Buffalo Bills (12-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)
These two teams met in Kansas City back in week 5, with the Bills pulling the upset on the road by a final score of 38-20, but that’s hardly a guarantee they will do so again. In fact, teams are just 46-59 ATS in the playoffs in a rematch of a regular season game against a non-divisional opponent, including just 1-6 ATS as road underdogs after winning as road underdogs in the first matchup. This is also a different Chiefs team than the first matchup, as the early season Chiefs were in the middle of a 3-4 start, but have since won 10 of 11 games, including a 5-1 record against playoff qualifiers.
The Chiefs’ turnaround has been driven by two things, a drastically improved turnover margin and a drastically improved defense. Through their first seven games of the season, the Chiefs had a turnover margin of -10, but turnover margin is not a very predictive metric so I would predict that any team that had that bad of a turnover margin stretch would soon seen improvement in that metric, especially a team like the Chiefs who have an elite quarterback, which is the only way to consistently win the turnover margin. Unsurprisingly, the Chiefs have a +14 turnover margin in the final ten games of the regular season, giving them a turnover margin of +4 on the season, after a +23 turnover margin across the first three seasons of Patrick Mahomes career as a starter.
Schedule adjusted efficiency is a metric based on yards per play and first down rate, which intentionally minimizes the impact of turnover margin, and, as a result, is more predictive than point differential. The Chiefs rank 3rd in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency on the season, led by a 1st ranked offense and a 3rd ranked special teams, and they are probably even better than that suggests, as they are still dragged down by a defense that ranks 28th, getting off to a horrible start before improving drastically in recent weeks.
The biggest reason for the Chiefs’ defensive turnaround is they have gotten much healthier since the beginning of the season, when key players like safety Tyrann Mathieu, edge defender Frank Clark, cornerback Charvarius Ward, and interior defender Chris Jones all missed time with injury, with the latter two missing the first matchup with the Bills. Even without Jones and Ward, that first matchup was closer than it seemed, as the game largely swung on the turnover margin, with the Bills winning by four and getting a return touchdown to make the margin of victory bigger than it would have been.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, despite all that I mentioned, this will still be a very tough matchup for the Chiefs, as the Bills led the NFL in point differential at +195, going 11-6 despite a 0-5 record in one score games, and then they destroyed the Patriots by 30 last week, en route to ranking first in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency by a wide margin, giving them about a 4.5-point edge over the Chiefs.
The Bills aren’t fully healthy right now without top cornerback Tre’Davious White, and, if healthy, the Chiefs are the better team, but that may not be the case, as their best cornerback Rashad Fenton is questionable after not practicing all week, which would be a huge absence. If he plays, the Chiefs could be worth betting in this game, as overreaction to the Bills win last week and the public putting too much stock into the first matchup between these two teams has dropped this line to just 1.5, but they’re not bettable without Fenton and he seems more likely to be out than to play. This is a low confidence pick for now, but that could change.
Kansas City Chiefs 34 Buffalo Bills 31
Pick against the spread: Kansas City -1.5