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Chiefs vs. Bills preview

They're not divisional opponents, but it sure feels like it: The Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs have met in every regular season since 2008.

The two teams will square off again Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the third consecutive year that the Bills (5-3) have hosted the Chiefs (5-3).

Both clubs are in the playoff hunt, adding importance to a game that kicks off the second half of the season. ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher break it all down:

Rodak: The Chiefs are one of the NFL's hottest teams, having won five of their past six games. What’s been going right for them? How, if at all, is this team different from the one that arrived in Buffalo undefeated last season?

Teicher: After a tough start to their season, the Chiefs have done a nice job of playing to their strengths. They aren't a big-play offense and a lot of times they don't even try for a big play. Quarterback Alex Smith rarely takes a deep drop and throws down the field. But they run the ball well, they rarely commit turnovers and they move the chains. They are a great third-down team.

On defense, they still pressure the quarterback but -- and this is the big change from last year -- they don't blitz as much. They've been a lot more solid at the back end of their defense and they've cut back greatly on the number of big pass plays they've allowed.

The Bills have been playing without their top running backs, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, because of injuries. Spiller won't play against the Chiefs but does Jackson have a chance? And give me a scouting report on Anthony Dixon, who has assumed the featured back role in their absence.

Rodak: I'd say Jackson has a chance, but the odds are still against him playing Sunday. After he was injured in an Oct. 19 win over the Minnesota Vikings, he told WGR 550 radio that doctors expected a monthlong recovery process for a groin muscle that tore off the bone. Jackson, 33, is known as a quick healer and a tough player who can play through pain, so it wouldn't shock me if he played -- but the more prudent move might be to ensure he's healthy for the stretch run. The Bills will need him.

As for Dixon, he was known as more of a situational, short-yardage back in four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. Given the opportunity to be the workhorse, he is out to prove that he's more of an all-around back. There are signs of that. He has shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make players miss, but the strength of his game is still to lower a shoulder into defenders and push for yardage. He's a bruiser.

In some ways, the Chiefs mirror the Bills' current approach: They have a quarterback over 30 years old who is known more as a game manager than a star, a run-first philosophy on offense and a stout defense led by a strong pass rush. How sustainable do observers of the Chiefs think that model is? Do they feel they need a long-term upgrade at quarterback? The Bills might soon face the same question with Kyle Orton, who turns 32 this month.

Teicher: With Alex Smith at quarterback, the Chiefs have no choice but to build their team that way. Smith isn't the type of quarterback who will carry a team on his back like, say, Ben Roethlisberger is doing in Pittsburgh and Andrew Luck is doing in Indianapolis. They need to surround Smith with a solid defense and good, complementary players on offense. But they are committed to him. They signed him over the summer to a new long-term contract, and while they can get out of it relatively cheaply after a couple of seasons, that's not the plan. The plan is to coach Smith up to be the best player he can be and build the right team around him.

Orton has one of the NFL's best passer ratings since taking over as the starter from EJ Manuel. Can he maintain that over the rest of the season and particularly against the Chiefs, who pressure the quarterback consistently and don't allow a lot of big pass plays?

Rodak: That's the million-dollar question for the Bills. If Orton continues to put up the numbers that he has since Manuel was benched, the Bills have a strong shot to make the playoffs. Orton is the NFL's fourth-most accurate quarterback on passes over 15 yards and the league's most accurate passer on third downs, when he throws for an NFL-high 11.3 yards per attempt. He has also been fantastic in the fourth quarter. If he can keep up his strong play in critical situations, the Bills will be in a good spot. The problem will be defenses like the Chiefs, who sack opposing quarterbacks on a league-high 10.8 percent of attempts. Meanwhile, the Bills' offense allows sacks on 8.4 percent of pass attempts, the fifth-worst mark in the NFL. That's a mismatch.

Over the past month of the season, the Bills rank third in yards per play allowed (4.76) while the Chiefs rank fourth (4.90). What's driving the Chiefs' success on defense?

Teicher: They're getting strong play from unheralded players. End Allen Bailey is in his fourth season with the Chiefs but first as a starter. He's a three-down player who's defending the run and rushing the passer well. Inside linebacker Josh Mauga signed with the Chiefs the day before training camp started. When the Chiefs lost Pro Bowler Derrick Johnson for the season with an injury in the opener, Mauga stepped in and has played well. He, too, is a three-down player and leads the Chiefs in tackles. Free safety Husain Abdullah, a backup last season, won the starter's job in camp and has played well.

In tackle Marcell Dareus and ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes, the Bills have three players who are in the top 15 in the league in sacks. That doesn't include tackle Kyle Williams, who had 10.5 sacks last year. That should be of great concern to the Chiefs, who have had trouble protecting Smith. Do the Bills blitz much or do they try to get pressure mostly with their front four?

Rodak: It's been mostly the front four, which is likely the league's best. The Bills blitz on just 22.6 percent of snaps, the sixth-lowest mark in the league. On plays when the Bills do blitz, they've been effective. Opposing quarterbacks have been held to a 25.2 QBR when faced with five or more Bills rushers, the third-worst mark in the NFL. The Bills register a sack on 10.5 percent of dropbacks when they blitz, compared to 7.7 percent when they don't. Both of those marks are in the top tier of the league.