There’s no place like home.
Just ask Patrick Mahomes.
The Kansas City quarterback with five AFC titles and two Super Bowl rings finally will hit the road for a postseason game when the Chiefs play at Buffalo on Sunday afternoon.
His previous 15 playoff games were all at Arrowhead Stadium, not counting the three Super Bowls, two at neutral sites. Although the Super Bowl that Mahomes lost was to the Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla., that stadium was one-quarter full because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“Now we get to go on the road to a hostile environment, and one I have not played in with fans in the stands,” said Mahomes, whose lone game at Highmark Stadium was in 2020, during the spectator-less COVID-19 season. “But it’s what you want to do when you grow up watching these games.”
Chiefs-Bills will follow Tampa Bay’s game at Detroit and will cap a divisional weekend that will determine the NFL’s version of the Final Four.
The Chiefs have won five consecutive AFC championships and advanced to this round with a victory over Miami in a bitter-cold wild-card game.
Meanwhile, the Bills beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in a wild-card game that was delayed until Monday in the wake of a Buffalo blizzard.
Reaching the divisional round is nothing new for the Bills, who have done so each of the last four seasons, winning a home playoff game in each of those.
This marks the first year since the 1993 AFC championship game that the Bills have hosted the Chiefs in the postseason.
The matchup between Mahomes and Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen has major marquee appeal and has even led to a change in the NFL rulebook. Two years ago, their teams met in the divisional round in Kansas City, with Mahomes guiding the Chiefs to a 42-36 overtime victory.
In that game, Kansas City won the coin toss to start the extra period and Mahomes threw a touchdown pass to Travis Kelce on the opening drive. It was such an abrupt ending that it helped prompt a rules change. The NFL tweaked its overtime rules for the postseason to ensure each team gets a possession.
Sunday’s early game features the Buccaneers and Lions, teams led by quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall but who now play for different franchises than the ones who drafted them.
Tampa Bay’s Baker Mayfield was the first pick by Cleveland in 2018. Lions quarterback Jared Goff was chosen first overall by the Rams in 2016.
The Buccaneers advanced to the divisional round by beating Philadelphia, meaning Tampa Bay has won six of its last seven games. Earlier this season, the Buccaneers lost six of seven.
“It says a lot about the growth of our team from where we were in the beginning to the middle, toward the end and now — playing with confidence, playing team football,” Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles said.
With their win over the Rams, the Lions ended an NFL-record nine-game losing streak in the postseason. It was their second postseason win in the Super Bowl era.
Detroit is one of four NFL teams that have never played in a Super Bowl, along with Cleveland, Jacksonville and Houston.
The Lions and Buccaneers played earlier this season, with Detroit posting a 20-6 victory at Tampa Bay in Week 6.
“I think back about the Lions game … we just didn’t play our best game offensively. We’ll look back at the tape once we get into the game plan, but we’re very different than we were early on in the year,” Mayfield told reporters this week. “That’s something to be proud of, that we’ve continued to improve. We haven’t reinvented the wheel. We just stuck with it and gotten better at the little things.”
Lions coach Dan Campbell is anticipating an opponent who looks entirely different than the one his team faced earlier this season.
“This is a better team than what we faced, they are playing better football,” Campbell told reporters. “But we are better too. And that is the way it should be. We’re in the divisional [round] against an opponent that only improved all year and so did we.”