Scampering to his right, Josh Allen casually flipped the ball high into the air and began walking back to the team huddle.
The Buffalo Bills quarterback intended to throw the ball away. Instead, Dawson Knox snagged it out of the air over the outstretched hands of a New England defender and scored the first touchdown for the Bills, whose Super Bowl odds as of January 20 are +550.
The Bills were destined for victory. And they might not be done yet.
Between Allen’s spectacular performance of late and the rest of Buffalo’s dominance against the Patriots, the Bills are on track to win a Super Bowl. Though, matched up against Kansas City in the NFL’s Divisional Round, the Chiefs are 1.5-point favorites according to NFL odds and their odds to win Super Bowl 56 are +400 headed into the Divisional Round showdown.
“It’s an opportunity right in front of us right now,” Allen said following last week’s 47-17 dismantling of the Patriots in the Wild Card Round.
A Tale of Two Seasons
Buffalo’s tumultuous regular season, marred by five losses in eight contests, was a precursor to a historic postseason performance. The Bills scored on every one of their possessions until they began draining the clock late. They didn’t turn the ball over and didn’t even face a fourth down. No team had ever done so.
And the Bills’ first touchdown is an indicator of how they might keep winning. Allen had 10 seconds before he needed to pass, a sign of strength in two key areas.
First, Allen’s mobility. The Bills ended the regular season fifth in the NFL with 4.8 yards per carry and with a modern approach. Allen was second on the team with 763 yards on the ground, with Devin Singletary leading the way with 870.
Concocted by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who’s widely considered a strong candidate to become a head coach this offseason, Buffalo’s offense remained balanced. That’s in part because of designed QB runs. They keep even top-notch defenses, like that of the Patriots, off-balance.
This exact formula led to a 38-20 Buffalo win in Week 5 over the Chiefs. Allen threw for 315 yards, ran for 59 more and accounted for four TDs. The Bills are more dangerous in the postseason as well now with a more healthy receiving corps.
All of that matters this week. The Chiefs, though they displayed massive improvements down the stretch, allowed the NFL’s second-to-worst 4.8 yards per carry. With a performance anything close to that of last week’s, the Bills possess the tools to sustain drives and keep Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes off the field for long stretches.
The importance of Allen’s time on his touchdown throw goes beyond that, though. His offensive line provided ample opportunity for him to locate a receiver in the red zone, as has been the case lately.
Buffalo’s line is perhaps playing its best at the end of the year. Allen hasn’t been sacked once in his last four outings.
The Chiefs are among the top teams in the league with hurry rate (13%) and blitz rate (28.1%). Buffalo will aim to protect Allen, and doing so would neutralize its opponent’s strength and alter the complexion of a highly-anticipated contest.
“They’ve been fantastic. The communication is there, the attention to detail in practice, the protection game. When we’re doing our walkthrough stuff, guys are just dialed in,” Allen said of his offensive line. “They’re what’s making our heart beat right now.”
The Bills’ defense, led by coordinator and another head-coaching candidate Leslie Frazier, paced the NFL with 17 points per game allowed and are third in total DVOA according to Football Outsiders. It was again superb to open the playoffs.
Late in the first quarter, Mac Jones appeared to have Nelson Agholor open deep downfield in the end zone. Jones pump faked in the hopes of luring defenders away from his desired matchup. The quarterback then let it rip.
Micah Hyde knew better. He tracked the ball down. He intercepted it and any hope of momentum.
“It was an incredible play by a very good player,” Frazier said. “… He has great ball skills and understands what it takes to track the football.”
This Bills defense illustrated discipline. Late in the first half, already trailing 27-0 but hoping to score before intermission, Jones faked a spike and looked to pass. While Buffalo easily could’ve been fooled and relaxed, defensive end Jerry Hughes dragged Jones to the turf in about three seconds.
The Bills led the league with a 15.4% hurry rate. This is while being outside of the top 10 in blitz rate (26%). They don’t need to bring extra pressure to force quarterbacks into costly mistakes.
Mahomes is 23rd in the league in time before he’s hurried or throws at an average of 2.3 seconds. But as evidenced in Kansas City’s thorough defeat of Pittsburgh to open the playoffs, he doesn’t need much time, nor does he need to be in the pocket to wreck opposing game plans.
Mahomes may be the most formidable obstacle the Bills have faced all season. Their postseason a year ago ended at the hands of the Chiefs, after all.
But if the Bills can effectively prepare for Mahomes, if they can derail yet another Kansas City championship quest, they might be well on their way to winning a title of their own.