Bills zoom into AFC’s driver’s seat, Chiefs reach crisis and more

The Buffalo Bills take their place as the NFL’s team to beat, while Kansas City faces an identity crisis and uphill battle to make the NFL playoffs.

The Buffalo Bills’ moment has arrived.

After dominating the two-time defending AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night in blowout fashion inside Arrowhead Stadium, Buffalo has cemented its place in the NFL’s catbird seat.

It starts with quarterback Josh Allen, who looks the part of a legitimate MVP candidate. It continues with a defense that is bordering only a historically dominant level of play through the first five games, and a head coach who has garnered all kinds of recognition. Ultimately, these Bills seem to have all the pieces in place to lift the wait of one of the most passionate fanbases in sports and make a real run at a Lombardi Trophy.

On Sunday night against the Chiefs, Allen had the kind of career-defining performance that left BillsMafia diving through tables with joy 981 miles away all night long.

Allen passed for 315 yards with three touchdowns, as eight different Bills caught a pass, while stretching the Chiefs’ secondary thin. And Allen even added a rushing score.

“What I like for Josh Allen,” former Buffalo Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander tells FanSided. “Is after having a substandard game for him, against Pittsburgh, he’s been able to bounce back and really play well. He’s connecting on some of those deep passes, that he took some big steps with last year.

“He’s not playing hero ball. When things get out of sorts, he can be a guy who crosses that line to being reckless, but he’s able to now reign himself back in. He’s much more intentional and aware of what he needs to do … Even running in the game against Kansas City, it looked like the game plan was for him to take off a little bit more, but when he got what he needed to get, he got down. When there was an alley for him to get hit, or potentially get hit, he dove, so he wouldn’t take a big shot. All those little incremental things that sometimes go unnoticed, I’ve seen him do at a much higher level, and with much more consistency.”

Allen’s touchdown passes on Sunday night were on 35, 53, and eight-yard completions where the fourth-year quarterback didn’t just take what the Chiefs defense gave him, but exposed to a national audience  just how broken Kansas City’s secondary is at the moment. He also flashed just how lofty his and Buffalo’s ceiling is right now.

 

In the 2018 and ’19 drafts alone, the Bills added Allen, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, cornerback Taron Johnson, offensive tackle Cody Ford, tight end Dawson Knox and others. Meanwhile, Buffalo mined Greg Rousseau with the No. 30 overall pick in 2020, who was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

Beane’s vision has produced a roster that leads the NFL in scoring offense (34.4 points per game), scoring defense (allowing just 12.8 points per game), and has outscored opponents 156-41 over the past four weeks, culminating in Sunday night’s 38-20 shellacking of the Chiefs.

“I really feel like the Bills are built for this,” Alexander says. “They’re at the right moment having gone through some of those tough losses, have a great mix of veteran and young players. And they have a great culture that people really buy into, to the point that when things go wrong, they can go back to something to get them back to where they need to be.”

The Bills have the talent and the star power on both sides of the ball to contend, but McDermott is the culture driver who has turned Buffalo’s program into one the rest of the league hopes to emulate.

“He is true to who he is,” Alexander says is what makes McDermott special. “He has a way about going about doing things. He was obviously around two great coaches; Andy Reid and Ron Rivera, but he’s made that program his own, he’s not trying to be those guys. He’s humble, he’s receptive to criticism and asking for people to have input, and he takes those ideas before moving forward with what he believes is best for the team.”

Under McDermott, the Bills are 42-27, have won a pair of playoff games, and to this point this season have the inside track on home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs come January.

That kind of success doesn’t happen overnight, or by accident.

“He’s not a coach who believes he needs to be served by everybody else, he is all about serving,” Alexander explains. “Whether it’s at practice, and someone needs a tackling dummy, or someone to give a certain look on a play, he’s going to jump in there and help. If there’s towels on the ground in the locker room, he’s going to go and pick them up.

“That might not equate to wins, but it establishes a culture to where you have superstars and egos, and a guy at the top who leads with humility and service. It’s tough for a player to walk in there and think that they’re running the show, or want to act out. I think Sean’s culture is conducive to creating a winning environment. It’s all about doing your job and serving the guys around you.”

