Bills-Chiefs Picks, Schedule, Odds, Injuries, Predictions, More For AFC Championship Game

The NFL playoff conference championships have arrived. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers have already entered the NFC Championship Game, with the runner-up Buffalo Bills playing against the number 1 Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. The winners advance to Super Bowl LV on February 7.

Our NFL Nation reporters bring us the keys to the games, a bold prediction for each match-up and final score picks. In addition, ESPN Statistics and Information provides a stat to know for any game and the Football Power Index (FPI) goes within the numbers with a matchup score (on a scale of 1 to 100) and a game projection. ESPN Chalk’s Dave Bearman hands out helpful gold nuggets, and NFL analyst Matt Bowen also points out an important matchup to watch. It’s all there to get you ready for an exciting weekend of NFL playoff football.

6:40 PM ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
92.5 | Scatter: KC-3 (54.5)

What to pay attention to: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes says he has approved concussion protocol and will play Sunday, a huge boost for the Kansas City offensive. But the Chiefs’ run game is also something to keep an eye on. Kansas City rushed for a season high of 245 yards against Buffalo in Week 6, as the Bills played their security deep on many snaps and were determined not to let Tyreek Hill and other receivers go deep. They will definitely change strategy this time, but at what cost? The Chiefs got just one pass play from over 22 yards against the Bills last time. Can the Bills effectively slow down the Chiefs’ running game while still limiting the number of big pass plays? –Adam Teicher

Bold prediction: Bills quarterback Josh Allen will exceed 350 passing yards and wide receiver Stefon Diggs will run in his third straight game with 100 receiving yards and a touchdown. And a little bolder, the Bills will not only win, but will far outrun the Chiefs in their own backyard, punching Buffalo’s first ticket to the Super Bowl since the 1993 season. –Marcel Louis-Jacques

Statistics to know: The Bills have fallen 73% of the time this postseason, and only one team has ever made it to a conference title game more often – the 2015 Patriots (83%), who lost in the AFC Championship Game that season. Buffalo won last week with just 32 rushing yards — the fourth-fewest ever in a playoff win, according to the Elias Sports Bureau — and Allen currently leads the team on the ground with 57 yards over two postseason games. The Bills averaged 64.0 rushing yards per game this season, less than all but one of the teams have ever reached the Super Bowl; the 1999 Rams averaged 41.0.

Bowen’s matchup key: Watch for the Chiefs defense to show pressure and spin to play Cover 2 ‘rover’, with safety Tyrann Mathieu as the defender in the center of the hole. This allows the Chiefs to work Allen after a late move, but it also allows Kansas City to play zone cover with Mathieu lying in the weeds as a midfielder, in position to steal a burglar. read more.Insider

What’s at stake: The Chiefs aspire to become the first Super Bowl champion since the 2003-04 Patriots, ending the longest stretch in NFL history without a repeat champion. They are the 12th defending Super Bowl champion to host a conference championship, and the previous 11 teams went 10-1 (only loss was by the 1990ers of 49). Meanwhile, the Bills are trying to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since losing there four times in a row in the 1990-93 seasons. They have not won a single title since the 1965 AFL Championship, and their 0-4 record in Super Bowls equals the Vikings for the most appearances without a win.

Injuries: Bills | chefs | Mahomes free to play

Gambling gold: The Chiefs are 1-8 against the spread in their last nine games (8-1 outright), and they are 0-5 against the spread in their last five at home. read more.Insider

The choice of Louis-Jacques: Bills 31, Chiefs 28
Teicher’s choice: Chiefs 27, Bills 22
FPI Prediction: KC, 61.1% (with an average of 3.7 points)

Home crowd: The Chiefs have kept their attendance numbers at or below 22% capacity at Arrowhead Stadium (76,416 total capacity) this season, with their biggest crowd last week against the Browns (16,730). Expect a similar number at the AFC Championship Game.

