AFC Championship: Chiefs Odds Down to More Than Just Mahomes' Health

Matthew Malec

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And now the one we've all been waiting for. The Buffalo Bills, seeking their first Super Bowl appearance since 1993 head to Arrowhead Stadium to face the reigning Super Bowl champions. These offenses are both awe inspiring, with Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes II both likely to place top-three in MVP voting. Assuming Mahomes is cleared to play (which appears likely as of this writing), this should be a fun, high-scoring affair between two teams that expect to be back on this stage for years to come.

So, how will it shake out? Here's our best guess:

Chiefs passing attack vs Bills passing defense: First things first, if Mahomes sits, obviously the Chiefs passing game takes a massive hit. Chad Henne could be serviceable given Kansas City's combination of elite offensive coaching and high powered weapons, but the time for serviceable has passed. To win this one, they will likely need Mahomes. Assuming he does play, the Chiefs place in the top five of each of our passing stats, no surprise there. That said, the Bills defense has really come on recently and now is in the top ten in each of our pass defense stats. Tre'Davious White is an elite cover corner, and Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde are one of the league's best safety pairings. The Chiefs have the edge in this matchup, but it is closer than it seems at first glance.

Bills passing attack vs Chiefs passing defense: Josh Allen also places in the top five in each of our passing stats. Allen struggled a little bit against an aggressive and smart Ravens defense, but the matchup this week is significantly easier. The Chiefs passing defense ranks around league average, which has enabled opponents to hang around against them all year long. Mahomes has usually snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and that may work against Drew Lock or rookie Justin Herbert, but it will not against Allen. The Chiefs defense will have to step up and make a few big plays, if not, the Bills offense is simply too explosive.

Chiefs rushing attack vs Bills rushing defense: Obviously, with Mahomes and Allen (and their aggressive coaches) this one will be an aerial game. Lending further credence to that notion is the fact that neither team can run it well. The Bills rank a lowly 27th in Defensive Rusher Rating, but can Kansas City capitalize given that they rank just 22nd on offense? Clyde Edwards-Helaire should return, which will help, particularly if Henne has to play, but if Mahomes is out there the Bills will likely dare Kansas City to run the ball and take their chances.

Bills rushing attack vs Chiefs rushing defense: The Bills cannot really run it either, placing 20th in Offensive Rusher Rating, while the Chiefs are 15th defensively. Given that Brian Daboll started last week's game with 18 consecutive pass calls (the only run was an Allen scramble) we expect Kansas City to allow the Bills to try and run, and Buffalo to try and throw anyways. Both of these teams are amongst the most pass-happy in the league, and they will not go away from their MVP caliber signal callers now.

Index watching: The three key CHFF indexes are a sweep... to the underdog. The Bills' superior passing defense hands them the aerial indexes and their superior red zone offense gives them the Intelligence Index. Kansas City does take Rusher Rating Differential, but that matters much less in a game like this one. The Bills are the only team left in the top five of each of the three key indexes, and they have a real chance to knock off the champs. 

Here's the reality of this game: The Chiefs are living off name value. Strip away the team names and just show the resumes, and it becomes clear the Bills should not be getting a field goal. The passing game presents a slight Buffalo edge overall, while the less important ground game is a narrow KC edge. Even if we generously called that a draw in totality, the Bills' index dominance propels them ahead. Now, throw in the fact that Mahomes will be limited at practice this week, and it is unclear why the Bills are a meaningful underdog. Take them at +3 or better, it should be available, but honestly, even if it is not, the Bills remain the value side down to +1.5. Buffalo, the drought really might be over.