It’s a lot more difficult to win in the NFL when teams place a target on your back every week and deliver their best game against you every Sunday. That’s the position the Bills now occupy, albeit with the NFL’s No. 30 ranked remaining schedule and a slate of opponents with a meager .397 winning percentage the rest of the way.

The Bills’ fate, and the fortunes of BillsMafia just might come down to Allen’s ability to cast out Buffalo’s biggest demons of all; the ghosts of Jim Kelly, Thurmon Thomas, Don Beebe, Andre Reed and the rest of the 1990s Bills who came up short in four consecutive Super Bowls.

“He can win a Super Bowl,” Alexander says of Allen. “He has the ability, and the talent.”

Chiefs staring identity crisis, uncertain future right in the face

The Chiefs, on the receiving end of Buffalo’s beatdown, now find themselves staring at 2-3, and for the first time in the Andy Reid-Patrick Mahomes era searching for an identity.

Kansas City trails the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC West by two games, having already lost to Justin Herbert and Co. at Arrowhead. They also have defeats against Buffalo and the Baltimore Ravens, so winning tiebreakers might be tough.

That is, if they can survive the NFL’s second-toughest remaining schedule and make a playoff push at all.

“They can’t keep losing all these games, at some point you put yourself so far behind that you make it that much harder to get back,” Alexander explains. “Especially with how many great teams there are in the AFC … Defensively, there are things they can correct. I don’t think they’re broken, they’re just not making plays and not executing. Against the Bills, some of those mistakes were mental busts, they were assignment issues.

“They’ve never been a great defense, they always benefited from Patrick Mahomes. They have to stop turning the ball over, because they aren’t scoring 40 points per game anymore. I think if they play better complementary football, they can battle their way back in, because they have the kind of offensive talent out there that’s tough to match up against.”

Mahomes has now tossed six interceptions, exceeding his entire total for the 2020 season, and matching his 2019 mark, just underscoring an uncharacteristic start to the season for the 2018 MVP.

Where do the Chiefs go from here? Can the issues that have led to more losses through five weeks than they suffered all of last season be fixed? FanSided spoke to several league sources, NFL executives, and scouts, to get their thoughts on the reigning two-time AFC Champions who find themselves on the ropes after the season’s first month.

“I wouldn’t panic just yet,” a league source tells FanSided. “They’ve probably had one of the toughest starts to the season of anyone across the NFL. They’ve played four playoff teams, and their only bad team was the Eagles.”

While the schedule makers did the Chiefs no favors, the road doesn’t exactly get much easier from here. Kansas City’s remaining opponents boast a .594 winning percentage.

“They’re going to find themselves fighting for the AFC wild card,” an AFC scout tells FanSided.

Through five games, against the Browns, Ravens, Chargers, Eagles, and Bills, the Chiefs are allowing a league-high 7.1 yards per play, and opponents are averaging 32.6 points per game. Even Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, et al., haven’t been able to bail out Steve Spagnuolo’s embattled unit, averaging 30.8 points per game.

If Allen had little concern in the pocket and could sit comfortably back there for most of Sunday evening, while passing 315 yards and three touchdowns, what exactly will Cowboys MVP candidate Dak Prescott, or Aaron Rodgers do against the Chiefs defense?

“They can’t stop the run or cover right now,” the scout says. “Buffalo got whatever they wanted.”

Further, what will Herbert do for an encore on Dec. 16, after already tossing a career-high four touchdowns and going off for 281 yards yards in a thrilling Week 3 comeback?

There is certainly opportunity ahead for the Chiefs, who have the experience of postseason runs and knowing what it takes to play in and win a Super Bowl. But, might need to steal at least two of the aforementioned games against playoff caliber competition, and run the table against the Giants, Raiders, Broncos, and Steelers in order to make all of that that experience matter.

“I don’t think there are any quick fixes for the Chiefs,” the scout says. “Jones being healthy helps. But, it’s going to take an infusion of young talent to get it right. That can’t happen in-season.”

