The Pittsburgh Steelers were simply in the way on Monday afternoon.
Playing on the road in the playoffs is already challenging enough, but even more so when the team on the other side of the ball is hellbent on living up to their potential as a Super Bowl contender. The Buffalo Bills are on a mission right now, bulldozing their way to a 31-17 win over the seventh seed Steelers to get to the game that matters more than any for this franchise: a playoff matchup against the Chiefs.
While this iteration of the Bills with Josh Allen at quarterback is 3-1 against the Chiefs in the regular season, the Bills have yet to get a win against Kansas City in the postseason. However, things feel different this year with the Bills, on paper, having a great chance to finally get this postseason monkey off of their back.
Even though the Chiefs essentially brought back the same offense that helped them win the Super Bowl last season, they haven’t quite been the Chiefs that football fans have come to know over the past half-decade. Patrick Mahomes has been doing whatever he can to keep this offense running with some sort of efficiency as he’s continually been let down by his receivers. This is a far different offense than the last time the Bills played the Chiefs in the playoffs, where Mahomes got the Chiefs down the field in 13 seconds to set up a game-tying field goal. Tyreek Hill, now with the Miami Dolphins, had 11 catches for 150 yards in that game, a level of production the Chiefs haven’t seen at wideout this season.
Even though the Bills have their own problems as a team, they have to feel good about their chances to get this done and advance to the AFC championship game. These Chiefs are mortal in a way that previous versions haven’t been. They still have one of the best defenses in the league, fresh off of a 26-7 beatdown over the Dolphins, but the Bills should feel confident about their ability to put together a better performance because they have a human cyborg playing quarterback. Allen was the best player on the field Monday and they’ll need him to duplicate that performance if they want to get past the Chiefs on Sunday night.
While the Bills should feel good about where they stand and what’s possible for them against Kansas City, this team is still dealing with issues of their own, most notably injuries. Losing cornerback Taron Johnson and linebacker Terrel Bernard were two big blows that the Bills suffered Monday against the Steelers. Johnson is one of the best do-it-all defensive backs in the league and Bernard has come into his own with Matt Milano sidelined for the season. Buffalo has been able to plug guys in on defense all season while playing good football, so maybe head coach Sean McDermott will be able to get the Bills rolling again even though they’re shorthanded.
This will also be the first time the Chiefs have to play a true road playoff game in the Mahomes era, which is a change from the past two times these teams played. In the same way that Arrowhead Stadium is an incredibly difficult place for Chiefs opponents, Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park offers the Bills a similar home-field advantage that they’ll finally be able to use against their most important rival.
"We're going to need a fantastic atmosphere," Allen told reporters postgame about the upcoming game against the Chiefs.
These are the moments that Bills seasons are about now. Getting to the playoffs is the expectation as long as they have one of the true elite quarterbacks in football. A wild-card game against the Steelers is just a speed bump on the path toward what they want and what they’re capable of — hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. It won’t be easy, but this is the best shot the Bills are going to have to finally get past this roadblock.