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Buffalo is perfect site for Mahomes to play his first road playoff game

Fitting that Patrick Mahomes provided a weather forecast as he looked ahead to the first official road playoff game of his NFL career on Sunday at not-so-balmy Buffalo.

Just the thought of a trip to western New York in January might be an intimidation factor for many. But not for Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Not after they played last weekend in the coldest game ever at Arrowhead Stadium, when it was minus-4 degrees at kickoff, with a wind-chill factor of minus-27 degrees that registered as the third-coldest game in NFL history.

‘It’s not minus-30 this week,’ Mahomes said, speaking wind chill, when he met reporters during a midweek press conference.

The Chiefs and Buffalo Bills will resume what has become a classic rivalry on Sunday night (6:30 ET) in the best matchup of the NFL divisional playoffs. This, a week after Buffalo’s playoff opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers was postponed for a day as the region dug out from a blizzard.  

‘I’m sure it’ll be like minus-3 or minus-4 and it’s going to be windy and cold,’ Mahomes added. ‘It’s a great challenge. But I don’t know if it beats the cold that we played in this last week.’

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No, with temperatures projected for the low 20s, the weather won’t be the story this time. The plot thankfully revolves around Mahomes and Josh Allen, the star quarterbacks determined to push their teams to the AFC title game amid the possibility of more memorable drama. 

The last time these teams met, in Week 14 at Arrowhead, the Chiefs seemed to be on the verge of a stunning comeback as a remarkable, impromptu, cross-field lateral pass from Travis Kelce to Kadarius Toney resulted in a would-be 49-yard, go-ahead touchdown play. Only the effort was nullified because Toney lined up offsides, fueling the worst reaction we’ve ever seen from Mahomes, who went ballistic in expressing his displeasure with the officiating.

The last playoff matchup between the teams came in a divisional playoff two years ago, when Mahomes drove the Chiefs to a game-tying, 49-yard field goal in just 13 seconds to force overtime, then led a 75-yard march in OT for the winning touchdown pass to Travis Kelce. Talk about heartbreak. The Bills were 13 seconds from their first AFC title game since the Jim Kelly-Bruce Smith teams of the ’90s.

Now, with the past five games of the series played at Arrowhead, comes Buffalo’s big chance for revenge on its own turf at Highmark Stadium. And while the Chiefs have lacked the prolific consistency on offense that they’ve had in recent years (see the NFL-high dropped passes), the Bills have built tremendous momentum down the stretch with a six-game winning streak.

Maybe it’s some sort of poetic justice. For Mahomes to win his first road playoff game, he has to win in Buffalo, of all places.

‘Even though I know it’s going to be hostile, there are going to be people talking trash and those kinds of things, I’m excited for it,’ Mahomes said. ‘It’s one of the best environments in football.’

Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs remarkably hosted the past five AFC Championship games, is a rather inviting environment, too. Yet this playoff test on the road was bound to happen one of these days. Of course, the Chiefs have played in three ‘neutral site’ Super Bowls, although Mahomes seemed to suggest that the Super Bowl 55 loss in Tampa was actually a road game against the Bucs — albeit with reduced capacity during the pandemic.

In any event, Bills Mafia will be in full force on Sunday.

‘I think it will be a different type of energy from their fan base,’ envisioned Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones. ‘Especially for them. The Chiefs coming in. The last time we played them in the playoffs we beat them. So, it’s a lot of revenge going on there. A lot of tables going to be lit on fire, smashing of tables. Should be electric.’

The teams have split their six matchups since 2020 featuring Mahomes and Allen, with each of the past three games decided by six points or fewer. The Chiefs, though, won both of the playoff games.   

One thing is certain: They know each other. And not just because Bills coach Sean McDermott once worked in Philadelphia in an entry-level job as Andy Reid’s administrative assistant. The familiarity comes more from the competition.

