NFL play-offs: Josh Allen & Patrick Mahomes renew rivalry as Buffalo Bills host Kansas City Chiefs

  • Published20 January
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Patrick Mahomes helps the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Buffalo Bills in all-time classic

By Ben CollinsBBC Sport

NFL play-offs

Dates: 13-28 January 2024

BBC coverage: Live text coverage of every match on the BBC Sport website and app and live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra and BBC Sounds every Sunday evening, with Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions this Sunday (21:00 GMT)

The last time the Kansas City Chiefs met the Buffalo Bills in the NFL play-offs it was considered an instant classic.

Quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen produced a thrilling finish, with the lead changing hands three times in the final two minutes before the Chiefs won it in overtime.

Many anticipated a rivalry between the young stars, with Mahomes saying: "We're going to play this team a lot in games like this. With that quarterback, that coaching staff and those players, there are going to be a lot of battles."

The next such battle takes place this Sunday, again in the divisional round, while the top seeds join the play-off party having earned a first-round bye, with three in-form underdogs aiming to pull off an upset.

  • Essential guide to the NFL play-offs

Toppling Mahomes a 'dream' challenge for Allen

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NFL play-offs: Josh Allen stuns with 52-yard touchdown as Buffalo Bills and Buccaneers win

Mahomes' first meeting with Allen was in 2020 and their paths have continued to cross regularly, with this their third play-off meeting in four years.

Overall, they have a 3-3 record against each other but Mahomes has won both previous play-off games, in 2021 and 2022.

With Kansas City and Buffalo still among the best teams in the AFC Conference, they are set to keep colliding on the road to the Super Bowl, just like legendary quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning did between 2001 and 2016.

Brady had an 11-6 record, although Manning was 3-2 in the play-offs. Between them, they won nine Super Bowls and were named the season's Most Valuable Player eight times.

  • Mahomes wins second Super Bowl to show he's Brady's successor

"I grew up watching those games and remember how many memories I have from that," said Mahomes this week. "Hopefully we can play in these great games as well and give memories to the kids that come up behind us. I'm excited for the challenge."

Mahomes has the lead on Allen when it comes to major honours. The 28-year-old has two Super Bowl wins and two MVPs, while Allen has yet to win either. Last season, Mahomes became the first player since 1999 to win the season MVP, the Super Bowl and the Super Bowl MVP in the same season.

The pair have become friends, admitting this week that they play golf together in the off-season, but Allen, 27, knows the Bills must beat the Chiefs in the play-offs for it to become a true rivalry.

"They've been at the top of the mountain, they know what it takes to get there – we've yet to do that," he said. "As a competitor, as a player, to be in a situation like this is something that you dream about."

Buffalo again set for sub-zero match-up

Kansas City have reached three of the past four Super Bowls, winning the NFL title in 2020 and 2024. They have had home advantage throughout those play-off runs so, remarkably, Mahomes' 16th play-off game will be his first on the road.

Buffalo's home game with Pittsburgh last week was moved from Sunday to Monday because of heavy snow, and the temperature was -7C as the Bills beat the Steelers 31-17. More snow fell this week and sub-zero temperatures have again been forecast for Sunday's game.

Playing in the frigid conditions of upstate New York in winter normally gives Buffalo a huge advantage, but Kansas City are more used to the cold than, say, Miami. It was -20C for the Chiefs' 26-7 win over the Dolphins last week, making it the fourth-coldest NFL game on record.

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NFL play-offs: Chiefs and Texans dominate on wildcard Saturday

In a strong finish to the regular season, Buffalo snatched the AFC's number two seed from Miami and the 'Bills Mafia' is eager to get back to the Super Bowl, having lost four straight from 1991 to 1994.

Both Buffalo and Kansas City had an 11-6 record, with the Chiefs' defence one of the NFL's best. Their offence led the league in dropped passes but with Buffalo having a host of injury doubts in their defence, Mahomes will look to take advantage.

"He's been the best quarterback in football over the last half-decade," two-time Super Bowl winner Osi Umenyiora told BBC Sport.

"It'll be a fascinating match because he'll be playing for the first time in Buffalo in a game like this so we'll see how the Chiefs cope with being away from Arrowhead Stadium."

Divisional round fixtures

(away team first, kick-off times GMT)

Saturday, 20 January

Houston Texans v Baltimore Ravens (21:30)

Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers (01:00 Sunday)

Sunday, 21 January

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions (20:00)

Kansas City Chiefs v Buffalo Bills (23:30)

  • NFL play-off schedule & BBC coverage plans

Top seeds aim to avoid upsets

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NFL play-offs: Watch all seven Green Bay Packers touchdowns as they beat Dallas Cowboys 48-32

The top seed in each Conference – the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers – earned a bye for wildcard weekend, but they return to action for the divisional play-offs. The Ravens ended the regular season with the NFL's best record (13-4) and 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson looks set to win the award for a second time.

But despite Baltimore's commanding wins over San Francisco and Miami in December, the 49ers (12-5) have been favourites to win Super Bowl 58 since late November because of their star-studded roster.

Both teams rested many of their starters for their final game of the regular season so Ravens quarterback Jackson and 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey, favourite for Offensive Player of the Year, have had a three-week break.

Baltimore host the Houston Texans, who finished 10-7 after just three wins in 2022. Quarterback CJ Stroud, 22, has enjoyed a record-breaking rookie season and last week's 45-14 win over Cleveland means he already has as many play-off wins as 27-year-old Jackson, who has won just one of four.

"That's been the knock on him for the past few years," added Umenyiora. "He's been outstanding in the regular season but once the play-offs come, he's tended to fall off.

"He's been sitting out, so is he going to be rusty? There's a lot of pressure on him and the Ravens.

"They face a young and hungry Texans team and if they can knock the Ravens off, it will put Baltimore's coaching staff and Lamar Jackson in a very difficult situation."

The 49ers also face a young team with no fear and few expectations, the Green Bay Packers.

Jordan Love has impressed in his first season since replacing Aaron Rodgers as the team's starting quarterback and after a strong finish to make the play-offs, the Packers upset second seed Dallas 48-32 last week.

  • 'Not done yet' – Packers ready for 49ers test

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What else to look out for

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NFL play-offs: Detroit Lions win 24-23 over Los Angeles Rams

Wildcard weekend also featured the first play-off game to be played in Detroit in 30 years, which marked the return of former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

After 12 years with Detroit, Stafford won the Super Bowl in his first season with the Los Angeles Rams in 2022. Rapper Eminem is one of the long-suffering Lions fans and, before the game, he pleaded with Stafford to "just let us have this one".

On an emotional night in Motor City, Jared Goff led Detroit to their first play-off win in 32 years, but will they settle for just that one?

They host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who made a strong finish to the season before last week dumping out last season's Super Bowl runners-up Philadelphia.

Baker Mayfield has revived his career after replacing the retired Tom Brady as the Bucs' starting quarterback this season and will relish the opportunity to move within one step of Super Bowl 58 if the Lions cannot muster the energy to go again.

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