The Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills probably played the game of the year last night, and it came in the Divisional Round. The Bills had the defending conference champions on the ropes, but Patrick Mahomes was able to hit Travis Kelce on a big throw with 13 seconds left to get into field goal range and send it into overtime.
The Chiefs won the coin toss and were able to get into the end zone on their opening drive, preventing Josh Allen and the Bills from touching the ball again—much the way Kansas City lost the AFC Championship Game in 2019 to the New England Patriots. And, again, Mahomes found Kelce.
That’s been happening a lot lately. In fact, they have only lost won game in their last 12. It just so happens that the one game they lost was to the AFC North’s own Cincinnati Bengals—the team that they will be hosting next week in their fourth consecutive home conference finals, which in itself is an NFL record.
The Chiefs uncharacteristically struggled at the start of the season, coming away against the Cleveland Browns in the season opener with a narrow victory before losing four of their next six games, at three different points owning a losing record. They dropped consecutive games to the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers, then lost to the Buffalo Bills, and two weeks later, to the Tennessee Titans.
They haven’t lost another game since then, aside from their Week 17 loss to the Bengals, which is by no means insignificant. Kansas City still had a lot to play for at that point, as they were competing for the number one seed, which would have given them a first-round bye and guaranteed homefield advantage throughout the postseason.
Because they lost to the Bengals, the Titans finished the year as the top seed. It still worked out for them in the end, because they steamrolled the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round, although of course they barely scraped by against the Bills last night, but because Tennessee lost to the Bengals, that means the AFC Championship Game will be in Kansas City, yet again.
But do the Bengals really have much chance of beating the Chiefs twice in one year? The Bills couldn’t quite pull it off, although they did come damn close. You don’t lose a lot of games when you make the go-ahead score with 13 seconds left.
Cincinnati’s win a few weeks ago came via a last-second field goal from rookie kicker Evan McPherson, who supplied the same outcome on Saturday in the team’s Divisional Round win. They overcame three separate 14-point deficits in the first half, taking their first lead in the fourth quarter.
And it took a crazy game from Joe Burrow, who completed 30 of 39 passes for 446 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Eleven of those completions went to Ja’Marr Chase for 266 yards and three touchdowns, setting an NFL rookie record for single-game receiving yards.
If it took that much to beat Mahomes the first time, in Cincinnati, I’m not going to bet on the Bengals. But I’m also not necessarily betting against them. After all, they’ve gotten this far already, the furthest anybody in the division has gotten since the Steelers in 2016.