‘It seems like we’ve played each other 100 times over the past five years,’ Mahomes said. ‘It’s a little bit of doing the same stuff and doing different stuff. You want to do what you’re best at, but you want to trick the defense a little bit.

‘Same for them. Both sides. So, at the end of the day, you change it up a little bit, you go out there and try to do your best stuff. They know you, you know them. And see who wins that day.’

Jim Irsay’s latest crisis

The revelation reported by the IndyStar, part of the USA TODAY Network, this week that Carmel, Indiana, police suspected Jim Irsay had a drug overdose when he was found unresponsive, cold and breathing abnormally at his home on Dec. 8, brought to mind a comment from the Indianapolis Colts owner in late July as he addressed the stalled contract talks with running back Jonathan Taylor.

‘If I die tonight and Jonathan Taylor is out of the league, no one’s gonna miss us,’ Irsay said in July. ‘The league goes on. We know that. The NFL rolls on. It doesn’t matter who comes and who goes, and it’s a privilege to be a part of it.’

The Colts said in a statement that Irsay, 64, is recovering from a ‘severe respiratory illness,’ and GM Chris Ballard told reporters last week that the team owner’s condition is stabilized.

Nonetheless, the latest incident for a man who recently told HBO’s ‘Real Sports’ that he has been in rehab programs at least 15 times in battling drug addiction, raises questions about the succession plan for the Colts without Irsay.

He has three daughters, each of whom is a vice chair/owner. Of the three, Carlie Irsay-Gordon is most involved with the day-to-day operation of the team and had a major role teaming with COO Pete Ward in running the franchise in 2014. That year, Irsay was suspended six games and fined $500,000 for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy, stemming from his guilty plea for DWI.

Is it possible that rather than levy a fine or suspension, the NFL will push Irsay to relinquish control of the franchise? Stay tuned.

What happened to the Eagles, Part II

This, too, factors into the Philadelphia Eagles’ plummet after a 10-1 start: Haason Reddick. Or more specifically, how the premier edge rusher was used after Matt Patricia took over the play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Sean Desai.

Reddick, who had 16 sacks in 2022, tallied 11 sacks in Philly’s first 13 games this season. In the five games since Patricia took over, Reddick had zero sacks. In four of those games, he didn’t even have a quarterback hit. What happened?

Similar to how the Arizona Cardinals tried to employ Reddick when he was lost as a non-factor early in his career, Patricia dropped the team’s best pass-rusher into coverage rather than playing to his strength. And that didn’t work, either, as Reddick had exactly zero pass breakups.

Say what about Brock Purdy?

Amy Trask, the former Oakland Raiders CEO, raised some eyebrows in the Bay Area with a comment on her ‘What the Football’ podcast with co-host Suzy Shuster. In previewing the divisional round, Trask said: ‘Four games. Eight quarterbacks. Seven terrific quarterbacks, and Brock Purdy.’

Trask’s former team moved to Las Vegas in 2020, but perhaps there’s still residual bad blood flowing between the 49ers and their old cross-the-Bay rival.

Love, Stroud efficiency ratings: Unlocking the mystery?

From the Department of Extreme Coincidence come the passer ratings for the two quarterbacks who sizzled in their playoff debuts during the Wild Card round last weekend, Green Bay’s Jordan Love and Houston rookie C.J. Stroud. Both chalked up efficiency ratings of 157.2. How did that happen?

They both completed 16-of-21 passes, with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Stroud threw for 274 yards; Love 272. There’s still some sort of deep mystery for deciphering the equation for a perfect passer rating of 158.3, but now we know what gets one to 157.2.

Road teams’ rally cry

The four teams traveling in the divisional round have combined to win 10 consecutive road games. The Packers and Bucs have both won three straight away from home; the Chiefs and Texans are carrying two-game streaks. Naturally, this fuels a rallying cry.

‘I think road games kind of fit the mold and identity of this team — backs against the wall in a different environment and only counting on each other,’ said Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield, headed to raucous Ford Field in Detroit.

‘I think it just fits who we are.’

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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