Win probability paints masterpiece of Chiefs-Bills insanity

Bills Chiefs Football
Posted at 6:34 PM, Jan 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-24 19:34:02-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Buffalo Bills had a 51.1% chance to upset the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s AFC Divisional round, according to ESPN Stats’ win probability.

Essentially, that’s a coin flip — and the game, ultimately, basically was decided by the flip of a coin — but the journey to overtime and the Chiefs’ unforgettable 42-36 win was an epic roller-coaster ride.

In fact, Mecole Hardman Jr. compared it to one of his favorite roller coasters, the The Incredible Hulk roller coaster at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure.

“It’s one of those (rides that’s) fun, exciting and you’re going fast then it slows you down and you’re like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’ then it shoots you back out again,” he said. “It was like that.”

Late in the first quarter, the Bills’ win probability topped 67% after scoring on the opening drive and forcing a punt.

As Kansas City’s defense stiffened, quarterback Patrick Mahomes authored back-to-back touchdown drives, pushing the home team’s win probability to nearly 69% — almost a 40-point swing.

The first of four touchdowns from Bills QB Josh Allen to Gabriel Davis dropped the Chiefs’ predicted chances below 57% at halftime.

Hardman’s 25-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter shot Kansas City’s chances over 80%, but Allen’s 75-yard dime on play later trimmed 20% off that total.

Still, the Chiefs were heavily favored to win (82.7%) by the win probability metric until the first play after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, a 27-yard touchdown from Allen to Davis on fourth-and-13 that flipped the odds to win on their head.

Buffalo had a 93% chance to win before Tyreek Hill’s 64-yard catch and run for a touchdown — the only play he’d had longer than 45 yards since the season opener against Cleveland — flipped things again.

Suddenly, Kansas City had a 91.5% chance to win after grabbing a 33-29 lead.

By now, you know what happened next, the Bills drove down the field and another blown coverage seemed to ice the game when Davis scored with 13 seconds left — and the Chiefs’ chances cratered to 3%.

Odds be damned.

"Maybe last week, I was talking to Mike Remmers, because he was in the 'Minnesota Miracle' and the final play, scoring the touchdown, winning the game at home, he was talking about how awesome the environment was," Mahomes said. "I was talking about how we had the play with Travis (Kelce) and the Chargers where he scored, but we weren’t at Arrowhead. So, to be in this moment, this game against that team and to make a play to walk off a game at Arrowhead, I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.”

Buffalo still had a nearly 66% chance to win as Harrison Butker lined up for a 49-yard game-tying field-goal try.

But he definitely wasn’t thinking about the odds. At least, he was trying not to think about it.

“I definitely found myself getting caught up,” Butker said. “As a human being, if you’re not on the field, you are kind of a fan somewhat. But it’s about how fast can I lock in and do my job. My job’s to be ready to kick a field goal whenever it’s needed.”

Butker said emotion is the enemy of plackicking, which he takes a “robotic” approach to and tries to divorce himself from the ebbs and flows of the game.

“When Tyreek scores, I can’t be, ‘Oh, we won the Divisional game; we’re going to the AFC Championship Game.’ That’s not a good thought, even though it went through my head,” Butker said. “Then, when they go down and they go up by three with 13 seconds (left), I can’t dwell on, ‘Maybe our season’s over.’ Those are not good thoughts, but as humans — most people, at least — I have those thoughts.”

Butker composed himself on the sideline, kicked a few practice balls into the sideline net and worked with punter Tommy Townsend on a couple holds to refine those mechanics after having missed a nearly identical 50-yard try to close the first half and a third-quarter extra point.

Even after Butker’s kick forced overtime and the Bills lost the coin toss, the Chiefs were slight underdogs (49.9%), according to the machines.

But machines can’t account for Mahomes and neither could Buffalo’s defense.

Eight plays later, Kansas City’s stunning comeback was no longer theoretical. It was certain — and the legend of Mahomes as the Grim Reaper was born.

“Hats off to the Bills, because they gave us everything we wanted,” Hardman said. “That was an absolutely crazy game. ... But I really enjoyed it to see everybody on this team come together and just keep poised. When adversity hit, we smacked it right in the face and continued to do what we knew how to do.”