By CHUCK POLLOCK, Sun Senior Sports Columnist
Weather shouldn’t be a factor for the Chiefs or Bills come Sunday evening at Highmark Stadium.
Both proved their playoff mettle last weekend in the NFL’s postseason openers.
Kansas City, playing in the frozen confines of Arrowhead Stadium, took advantage of the fourth coldest game in league playoff history — four below at kickoff, minus 27 windchill — and thrashed the Dolphins, 26-7, so thoroughly it made them wish they had never left South Florida.
The Bills, meanwhile, playing at home in a stadium which endured three feet of snow, with 15-degree temperatures and a windchill of five, pulled away from the Steelers in a 31-17 win.
Now these two AFC rivals, both 12-6, meet for the right to advance to the conference finals (6:30 CBS-TV 95.7 FM, 100.1 FM, 550 AM) against the winner of the Texans-Ravens game at Baltimore, Saturday afternoon. If Houston wins an upset, as it did last week against Cleveland, the Bills-Chiefs winner hosts the conference championship.
Sunday’s weather will be a contrast to last weekend’s for both teams as the Orchard Park forecast calls for temperatures in the low 20s and moderate winds.
THESE two original AFL franchises — though the Chiefs were initially the Dallas Texans — have already met 54 times with Buffalo leading the series 29-24-1, but Kansas City holds a critical 3-2 edge in the five previous playoff matchups.
And the Chiefs hold a dubious place in Bills’ playoff history.
At the end of the 1966 season, Kansas City played Buffalo in the conference championship at War Memorial Stadium with the winner advancing to the first-ever Super Bowl.
On a snowy Western New York New Year’s Day afternoon, the Chiefs dominated the Bills, 31-7, and went on to meet the Packers at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where they lost 35-10.
It was the closest Buffalo would get to a Super Bowl until the 1988 team lost the conference title game at Cincinnati.
However, the Bills would beat KC twice in the playoffs in the Super Bowl years, both times in then-Ralph Wilson Stadium. The first, 37-14, after the ’91 campaign and then, 30-13, following the ’93 season’s AFC Championship Game when Bruce Smith & Company pummeled 37-year-old Joe Montana so relentlessly that the Hall of Fame quarterback left the game with a concussion.
But eventually the Chiefs would exact their compensation, both times at Arrowhead. First there was the 38-24 beat down in the 2020 playoffs then, a year later, the most painful postseason defeat in franchise history, the 42-36 overtime defeat, now written into Buffalo sports history merely as “13 seconds” whose galling details need not be regurgitated in this space.
IN THIS meeting the Bills, on a six-game win streak, are favored by 2½ points over a Chiefs team that has won four of its last five.
What makes it so interesting is that it’s a matchup of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo’s Josh Allen.
How close are they?
In their first nine playoff games, each has produced a league-best 24 touchdowns.
This past regular season, Allen led the league in total touchdowns with 44 while Mahomes had a modest 27, but last year he topped the NFL with 41.
The Bills started the season 2-6 in one-possession games including four losses coming ia final-quarter rallies, three in the final two minutes.
But Buffalo evened that record in their current streak with four one-possession wins, starting with a controversial 20-17 decision at KC when the Chiefs lost the potential winning touchdown off a lateral when wide receiver Kadarius Toney, who caught it, was flagged for lining up in the neutral zone.
Over the win streak, Buffalo’s is surrendering an NFL-best 17 points a game.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs are not the same offensive juggernaut they have been when they were putting up points like Miami did the first half of this season. Mahomes notwithstanding, Kansas City exceeded 30 points only three times this season and not once in the past seven games. Indeed, it required 10 Harrison Butker field goals to win the last two games.
What’s been winning games for the defending Super Bowl champions has been their defense, which might be the best since Andy Reid took over as coach.
THE SIDE story, of course, is that Reid and Bills coach Sean McDermott are good friends, the latter having coached for the former for 12 seasons in Philadelphia, the last two as defensive coordinator, before he was fired.
Since Buffalo hired McDermott in 2017, he’s 4-3 against his former boss, but two of those losses have been in the playoffs.
Coaches, quarterbacks and weather aside, this game figures to come down to injuries.
The Chiefs are remarkably healthy with rookie nose tackle Derrick Nnadi out with a tricep problem and Toney questionable with a hip/ankle issue.
Meanwhile, the Bills aren’t so lucky.
Four players are out, two of them starters — wide receiver Gabe Davis (knee) and cornerback Christian Benford (knee) — one who might have, linebacker Baylon Spector (back) and situational safety Taylor Rapp (calf).
Four other players, all starters, are questionable: middle linebacker Terrel Bernard (ankle), cornerback Rasul Douglas (knee), who has forced six turnovers in eight games, nickel back Taron Johnson (concussion), one of the league’s best, and punter/holder Sam Martin (hamstring).
Losing Benford, Rapp and possibly Douglas and Johnson is devastating for the secondary and, with the linebacking having lost Spector, if Bernard can’t go, that unit is also in trouble.
The Bills have been on an impressive streak, but losing so many key defenders, against Patrick Mahomes, no less, spells trouble.
Chiefs 23, Bills 20
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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