It’s hard to say a 25-year-old could be passing the torch. Maybe it’s more fair to wonder if Patrick Mahomes will be sharing the torch with Josh Allen.
We’ve heard for so long this season that the Kansas City Chiefs will win the Super Bowl that it seems weird to suggest anyone else can win. Suggesting the Chiefs might not be the best team seems even crazier.
If you’ve seen Allen and the Buffalo Bills play lately, it doesn’t seem so weird.
Buffalo is averaging 47.3 points and 487.7 yards its past three games. Other than a Hail Mary loss against the Arizona Cardinals, the Bills haven’t lost since Oct. 19. On Sunday they put up 56 points on the Miami Dolphins, who have a good defense and were playing for a playoff spot, and did so with Allen playing only the first half.
While we’ve heard about the Chiefs’ prowess all season — and it’s well deserved — many of the Bills’ stats look quite similar (these don’t count the Chiefs’ Week 17 numbers, when they rested starters):
Points per game: Bills 31.3, Chiefs 30.1
Yards per game: Chiefs 425.7, Bills 396.4
Points per game allowed: Chiefs 21.6, Bills 23.4
Yards per game allowed: Bills 352.5, Chiefs 354.5
Yards per play: Chiefs 6.3, Bills 6.1
Yards allowed per play: Bills 5.5, Chiefs 5.6
Net yards per play: Chiefs +0.7, Bills +0.6
Passer rating: Mahomes 108.2, Allen 107.2
The edges the Chiefs have are small, and once you factor in the Bills’ improvement over the last half of the season, you can make a reasonable argument for Buffalo being the NFL’s best team heading into the playoffs.
Allen’s huge jump has been the headline to the Bills’ season. Mahomes once looked like a lock to win MVP, and now he might finish third behind Allen and presumptive winner Aaron Rodgers. Allen has 15 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 117.5 passer rating over Buffalo’s last five games, and their schedule included some good defenses. Some of his throws seem impossible, Mahomes-esque even. Mahomes is a great quarterback already, but there’s no reason to believe Allen can’t at least be a reasonable facsimile for many years to come.
The Chiefs are still the favorite to win it all this postseason. They are a fantastic team with a future Hall of Fame quarterback and have a lot more playoff experience than the Bills. The Chiefs also have the No. 1 seed and the lone bye in the AFC. That gives the top team an enormous edge in the playoffs, which will end up being the biggest drawback of the expanded playoff field.
The Chiefs also beat the Bills decisively on Oct. 19. Allen had a rough day. The Bills had just 206 yards. The Chiefs had 466 yards. The final score of 26-17 doesn’t reflect the blowout the game really was. Kansas City has shown it can beat Buffalo, and we can’t be too sure if Buffalo can return the favor.
However, even if the Chiefs are the best team in the NFL, the best team often doesn’t make it to the finish line. The 2019 Baltimore Ravens were the best team in the regular season and it didn’t matter. They lost their first playoff game. There are plenty of other teams that were the best in the NFL in their respective season and didn’t make the Super Bowl, like the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, 2005 Indianapolis Colts and 2011 Green Bay Packers. The unpredictable nature of the playoffs also applies to the Bills. Just because they are very good doesn’t mean they can’t be beaten by the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday or whoever they’d play after that.
It will take a great effort to beat the Chiefs. But they are beatable. Especially if they face the Bills.
Here are the NFL power rankings after Week 17:
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15, Last Week: 32)
The Urban Meyer possibility is interesting. It’s also risky. There are many enticing offensive coordinators, Jacksonville’s opening should be near the top of the list of vacant jobs and they will presumably land Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the draft. It’s essential the Jaguars get this hire right, whether it’s Meyer or someone else.
31. New York Jets (2-14, LW: 31)
I can’t see a way the Jets pass on a quarterback at No. 2. Perhaps a team falls in love with Zach Wilson or Justin Fields and gives up a ton to move up. A bounty for the second pick would make sense. The Jets have a lot of holes to fill. But passing on a quarterback when Sam Darnold has shown so little would be a gamble they might hear about for years.
30. Detroit Lions (5-11, LW: 30)
While most of the attention will go to what happens next with Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay’s future is unclear too. He will be a free agent. He barely played this season due to a hip injury — cynically, it’s easy to wonder if he shut it down in a contract year — but he is a very talented receiver. A franchise tag might lead to a holdout. It’s a tricky decision for the Lions’ new GM, whoever that will be.
29. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1, LW: 28)
The Bengals are bringing back Zac Taylor, with owner Mike Brown saying the team is “bullish” on their coach. It doesn’t matter who the Bengals’ coach is if they’re not willing to invest some resources into key positions, notably the offensive line.
