While the NFC Championship will feature two hardened veteran quarterbacks going head-to-head, the AFC game is very much a window on the position’s future. The home team’s triggerman Patrick Mahomes has been a starter for three years and thrown a staggering 114 touchdowns in that time. His opposite number here, Josh Allen, entered his second season with huge question marks over his name, but has dispelled them with 4,544 yards in the air and a 107.2 passer rating. The reigning champion Chiefs start this game as undoubted favorites, but Buffalo will certainly give them a thorough test.
Will Mahomes start for KC?
Let’s deal with the key variable for Kansas coming into this game. Mahomes left last week’s Divisional game against Cleveland after a heavy hit, and has been under concussion protocol all week. If he doesn’t clear the protocol before Sunday, the hosts and favorites would start with Chad Henne under center. Given that Henne was beaten out for a starting job in Jacksonville by Good Place punchline Blake Bortles, that’s a big concern. The good news for Chiefs fans is that Mahomes practised as a starter on Thursday and will probably take the field. He may need to be eased into the game, so look for league-best tight end Travis Kelce to see a lot of targets as a security blanket.
The Bills have an enviable record in AFC Championship games, having appeared in five and won four. They triumphed on four consecutive outings in this game between 1991 and 1994, a record tarnished only by the fact that they went on to lose the following Super Bowl each time. This evening’s showdown is their first appearance at this stage in 28 years, but in Allen, WR Stefon Diggs, and rookie rusher Devin Singletary they have an offense that stands comparison with the Jim Kelly-Andre Reed-Thurman Thomas trifecta of the early nineties. A defense light on star power could be their undoing here, though - Kansas racked up 245 rushing yards when winning 26-17 when the sides met in Buffalo in Week Six.
Our Pick: Kelce first TD
Not to put too fine a point on it, if Mahomes starts (and is anywhere approaching 100%) Kansas will win this game. He’s that good. If Henne starts, then Buffalo have to be favored. The noises coming out of the home training camp are positive for #15 to suit up, so we’re calling this one for the Chiefs. We’d expect the Bills to give them a good chase, though. As a worthwhile bet, Travis Kelce for the opening touchdown is interesting at +700. Kelce is a walking mismatch, like playing Madden with cheat codes enabled, and Mahomes will look for him early and often as the young QB looks to settle into the game.