Half a season down, half a season to go. Although the Buffalo Bills currently sit at 5-3, finishing the season at 10-6 or better isn’t going to be a cakewalk by any means. After 9 weeks, the logjam in the middle of the AFC is tight. How tight? The current playoff picture includes twelve teams that are either leading their division, tied for a wild card position, or are one game behind in either of those two categories. The good news is most of the teams still have to play each other down the stretch, thinning the playoff pool as the season winds down. The bad news? Six of the Bills final eight games are against AFC playoff contenders.
As long as Buffalo’s playoff drought has been, just making the playoffs will satiate the desires of the majority of fans. Making the playoffs this year would mean much more. Going through the schedule gauntlet the Bills would have to endure to make the postseason in such a tight race doesn’t make the Bills a contender just this year; it would show that the team has what it takes to make a solid run for years to come.
On an unrelated note, I just asked my 9 year old son who the best team in football is. Naturally, his answer was the Buffalo Bills. A splendid answer indeed, but his response to a follow up question of “why” was even better. Why are we the best team? “Because we’re awesome”. Dam right we’re awesome, now let’s get to the Triple Take!
Offense – Sammy Watkins.
This was hard. Kyle Orton has taken the passing game to new levels, but Sammy Watkins has proven to be more than worth the picks given up for him. Every time the ball gets into his hands he is a threat to score. Watkins is averaging 15.5 yards a catch, leads the team in receptions (38), yards from scrimmage (590), and touchdowns (5). How good are those numbers? Watkins needs only 66 yards to best last year’s team leader in yards (Scott Chandler), and has three more touchdowns than any other player this year (three tied with 2 each).
Defense – Marcell Dareus. The player that made me want to rip my hair (or whats left of it) out in the offseason is having by far the best season of any Bills defender up to the halfway point. Dareus has been the anchor of a defense that currently stands second in both takeaways (18) and sacks (28). His team-leading seven sacks may seem impressive (they are), but what’s more impressive is that he gets them when the team needs them the most. All seven sacks from Dareus have come when the Bills were either tied (2) or trailing (5).
Special Teams – Dan Carpenter. This guy is as solid as it gets. The Bills rolled the dice on Carpenter last year, giving him a one-year contract as a free agent. After outplaying the terms of that deal, Buffalo handed over big money to keep the kicker in town. Has he lived up to the pay increase? He’s having the second best season of his career (only to last year), and has already made two game-winning kicks.
WHY BUFFALO WOULD LOSE TO THE CHIEFS
Jamaal Charles. The Bills run defense has played remarkably through eight games this season, but they haven’t faced off against a running back remotely close to Charles’ capability. Jamaal Charles is one of few running backs that can beat a team three ways: up the middle with power, on the edge with speed, and out of the backfield in the passing game. The only knock on his career to date has been his susceptibility to injuries, but that seems to be in the past. Look for the Chiefs to use him early and often, as he’s as healthy as can be coming into this game.
AFC East Dominance. As a byproduct of NFL scheduling, Kansas City has to face off against all AFC East teams this year, and has been dominant in doing so thus far. The Chiefs are 3-0 against the division, leaving Buffalo as the last team remaining. The games haven’t been close, either. The Chiefs’ have averaged 20 points more per game than their AFC East foes. This stat alone may not bode well for the Bills. Teams tend to be built around playing and beating division rivals first and foremost in order to secure a playoff spot, and Kansas City’s team might be built to effectively counter the AFC East style of play.
Coaching. I believe Doug Marrone is doing a hell of a job in Buffalo, but he’s no Andy Reid. After putting up winning season after winning season in Philadelphia, they showed him the door once things no longer worked. When Lindy Ruff left the Buffalo Sabres, I heard a commentary piece that reminded me a lot of Reid’s situation in Philly. When a coach is in one place too long, it doesn’t matter how good he is; the message will begin to fall on deaf ears after too many years of hearing the same thing. Change has been good for Reid, as his new team went from doormat to playoff contender in his first year.
WHY BUFFALO CAN BEAT THE CHIEFS
Run Defense. The Jets were able to hold Jamaal Charles under 100 yards rushing, but he was still able to find the end zone. Buffalo will have their hands full with him all day, but they have more talent than the Jets when it comes to stopping the run. Charles is the only elite weapon Kansas City has; if he cannot get into a groove, the Chiefs are going to be in for a long day.
Winning Third Down. Kansas City has been successful this year using a tried and true formula: Keep the other team off the field. The Chiefs are 21st in the NFL in total plays ran, yet are 6th in time of possession. Being 2nd in the league on converting 3rd downs definitely helps. This effectiveness could be a byproduct of the schedule. Denver is the only team Kansas City has faced this year that boasts a defense that is better than 40% in stopping teams on third down. Buffalo comes off their bye week holding the 5th best third down defense in the NFL.
How do you contain a wide receiver as talented as Sammy Watkins? You focus your defensive game plan around him. Woods should see his fair share of single coverage in this game, and Buffalo would be mistaken not to throw his way. Although the Chiefs lead the league in passing yards allowed/game (199) and CB Sean Smith is having an excellent year for the Chiefs (10 passes defensed, 1 interception), the rest of the teams passing defense isn’t impenetrable. Kansas City has only 4 interceptions on the year, tied for 5th lowest in the league.
These two teams are eerily similar in how they’re designed to run, but the current lack of a running threat for Buffalo offsets their talent edge in the passing game. Not only do I see this game coming down to the very last play, if my reputation were on the line to call this game I would need a coin to flip. For argument’s sake, though, I’ll go out on a limb and take the Bills to win 21-20. It’s not because I’m a homer (which I totally am), it’s because of the giant gap in this particular stat.