Matchup Must-Reads: Bills May Justify Swapping Mahomes Pick By Reaching Super Bowl… For Chiefs’ Reid, “Every Down Is A Drop”, Even On 4th And 1st… How Serious Is Davis’ Ankle Injury? The biggest questions in the AFC title game… Mahomes says he cleared concussion protocol, ready to play Sunday


ALREADY DISABLED

15:05 ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
96.2 | Scatter: GB -3 (53.5)

What to pay attention to: If there’s anything to complain about in Matt LaFleur’s highly successful two-year career as the Packers’ coach, it might be a step slow to adapt. When these teams met in Week 6, the Bucs played zone coverage on 61% of quarterback Aaron Rodgers dropbacks, and Rodgers had his only multi-interception game this season. And in general, the more teams that have played zone against Rodgers in the past two years, the better they have fare. LaFleur and Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett know what’s coming in terms of coverage, and how they plan for it will dictate their success against a tough defense in Tampa Bay. — Rob Demovsky

Bold prediction: Buccaneer quarterback Tom Brady’s winning touchdown pass is not thrown to wide receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown (out) or Scotty Miller, tight ends Rob Gronkowski or Cameron Brate, or running backs Ronald Jones II or Leonard Fournette . No, it goes to wide receiver Tyler Johnson. The fifth-round Minnesota rookie only had one catch against the Saints last week, but that 15-yard spin grab on the perimeter was masterful. The only reason we’re not talking about Johnson anymore is the depth chart he’s buried on. He has a knack for making tough catches in high pressure situations, and he will do it again on Sunday. –Jenna Laine

Statistics to know: The two biggest factors in Brady’s performance throughout the season were pressure and vertical play. In 13 wins over the course of the season (including playoffs), he averaged 1.1 sacks per game, saw pressure on 14% of his dropbacks and racked up an 82 QBR. But in five defeats, the sacks jumped to 2.2 per game, his pressure soared to 27% and his QBR nearly split in two (44). And as for the deep ball, consider this: On passes thrown more than 20 yards to the field over that 18 game span, he has hit 45% for 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in wins, but only 21% for a single score and five choices in losses.

Bowen’s matchup key: How does Tampa Bay keep Packers wide receiver Davante Adams in check? It starts at the line of scrimmage in Cover 1, with Buccaneer’s cornerback Carlton Davis trying to use his height and physique to disrupt Adams’ release. If he can’t, Davis’ lack of recovery speed versus Adams’ sudden ability to part will cause problems for the Bucs. read more.Insider

What’s at stake: A win for the Buccaneers would be the first non-divisional champion to reach the Super Bowl since the Packers of 2010. It would also bring Brady’s 10th Super Bowl appearance, spanning three decades. However, Rodgers has only played in one Super Bowl. And after losing his last three NFC Championship Game appearances and 1-3 in his career in this game, Rodgers is trying to avoid becoming just the third QB with fewer than two wins and more than three losses in the title matchups of the conference (Ken Stabler and Donovan McNabb are both 1-4).

Injuries: pirates | packers

Gambling gold: Brady is 9-4 straight ahead and 6-7 against the conference championship spread. The under is 8-5 in those matchups, including 7-2 in his last nine. read more.Insider

Laine’s choice: Buccaneers 26, Packers 24
Demovsky’s choice: Packers 31, Buccaneers 17
FPI Prediction: GB, 53.2% (with an average of 1.1 points)

Home crowd: Last week’s playoff game at Lambeau Field had an attendance of 8,456. With possibly more guests from players and coaches from both teams at the stadium this week, the expected attendance is in the ballpark of 8,500-9,000. That’s about 10-11% of Lambeau’s 81,441 capacity.

Matchup Must-Reads: Finally, Rodgers vs. Brady: Within the playoff match-up 13 years in the making… ‘Too much information’ never enough for the Packers dominant offense… Award-winning achievement: Packers receivers prove once and for all… Bucs have beaten Rodgers before, but will the formula change? … Rodgers feels no extra pressure, says his future is ‘beautiful mystery’ … Bucs enters NFC title game without WR Brown

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