolphins team that was littered with injuries to key players. It’s difficult to draw up circumstances that would better favor Kansas City. Don’t forget, it was less than a month ago that the Chiefs lost at home to the Raiders in a game where Aidan O’Connell didn’t complete a pass after the first quarter.
The Dolphins were the only playoff team the Chiefs beat all season, and they’ve shown us repeatedly this season that this isn’t the vaunted Chiefs offense we’re used to. Their defense has been stellar, but Josh Allen has thrived in his career against stout defenses – he’s 20-6-1 ATS (77%) against teams allowing less than 20 points per game. That’s the second-best of the last 20 years behind only Tom Brady. Not too shabby.
Ultimately, I expect the Bills to treat this game similarly to the way they treated their home game against the Cowboys earlier this season. They ran the ball at an absurd 72% rate on early downs and controlled the ball for over 35 minutes of game play. With a limited number of possessions, difficulties finding explosive plays, and an inefficient red zone offense, there are plenty of reasons to fade the Chiefs’ offense here.
I’m also backing the under in this game. This game is expected to involve significant wind of up to 17 miles per hour. In games with winds of 10+ mph, the under has gone 29-11-1 (73%) this season and 78-33-1 (70%) the last two years. For what it’s worth, the under has also gone 52-39-3 (57%) in games reffed by Shawn Hochuli, who has this game.
I understand if you have trepidation about fading Patrick Mahomes as an underdog, but Allen’s Bills are 19-3 straight up in their last 22 home games – Highmark Stadium is one of the league’s best homefield advantages. I’m trusting Allen to get this one done as he’s been the better quarterback all season.
Kansas City Chiefs Vs. Buffalo Bills Prediction: Bills -2.5 and Under 45.5 Points
Kansas City Chiefs Vs. Buffalo Bills Best Odds
The spread for this game has remained stagnant at Bills -2.5 with -120 juice. Of course, there’s a good reason for this as 3 is the most key number in betting NFL spreads, and there has been strong market resistance anytime the Chiefs have hit +3. Meanwhile, any Bills line at -2.5 with -110 is seen as very appealing, often by the same professional bettors. With an over/under of 45.5 points, the implied final score here is around 24-21 in favor of Buffalo.
Kansas City Chiefs Vs. Buffalo Bills Key Injuries
There are some notable injuries on the Buffalo side of this matchup. Wide receiver Gabe Davis, linebacker Baylon Spector, cornerback Christian Benford, and safety Taylor Rapp have all been ruled out while the statuses of linebacker Terrel Bernard and cornerback Rasul Douglas will be very important to monitor leading up to kickoff. The Chiefs are the much healthier team in this game.
Kansas City Chiefs Vs. Buffalo Bills Key Matchups
The matchup that everyone will be discussing entering this game will be Patrick Mahomes vs. Josh Allen. This game could very well be decided by which quarterback performs better on Sunday. However, let’s dive into two other matchups that I believe have a huge bearing on who comes out on top here.
Stefon Diggs Vs. L’Jarius Sneed
While the Bills’ offense has found a different gear over the second half of the year under Joe Brady, Stefon Diggs hasn’t been a big part of it. Diggs has been held under 60 receiving yards in seven of his last ten games, including a game with just 24 yards earlier this season against the Chiefs.
In that game, Diggs was shadowed by L’Jarius Sneed, who allowed just one catch for three yards on four targets. His other 21 yards in the game came against other Chiefs’ corners. Sneed has been dominant in coverage all season, and I believe he was a significant All Pro snub. Sneed shadowed the opposing team’s WR1 for most of the season, and he still allowed just a 63 passer rating in coverage per PFF, the fifth-lowest among qualified cornerbacks.
I expect the Bills to run the ball all game on the Chiefs’ suspect run defense, so Diggs might not be a huge factor regardless, but he’ll be looking to get off the schneid in one of the toughest matchups in the league for a wide receiver.
That’s a diabolical Jam on Tyreek Hill pic.twitter.com/tlly7MwsjC
— Coach Dan Casey (@CoachDanCasey) January 14, 2024
Chiefs’ Offensive Tackles Vs. Bills’ Edge Rushers
While the Chiefs’ lack of reliable downfield separators has been a bigger issue for their offense, the offensive tackle spots have also been a weakness. Both Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor ranked outside the top 40 qualified offensive tackles in PFF’s pass-blocking grades this season.
Both of the Chiefs’ starting tackles also both had issues with penalties this season, although it’s worth noting that offensive holding penalties declined by 52% in Wild Card weekend and false start penalties declined by 23% compared to the six referees’ regular season averages according to Sharp Football.
Regardless of the penalties, Buffalo should be able to get consistent pressure in this game. In their matchup earlier this season, the Bills generated 25 pressures despite blitzing Mahomes at just a 26% rate, which would have ranked below average this season. Greg Rousseau has enjoyed a breakthrough season with a career-high 59 pressures per PFF, and he should be a huge factor here.
— Daniel Adams (@Im_DanielAdams) January 18, 2024
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