28. Houston Texans (4-12, LW: 29)
Deshaun Watson deserves better. From the top down. We overrate the quarterback’s importance for coaching candidates. There are many things to consider for a massive life choice other than who a team’s quarterback is at that moment. But realistically, what else do the Texans have to sell to any candidate?
27. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1, LW: 27)
The Doug Pederson/tanking debate is circular. One thing that should be stated: The effect of tanking outside of the top few picks for a franchise quarterback prospect is entirely overstated. The difference between the Eagles picking at No. 6 or No. 9 overall isn’t nearly as big as it’s made out to be by some.
26. Atlanta Falcons (4-12, LW: 24)
When Russell Gage was drafted in the sixth round of the 2018 draft, he was lauded for his special teams play. This season he put up 786 yards receiving despite starting just eight games. He might not be a high-end starter, but he can be a valuable player for the Falcons for many years to come.
25. Carolina Panthers (5-11, LW: 25)
Teddy Bridgewater had a couple good moments, especially early on. He’s one of the easiest players in the NFL to root for. And it will be tough for the Panthers to get out of his three-year, $63 million contract after one year ($20 million dead cap hit in 2021). It’s also prudent for Carolina to start looking for their next quarterback starting right now.
24. Denver Broncos (5-11, LW: 22)
Had the end of the Broncos-Raiders game happened earlier in the season before both teams were eliminated, Vic Fangio’s mind-numbing decision would have gotten much more attention. The Raiders couldn’t decide on whether to go for a 2-point conversion after a touchdown in the final minute. They were shuttling players in and out, Derek Carr was frantically waving to his teammates, the Raiders were likely to have to take a delay-of-game penalty … and Fangio called timeout. It was inexplicable. It was even worse when, after the Raiders got that conversion, the Broncos didn’t have a timeout to use on a completion over the middle in the final seconds. Fangio’s game management has to get better by next season.
23. Dallas Cowboys (6-10, LW: 21)
Headline in the Dallas Morning News after the Cowboys’ Week 17 loss: “Contract talks between Cowboys, Dak Prescott can officially resume.” Surely nobody will tire of that topic over the offseason.
22. New York Giants (6-10, LW: 23)
These two things can both be true: The Giants can’t whine too much about missing the playoffs with a 6-10 record. And the Giants can still be frustrated that the Eagles seemingly went out of their way to lose, which goes against pretty much everything professional football is about. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
21. San Francisco 49ers (6-10, LW: 19)
The 49ers would probably be happy to see popular defensive coordinator Robert Saleh get a head-coaching job. Given that there are six openings (so far), it seems likely he will get one. However, it will also be a massive blow if Saleh leaves. He has been a big part of the 49ers’ recent success.
20. Washington Football Team (7-9, LW: 26)
Lost in the hubbub over Doug Pederson’s decisions was that Washington absolutely struggled to beat a team whose coach seemed to be trying to lose. That’s not the best sign going into a playoff game.
19. New England Patriots (7-9, LW: 20)
It’s fine for the Patriots if they move on from Cam Newton, who had a bad season passing the ball. But it’s not going to be easy to find a difference-making quarterback. The Patriots are in the post-Peyton Manning phase the Broncos have been in, not bad enough to be in a spot to draft a great prospect, without any great options in free agency or likely in the trade market either. It’s a tough position to be in.
18. Las Vegas Raiders (8-8, LW: 18)
Nelson Agholor, a punch line in Philadelphia, settled for a one-year deal worth a little more than $1 million with the Raiders. He was one of the surprises of the season, with 896 yards and eight touchdowns. The hard part for the Raiders will be whether to believe in the breakthrough, and whether to sign Agholor to a much bigger deal before he hits free agency.
17. Minnesota Vikings (7-9, LW: 17)
Kirk Cousins’ average season since joining the Vikings three years ago: 4,055 yards, 30 TD, 10 INT, 69% completion percentage, 103.6 passer rating. Cousins might never be an MVP candidate, but he’s not the biggest problem the Vikings have.
16. Arizona Cardinals (8-8, LW: 15)
Maybe the Cardinals win Sunday and make the playoffs if Kyler Murray didn’t get hurt in the first quarter. They would have scored more than seven points, at least. But going 3-6 down the stretch and blowing a playoff spot to an 8-8 Bears team is a rough look for Kliff Kingsbury. Next season is a big one for him.
15. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9, LW: 16)
The best reason the Chargers had to fire Anthony Lynn is they’ll never be in a better hiring position. This is a roster with talent and Justin Herbert at quarterback. They play in a new stadium, in Los Angeles, with a tiny fraction of the pressure of any other market its size. It seemed like retaining Lynn was swinging for a single. They can make a big impact hire now.
