Squawka NFL

“Look beyond the quarterbacks” – Supporting cast key as Kansas City Chiefs offense meets Buffalo Bills defense

By Nat Coombs

Bills v Chiefs predictions

Published: 14:40, 7 October 2021

The quarterback is the most influential position in the NFL, and quite possibly in any team sport, which is why they’re typically paid the biggest bucks, get the most attention and are protected in training like a Hollywood diva on a movie set — no eye contact and absolutely no touching.

It’s logical enough, because finding a franchise quarterback is a little like locking in a binge-watchable drama on your on-demand platform of choice. There’s a lot of choice, but very little real quality. For every Sopranos or Succession there are hundreds of non-starters, and you find yourself watching about seven minutes of a middle-of-the-road cop show set in Boston, before flipping to the next one.

Teams routinely go all-in via the Draft, only to find their chosen one has fallen short, and they have to go back to the start. Despite the first-round status, it’s not a given that you’ll land your guy just by spending a high pick. Sure, you could strike gold and land Justin Herbert, who looks like he’s going to be playing at the highest level for the next fifteen years, but chances are you’re getting a guy who’ll burn brightly with potential and carry the hope of the fans on his shoulders, but flatter to deceive, be adequate at best, and be moved on for the next roll of the dice.

Because of this status, we often see and hear games previewed through the prism of the quarterback battle, almost as if the other 52 players on the roster don’t exist, waving their hands furiously nearby, trying to get anyone’s attention? Err, guys? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Super Bowl LV earlier this year was as much Brady vs Mahomes as it was Tampa Bay against Kansas City. Two of the most compelling players in the game, for sure, and worthy of discussion and focus. But in the end, the most important components of that Super Bowl were the Bucs’ speedy, versatile, and clinical defense, and the inadequacies of the Chiefs’ offensive line that was trying to protect Mahomes.

This is a curiosity that’s particularly emphasised when framed around a weekend featuring a heavyweight world title fight. When all the hype men, trainers, spin doctors and ring announcers are cleared out, it really is Fury vs Wilder, one on one, with nowhere to hide. Incidentally, my money’s on Brady if those two ever square off. And the over/under on when he retires is 48.

So while this weekend’s enticing meeting between the Chiefs (2-2) and the Buffalo Bills (3-1) is inevitably getting hyped as Mahomes vs (Josh) Allen, given they’re two of the most exciting quarterbacks in the game right now, sometimes it pays to look just a little beyond the poster boys. What’s around them, what’s being drawn up for them, and what defensive challenges are they facing?

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It’s a match-up that pits the often exhilarating Chiefs offense against one of the best defenses in the game. It’s been a rocky road by Kansas City’s high standards this season, not least because of the calibre of opposition they’ve so far faced, with three of their first four games against teams expected to make the playoffs. Re-upping their aforementioned offensive line was the number one priority in the off-season, but the jury isn’t just out (it’s 10 minutes down the road from the courthouse, at Starbucks) as to whether it’s proved to be a significant improvement.

Despite Andy Reid’s presence as one of the true offensive innovators in the league, which can often bypass reliance on raw individual talent, some doubt remains whether Kansas City have enough talent in skill positions beyond the obvious triple threat of Mahomes, speedster WR Tyreek Hill and prototypical next-gen tight end Travis Kelce. The same critics have pointed out the signing of Josh Gordon, an immensely talented receiver whose issues off the field have repeatedly stalled his career, is evidence that the Chiefs feel this is an issue, too. But Gordon is very much a low-risk move, and supporting cast members like Clyde Edwards-Helaire (who’s averaging five yards per carry) and Mecole Hardman shouldn’t be overlooked too readily.

Mahomes is under fire in some quarters for showboating and falling for his own hype. One of his now trademark no-look passes backfired a few weeks back when he was picked off in the red zone against the Chargers, and in the Chiefs win over the Eagles last week, two of the Kansas City touchdowns were somewhat ostentatious underarm throws from Mahomes. But to suggest he should retract from this aspect of his game, is the equivalent of pulling Sergio Ramos aside and suggesting he’s playing with too much passion, or to get Roy Keane and Gennaro Gattuso together and ask them to “tone it down” a little. It’s a key part of what makes him, and the offense, great.

Buffalo’s defense ranks number one in many of the key metrics, including points per game, against the pass, and against the opposition in the red zone –- the latter may temper the Chiefs hi-jinks, but don’t count on it.

More worryingly for the Chiefs is their defense, conversely ranked one of the worst in the NFL in the red zone (28th) and lurking in the nether regions in several other statistical categories including opponents rushing (30th), against the pass (27th), and overall points per game (31st).

Part of this can be attributed to their schedule, and the glass-half-full brigade will suggest that they’ve been to back-to-back Super Bowls with a top-heavy set up (strong offense, indifferent defense), and that typically Steve Spagnuolo, their defensive co-ordinator, improves his unit as the season plays out.

This Bills offense may offer their sternest test yet in an already challenging season. Allen, who’s improvement last year (his third in the league) elevated him into the top tier of quarterbacks, is a dual threat player who can exploit the Chiefs struggles stopping the run, as can Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, the backfield tandem who’ve surpassed low expectations coming into the season and as such have added a further dimension.

Sean McDermott, the Bills’ head coach, first gambled in taking and starting Allen, then kept the faith through a bumpy early phase in the NFL. Patience is a dying virtue in the NFL, despite continuity proving to be one of the most important components of any winning team. This could be the season that it truly pays off, and the significance of a Bills win on Sunday night, should the two meet again in the playoffs, is not to be underestimated in the steady progression of the team into one that truly believes it can win the whole thing.

NFL Week Five Predictions
Nat’s selections in bold | UK kickoff times
Sunday, 10 October
Atlanta Falcons vs New York Jets, 2.30PM
Houston Texans vs New England Patriots, 6.00PM
Minnesota Vikings vs Detroit Lions, 6:00PM
Carolina Panthers vs Philadelphia Eagles, 6:00PM
Washington Football Team vs New Orleans Saints, 6:00PM
Jacksonville Jaguars vs Tennesse Titans, 6:00PM
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Miami Dolphins, 6:00PM
Cincinnati Bengals vs Green Bay Packers, 6:00PM
Las Vegas Raiders vs Chicago Bears, 9:05PM
Los Angeles Chargers vs Cleveland Browns, 9:05PM
Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants, 9:25PM
Arizona Cardinals vs San Francisco 49ers, 9:25PM
Monday, 11 October
Kansas City Chiefs vs Buffalo Bills, 1:20AM
Tuesday, 5 October
Baltimore Ravens vs Indianapolis Colts, 1:15AM
14-fold @ 679/1 with Betfair (Mobile)
14-fold @ 679/1 with Betfair (Desktop)
Odds correct at time of publication.
18+ only. T&Cs apply. BeGambleAware

Nat Coombs is a British writer, broadcaster and NFL expert who has been anchoring live sport across UK TV & radio for over ten years. Nat will be providing Squawka with predictions for the 2021 NFL season.


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