The Chiefs and Bills went down to the wire during their 2010 matchup that ended with a Ryan Succop 35-yard field goal as time expired in overtime to give the Chiefs the 13-10 victory. If last years game was any indication, then fans of both of these teams are in for a treat come this Sunday.
Both teams list just two players on their injury reports after Friday's practice as Matt Cassel is listed as probable for the Chiefs with a rib injury, while Jon Baldwin has been ruled out as he recovers from a thumb injury. For the Bills, defensive tackle Torrel Troup is listed as questionable after leaving practice on Wednesday with an apparent lower back injury, he missed all of practice on Thursday before being a full participant on Friday. Wide receiver Marcus Easley left practice on Friday with a "medical issue" according to head coach Chan Gailey, but it was not considered an injury. Both are expected to be healthy enough to play come Sunday.
There are a few key matchups that will likely affect the outcome of this game. The Kansas City Chiefs' interior line will be put to work by the pro bowl defensive tackle of the Bills, Kyle Williams. Add in first-round pick Marcel Dareus next to him on the line and the Chiefs No. 1 rushing attack will have to prove it's ready to repeat it's 2010 performance from the very first play of 2011. Jamaal Charles has faced the Bills three times in his career and he's averaged 162 yards per game with a 7.7 YPC average and scored two touchdowns in those games.
The Bills starting quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to have to find a reliable wide receiver outside of Steve Johnson if they are going to have success through the air against the Chiefs talented secondary. With Lee Evans now in Baltimore, that other threat on the field for the Bills may have to come in the form of former Mizzou quarterback Brad Smith. Although he and Evans are not similar players, Smith can bring something to Chan Gailey's offense and the fact that they went out and targeted the free agent Smith this offseason, that means Gailey has a plan for him. If the Chiefs can contain Smith and force Fitzpatrick to have to beat them through the air, it should mean good things for the Chiefs defense.
Another matchup to watch is Tamba Hali and Shawn Merriman. Now they don't necessarily play against one another on the field, but there has been plenty of buzz around Bills camp about how Merriman has looked thus far this preseason. Hali had 1.5 sacks in the game last year against the Bills as he went on to lead the AFC with 14.5 on the season. Hali and Merriman both should have their opportunities to get after these quarterbacks and the team who does a better job protecting it's quarterback from these two players will win this game.
A couple of X-factors in this game would be Dexter McCluster for the Chiefs and C.J. Spiller for the Bills. It's not that these players are necessarily going to see the ball the most for their respective teams. But they both have that big play ability that can change the outcome of the game on any given play. McCluster may only see 3-4 rushing plays and 3-4 passes out of the backfield, but it's his effectiveness on those plays that could make the difference in changing field position or setting up a easy scoring drive for the Chiefs. Spiller may very well see the ball more than that as a primary running back, but Fred Jackson should be seeing his fair share of carries too for the Bills. They combined for 26 carries and 81 yards last year against the Chiefs for a 3.1 YPC average.
The Bills spent the offseason trying to improve their front seven defense by adding Dareus via the draft, and signing veteran free agent linebackers Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison to the group. They did lose middle linebacker Paul Posluszny via free agency to the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason. Posluszny, who finished the 2010 matchup with the Chiefs with an astounding 17 tackles is a much better player than either Barnett or Morrison. But the combination of the two, along with their other moves and a healthy Merriman, have given Bills fans a reason to be more optimistic about their run defense in 2011.
The Chiefs have much more to lose from this game than the Bills as they begin to try and defend their 2010 AFC west title. The Bills are still in a rebuilding mode and face a tough road ahead with the New England Patriots and New York Jets in their same division. It should be a great game on Sunday and many of the questions will begin to be answered in regards to both the teams' chances at success in 2011.