Podcast

Quotable

“Obviously, a little bit sore after. Anytime you hit it on someone or a helmet or whatever, your hand can become pretty vulnerable. I broke my ring finger on my right hand, I tore ligaments in my middle finger, tore ligaments in my pointer finger, ripped my thumb almost apart one time so this is just, you know, hopefully something I can work through pretty quickly. It’s a little bit sore but nothing I’m not used to. I’ve certainly had worse.”

– Buccaneers QB Tom Brady, via Pro Football Talk, via the Let’s Go! Podcast

Brady was seen walking off the field from Tuesday’s practice with his right thumb and wrist bandaged. Ordinarily, that would be noteworthy two days before a Thursday night game.

But …

Last week, Brady also had his wrist and thumb bandaged. And proceeded to pass for 411 yards and five touchdowns against the Miami Dolphins last week. The Philadelphia Eagles, Brady’s opponent Thursday night, allowed Mahomes to toss five touchdowns to one interception two weeks ago, six days removed from being carved up for 238 yards and three Prescott touchdowns on Monday Night Football.

Brady’s injury might level the playing field, a bit, but the Buccaneers enter averaging 33.4 points per game to the Eagles’ 23, while Philadelphia’s defense is surrendering 24.8.

According to WynnBET, the Buccaneers are a touchdown favorite on the road, and Brady thumb injury or not, probably deserve to be.

Week 6 best bet

According to WynnBET, the Los Angeles Rams are 10.5-point favorites over the New York Giants on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium.

New York will be without wide receiver Kenny Golladay, will likely be without running back Saquon Barkley and could be without quarterback Daniel Jones, if he doesn’t clear the concussion protocol at some point over the next four days. Meanwhile, the Rams have a championship-caliber roster, Matthew Stafford is playing at an MVP level, and might be the most balanced team in the most competitive division in football.

Take the Rams, swallow the points.

Final thought

Jon Gruden had to go.

Gruden’s resignation following emails over the past 20 years that came to light via reporting in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times showed the most abhorrent aspects of Gruden’s character. It also unfortunately illustrates how much work still needs to be done to snuff out racism, homophobia and misogyny.

There was no way Gruden could face Carl Nassib, the Raiders’ defensive end and the NFL’s first openly-gay player,after writing Jeff Fisher “shouldn’t be pressured to draft queers,” following the Rams’ selection of Michael Sam.

Gruden has no place being the face of, nor leading one of the NFL’s 32 franchises if he believes Roger Goodell is a “clueless anti football pussy,” or if he is comfortable sharing photos of topless women with former Washington general manager Dennis Allen.

The NFL has certainly had missteps in how it has handled racial equality, but there’s little chance Black players within Gruden’s locker room could battle each Sunday for their head coach, knowing he called for Eric Reid to “be fired,” after he took part in protests during the pre-game playing of the National Anthem against racial injustice.

Reid and Colin Kaepernick first took a knee five years after Gruden’s first racially tinged email exchange with Allen and other high-powered influential figures in the NFL and business communities.

Gruden’s emails came to light because they were part of an investigation into the toxic work culture of the Washington Football Team. This makes it easy to wonder what else might be hiding in the trove of communications.

“I think the next step that the league needs to take is being proactive in making sure that the coaches that they hire, the players that they draft, the organization that they form are being inclusive,” former Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Ryan Russell says, via CNN. “Are being supportive and are held to that standard not when things come to light but all the time.

“That’s accountability, doing the right thing when no one is looking. The integrity level is what is being challenged here.”

Gruden isn’t a sympathetic figure. He shouldn’t be a cause celebré.

The NFL has the opportunity to move forward, to root out the nonsense that Gruden espoused, regardless of how pervasive it might be, and who shares his opinions of people of color, of gays, or of women.

Doing what is necessary to do so might chip The Shield.

But, in the long run, it could foster the kind of inclusivity and acceptance the league has been trying to market itself as for the past two seasons.

Most importantly, the NFL could take the lead for the rest of the corporate world to finally come to grips with the discrimination that’s happening across all levels of society.