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The AFC Championship Game is set to kick off on Sunday at 6:40 PM EST between the #2 Buffalo Bills and the #1 Kansas City Chiefs.
We're treated to the two best teams from the AFC this year, along with two of the best quarterbacks this year in Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs are currently listed as standard 3-point home favorites, and the over/under is set at 54 points. Let's take a look at three keys that could decide the AFC Championship Game.
AFC Championship Game: Mahomes' Health and Effectiveness
Mahomes was forced out of the divisional-round game against the Browns in the third quarter with an apparent concussion/neck injury. Earlier in the game, he hurt his toe, which has been designated as a turf toe injury.
All indications suggest Mahomes will play on Sunday. He has been a full participant at practice this week and just needs to pass the league's concussion protocol.
The Bills' defensive strengths come in the pass-rush and the secondary, so a slightly hobbled Mahomes might struggle, albeit at a level that is still superior to many quarterbacks in the NFL.
As one of the true matchup-proof quarterbacks, Mahomes will have opportunities to move the ball. It's hard to imagine he's playing at full health, and if his play is altered at all, it would be a huge break for Buffalo.
AFC Championship Game: Who Can Run the Ball?
Both Kansas City and Buffalo are here because of their passing games. Pro Football Focus has both passing units inside the top 5, while DVOA rankings put them each in the top three of the NFL.
However, both defenses are stronger against the pass than the run, so the question becomes: who can run the ball more effectively?
In their Week 6 matchup, Clyde Edwards-Helaire took 26 carries for 161 yards in a 26-17 Chiefs win. The Chiefs will look to replicate that success on the ground, though Edwards-Helaire did not play last week.
The Bills run defense is one of the worst in the league, and with a potentially hampered Mahomes, the Chiefs establishing the run would go a long way in moving the ball and keeping the explosive Bills offense off the field.
Kansas City's run defense is a lower-tier unit as well, but the Bills lack an explosive runner. Rookie running back Zack Moss is out for the year, leaving Devin Singletary as the lone runner in this backfield.
In two playoff games, Allen is the leading rusher for the Bills, with 57 yards.
Singletary took seven carries last week for 25 yards (3.6 average). The Bills need more out of their running game.
AFC Championship Game: Josh Allen Taking Advantage of Middling Secondary
The Chiefs have a well-balanced secondary, but beyond safety Tyrann Mathieu (six interceptions), lack a true playmaker or shutdown defensive back. The Allen-Stefon Diggs combo has been lethal all year and will be a key for Buffalo to pull off the upset.
The receiver room is deep, with Cole Beasley, John Brown, and Gabriel Davis playing well. The Bills love deploying four-receiver sets, and Allen must find a way to reach his weapons and keep pace with the Chiefs' offense.