Conference Championship Sunday is almost here. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers will duke it out from Lambeau Field in the early game with the NFC title on the line, while the Kansas City Chiefs will host the Buffalo Bills for the AFC championship belt in the late afternoon affair.
This won’t be the first meeting of the season between the Bills and Chiefs, of course. Kansas City stormed into Buffalo earlier this season and came away with a 26-17 win over the Bills back in October. It wasn’t a particularly well-played game for either offense, but we certainly have the potential for some fireworks when the two teams get back together this week at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Chiefs are currently listed as three-point home favorites here in a game with a sizable over/under of 54 points.
Obviously, the biggest storyline heading into the AFC Championship Game is the status of Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes was concussed in the third quarter of Kansas City’s win over the Browns last week. He looked unstable coming off the field, and the Chiefs ruled him out for the rest of the afternoon shortly thereafter. Chad Henne was ultimately able to stave off a late rally from the Browns, but the Chiefs’ prospects of repeating as AFC champions certainly worsen considerably if Mahomes is unable to play this week.
At this point, it seems likely that Mahomes will be back on the field. He has been practicing in a limited capacity during the week, and head coach Andy Reid said that Thursday’s practice will be the key. Reid said that Mahomes has “done well to this point” but acknowledged that he still has some hurdles to clear in the league’s concussion protocol before he’ll be officially cleared.
This line will move quite a bit in the opposite direction if the Chiefs wind up having to roll Henne back out there. Kansas City has been favored all week, though, which bodes well for Mahomes’ chances of returning. The Chiefs haven’t lost a playoff game since their overtime defeat in the AFC title game two years ago against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Chiefs’ QB Patrick Mahomes cleared certain steps Monday, “some big steps”, but he remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol with what is considered a concussion and it’s too early to say that he definitely will play in Sunday’s conference championship vs. the Bills, per sources.
The availability of Clyde Edwards-Helaire is another narrative worth following. Edwards-Helaire hasn’t played in over a month due to ankle and hip injuries. Darrel Williams was the Chiefs’ lead back last week against the Browns, while Le’Veon Bell saw very limited work. Kansas City topped 200 rushing yards in the previous meeting against Buffalo this season, thanks in large part to Edwards-Helaire exploding for 161 yards on the ground.
You can run on this Bills defense, but the running game isn’t the Chiefs’ forte. They’re at their best when Mahomes is back there doing his thing. At this point, successfully running the ball is icing on the cake for Kansas City.
Buffalo will likely try to take away the Tyreek Hill deep ball once again, which they succeeded in doing the first time around. The Bills held Hill to just three catches for 20 yards earlier this year.
That means Travis Kelce will likely be a bigger factor. Kelce was limited to just 60 yards himself against the Bills, but he did find the end zone twice. Buffalo will presumably let Mahomes and Kelce have the middle of the field as much as they want as they focus on stopping Hill from being the one that beats them.
The Bills enter this game in flying form. Buffalo has won nine of their last 10 games overall, with the lone loss being the “Hail Murray” last-second defeat in Arizona back on November 15. If you take out that result, the Bills haven’t lost since their aforementioned meeting with the Chiefs in October.
Buffalo is shorthanded in the backfield with Zach Moss sidelined, which means Devin Singletary will have to serve as the lead back for the second straight game. Singletary played on 84 percent of the Bills’ offensive snaps last week, but he still didn’t see much work. The second-year back carried the ball just seven times. As is the case in most weeks, the Bills’ chances of winning this week hinge on the right arm of Josh Allen.
So far, Allen has been more than up to the task. The third-year passer got himself into the MVP conversation this season when he finished with over 4,500 passing yards and 37 touchdowns. He quickly formed a potent partnership with Stefon Diggs, who led the NFL with 1,535 receiving yards in his first year in town.
While Diggs is clearly the focal point of Buffalo’s offense, Allen does have other useful weapons at his disposal. Cole Beasley has been one of the more underrated slot receivers in the league over the past couple of seasons. John Brown has shown big-play ability throughout his career, while rookie Gabriel Davis quietly scored seven times during the regular season. Even Dawson Knox, Isaiah McKenzie, and Tyler Kroft have gotten some volume from Allen around the goal line.
The Chiefs figure to throw a bunch of different coverages at Allen, just like they did earlier this season. The Bills will have an advantage if Steve Spagnuolo tries much man coverage, and Allen can do damage with the deep ball if the Chiefs focus on taking away the middle of the field. We saw the Browns do damage on a few big pass plays against the Chiefs just a week ago. Considering Cleveland’s ground-and-pound offense certainly isn’t known for such things, their success in that regard should give the Bills’ more prolific passing attack some confidence in this one.
What’s the Best Bet?
We have to make this pick with the caveat that Mahomes’ status has yet to be officially determined. While he’s likely to play, it isn’t set in stone just yet. If he winds up surprisingly missing this game, it obviously changes everything. For now, we’re guessing he plays.
The spread is just tight enough to make it tough to trust either team to cover.
If you want Buffalo to cover the three points, you might as well just take the extra upside you get on the Bills’ moneyline (+140). The same can be said for Kansas City. Betting them to win by at least three points (-115) really doesn’t offer much more value than just taking the Chiefs to win the game outright on the moneyline (-160).
While I do think the Bills have an excellent chance at pulling the upset and winning the AFC for the first time since the mid-1990s, I’m having an incredibly difficult time actually betting against the Chiefs. Assuming Mahomes looks no worse for the wear following his concussion, the Chiefs are just too good to ignore at home in this one. I’m expecting an entertaining, high-scoring game, but I think Kansas City pulls it out in the end.
Take the Chiefs’ moneyline at -160. This number could rise once Mahomes’ status is confirmed, so you’re getting nice value here.
Kansas City Chiefs
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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