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Buffalo Bills: 2 major X-factors for AFC Championship Game vs. Chiefs

For the first time since 1994, the Buffalo Bills are back in the AFC Championship Game. Directly in their path for a Super Bowl return, however, are the defending champions Kansas City Chiefs.

The Bills arrived at this stage by shutting down Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, 17-3. Buffalo’s defense got hot at the right time in their season by limiting Jackson to 162 yards and one pick-six. NFL receiving yards leader Stefon Diggs lit up the Ravens by going for 106 yards and one score with just eight receptions.

The AFC Divisional Round matchup between the Chiefs and the Cleveland Browns turned into a closely contested match after Patrick Mahomes was ruled out due to a tackle from linebacker Mack Wilson. The former MVP was slow to get back to his feet and looked noticeably dazed. Up to that point, Mahomes was having another great outing throwing 21 of 30 for 255 yards and one touchdown. Kansas City managed to hold on to a 22-17 win with a game-sealing first down by Tyreek Hill.

Despite backup quarterback Chad Henne’s admirable performance, the biggest determinant in the Bills versus Chiefs contest is the health of Mahomes. As of today, he is still under the league’s concussion protocol. This protocol consists of five steps, which begin with symptom-limited activity. This involves limited stretching and balance training. The last step requires clearance by an Independent Neurological Consultant (INC). On average, it takes seven days for a player to go through the protocols. This bodes well for Kansas City.

Buffalo and Kansas City met earlier this season in Week 6. The latter comfortably won that game, 26-17. Mahomes had a near-perfect game passing for 21 of 26 and two touchdowns. Rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran the Bills out of their own building with 161 rushing yards.

Here are two X-factors that could make the Bills come out on top.

Bills, Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley

1. WR Cole Beasley

When it comes to the Bills’ potent passing attack, most of the attention is directed towards Diggs, and understandably so. However, Buffalo actually has two All-Pro wideouts this year. The other is slot receiver Cole Beasley. He had a career-high 967 yards in the regular season. Beasley is a shifty route runner with reliable hands. His ability to get separation and find open spaces is very underrated. Despite his small frame, he is one of the toughest receivers in the league and can shake off big hits. He is a perfect complement to Diggs and together they make one of the better receiving duos in the league.

Both teams have much better passing offenses than passing defenses. So, the chance for a shootout is quite high. If this happens, expect Beasley to help quarterback Josh Allen keep the chains moving. It is possible for Beasley to for around 80 receiving yards against Kansas City. This number could be lessened if Allen spreads the ball around more to other targets like speedster John Brown.

2. LB Tremaine Edmunds

The Bills secondary will have their hands full trying to contain the best receiving duo in the NFL in Hill and Travis Kelce and other explosive playmakers like Mecole Hardman. The challenge for defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is to generate pressure on the Chiefs quarterback by just using four defenders. This is difficult as Buffalo employed the blitz frequently during the regular season. This paid dividends against the Ravens, which resulted in four sacks. Mahomes poses a different kind of problem though. He absolutely burned teams that used the blitz and is actually the best in the league dealing against it.

Even though the Chiefs employed a run-heavy attack in their prior meeting they are still a pass-dependent team. Plus, Edwards-Helaire has just recently participated in practices after sustaining a high-ankle sprain in Week 15.

This is where versatile linebacker Tremaine Edmunds comes in. Edmunds is built like a customized player in Madden. He is 6’5″, 250 pounds and has long arms. Despite his size, he is faster than most of his contemporaries. It’s hard to believe that at 22 years of age, he is already in his third year in the league with two Pro Bowl selections to show.

Should the Chiefs attempt to get their ground game going, Edmunds can diagnose and stop them. He had 115 tackles in the season and is also adept in coverage. Although his numbers went down this year, he has a total of 24 passes defended in his budding career. Edmunds has learned to be more disciplined in his assigned role in coverages, which was one of his weak points coming out of Virginia Tech.

It’s rare for tight end Kelce to meet someone on the field, that he can’t simply run over, but Edmunds is one of those people. Frazier should not depend on Edmunds to cover Kelce for extended periods, but that would make for an interesting matchup and give the offense different scenarios to adjust to.