14. Chicago Bears (8-8, LW: 14)
Yes, the Bears backed into the playoffs at 8-8. Ask 18 NFL teams whose offseasons have started if they would change places with Chicago.
13. Miami Dolphins (10-6, LW: 12)
The embarrassment of a blowout Week 17 loss with a playoff spot on the line doesn’t erase the progress the Dolphins made. But it wasn’t an ideal finish and there are going to be a lot of questions about Tua Tagovailoa as he goes into a key second season.
12. Los Angeles Rams (10-6, LW: 13)
John Wolford looked decent in his NFL debut, but let’s not get too carried away. The Rams didn’t score an offensive touchdown and Wolford posted a 64.7 passer rating against a mediocre Cardinals defense. If Wolford has to start on wild-card weekend at Seattle, that’s a tough spot for the Rams to be in.
11. Cleveland Browns (11-5, LW: 11)
Over a four-season stretch from 2015-18, the Browns won 11 games total. Getting to 11-5 and making the playoffs is a great season. Next up is trying to get the franchise’s first playoff win since January 1, 1995, when Bill Belichick outcoached Bill Parcells in a win over the Patriots.
10. Indianapolis Colts (11-5, LW: 10)
The Colts are the best argument for an expanded playoff field. In the old system, the Colts would have been the third 11-5 team to miss the playoffs. They are a quality team and deserved a postseason spot. The Bills might not be so happy about the expanded field, considering they would have gotten a bye and wouldn’t have had to deal with an 11-win Colts team in the wild-card round.
9. Tennessee Titans (11-5, LW: 7)
Derrick Henry’s 2,027 yards this season ranks fifth all-time. Over Henry’s last 38 games, including playoffs, Henry has 4,898 yards and 42 touchdowns. That’s 128.9 rushing yards per game over a long stretch. To put that in perspective, Jim Brown holds the NFL record for rushing yards per game at 104.3 and nobody else is over 100.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5, LW: 9)
It’s worth revisiting this stat …
Tom Brady, age-43 season: 401 for 610 (65.7%), 4,633 yards, 40 TD, 12 INT, 102.2 passer rating
Every other QB at age 43 or older in NFL history, combined: 215 for 416 (51.7%), 2,562 yards, 22 TD, 22 INT, 66.4 passer rating
7. Baltimore Ravens (11-5, LW: 8)
NFL teams to rush for 400 yards in a game since 1950:
New York Giants (423, Nov. 19, 1950)
Cincinnati Bengals (407, Oct. 22, 2000)
Chicago Bears (406, Nov. 6, 1955)
Ravens (404, Sunday)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4, LW: 6)
Chase Claypool had 101 yards and a touchdown Sunday, tying Franco Harris and Louis Lipps for the franchise record for touchdowns in a rookie season with 11. Pittsburgh grabbed yet another star receiver after the first round of the draft.
5. Seattle Seahawks (12-4, LW: 5)
The Seahawks haven’t had more than 236 net passing yards in a game since Week 9. They have failed to get to 200 passing yards in four of their last seven games. Considering Russell Wilson is a Hall-of-Fame level quarterback, this stretch is weird.
4. New Orleans Saints (12-4, LW: 4)
Going 25-7 over two seasons and not getting a first-round bye in either season is unbelievable. If the Saints don’t win another Super Bowl before Drew Brees retires, they’ll look back and wonder how it eluded them.
3. Green Bay Packers (13-3, LW: 3)
If we believe 10-day forecasts, the weather in Green Bay won’t get below 19 degrees over that time with the highs in the upper 20s and lower 30s. That’s mild for Northeast Wisconsin in January. It’s looking possible that at least the Packers’ first playoff game won’t be that cold.
2. Buffalo Bills (13-3, LW: 2)
John Brown played for the first time since Nov. 15 and had 72 yards and a touchdown. Getting Brown healthy right before the playoffs is another good sign for the Bills. He can be an important factor this month.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2, LW: 1)
If there is an argument to be made for the Chiefs being a bit overrated it’s their reliance on winning one-score games. One-score games are generally coin flips, and the Chiefs had seven straight wins by six or fewer points. Even for a team with a great coach-quarterback combination, that’s obviously unsustainable. The last time the Chiefs won by more than one score was Nov. 1 against the New York Jets. In the Bills’ last eight games they’re 7-1 and every win was by double digits. There’s no shame in going 14-2 with eight of the wins being by one score or less, because 14-2 is impressive no matter what. But this isn’t the dominating Chiefs season it’s usually portrayed as.
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