The Buffalo Bills know they enter a pick-your-poison scenario Sunday versus the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.
Let's first assume Patrick Mahomes is healthy. The former MVP quarterback alone is enough to terrorize any defense. But even if Mahomes, who remains in concussion protocol, can't play, the Chiefs have proven they have enough firepower to overwhelm defenses.
"You look at trying to stop them and it's kind of like, who are you going to stop?" Bills safety Jordan Poyer said, via the Buffalo News. "You look at how they're winning games, and they're making big plays, explosive plays. We've got to find a way to limit their explosive plays. They're going to make some plays. They're in this spot for a reason."
The No. 1 threat for K.C. is Travis Kelce, the athletic tight end who is a mismatch nightmare. The WR in a TE's body set the record for most receiving yards at the position, finishing second overall with 1,416 yards in 2020, despite missing a game. Kelce generated six games with 100-plus receiving yards and one-plus receiving TD this season, including playoffs (second-most in NFL behind Davante Adams: seven). Kelce needs 61 receiving yards to pass Rob Gronkowski (1,585 in 2011) for most by a tight end in a single-season in NFL history, including playoffs.
When Kelce isn't gashing defenses up the seams, Tyreek Hill scares the daylights out of opponents with his deep speed. Hill ranked fifth in yards with 1,276 in 2020, with 20 receptions of 20-plus yards, and finished second in the NFL with 15 TDs.
For the Bills, they know their job doesn't end slowing those two.
"It's not just 87," Poyer said, referring to Kelce, "and it's not just Hill, either. ... They've got other guys on that side of the football who can make a lot of plays. No. 17 (Mecole Hardman) can take the top off. He's getting the ball in his hands and making plays. Pat Mahomes gets outside of the pocket and makes plays. It's going to be a happy medium trying to figure out ways and trying to figure out how they're attacking us."
In the Week 6 loss to the Chiefs, Buffalo's defense made a point to stop the big plays. Hill earned just three catches for 20 yards, while Kelce had five catches for 65 and caught two TDs. To Poyer's point, Demarcus Robinson led the Chiefs in receiving that day with five catches for 69 yards, and Byron Pringle played a key role adding two snags for 46 yards, including a game-long 37 yarder.
In that matchup, the Bills invited the Chiefs to run the ball, and so they did, using 46 carries to go 245 yards, gobble up 15 rushing first downs, and a TD in the win.
Buffalo knows it can't allow a death by a thousand cuts to happen this time. The Bills must create negative plays.
"The first time we played them, we definitely wanted to limit the explosives, so we were playing two high safeties the whole game, inviting them to run the ball," Poyer said. "I think we'll be a little more aggressive. Be able to show up in the run game, but also get back in their deep passing game."
The Bills defense has improved dramatically since their Week 11 bye, allowing just 17.1 points per game, fewer than 340 total yards per game, and only a 35.1 third-down conversion rate since Week 12. Last week, Sean McDermott's squad held the Ravens to three points and 340 total yards.
"Playing Baltimore last week and then coming into the Chiefs is like total opposite ends of the spectrum," safety Micah Hyde said. "Obviously, they have a great quarterback. He can make any throw. Outside the pocket, he's dangerous. He's smart, he can do it all. It obviously starts with him. ... We gave up way too many yards in the run game. That's something we've got to fix. But I think the good thing is we have played these guys once already. ... So we have that game film on what we need to improve on and what we did poorly."
The proven formula to beating the Chiefs is outscoring them. To do so, however, the defense needs to get off the field and get the ball back to the offense quicker than it did in the previous meeting.