Here’s why Bills-Chiefs isn’t in prime time and is being played in Kansas City

Inquiring minds want to know: Why isn’t the Buffalo Bills game with the Kansas City Chiefs in prime time Sunday?

I’ve heard this question plenty since the Bills’ 38-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and am bound to hear it even more after Kansas City’s 30-29 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders on “Monday Night Football.”

Here’s my best explanation based on NFL sources and years covering the league’s television plans.

Months before the season, the NFL asks its broadcast, cable partners and now its streaming partner to request the games it would like the most.

CBS assuredly made the Bills-Kansas City game one of its biggest requests because it will be a rematch of arguably last season’s most exciting game, the Chiefs’ 42-36 overtime playoff victory led by Patrick Mahomes’ touchdown drive that meant Josh Allen and the The Bills offense never saw the field.

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The rematch featuring two of the NFL’s most charismatic and, according to CBS’ Jim Nantz, most likable quarterbacks, will be must-see TV and CBS wanted it on its air.

It wasn’t guaranteed to get it because the NFL schedule-makers try to make everyone happy. And CBS may have made other requests for big games.

But it probably was hard to beat the Buffalo-KC rematch, which now will feature two 4-1 teams with CBS’ No. 1 team of Nantz and Tony Romo calling it.

CBS still could have lost the game if the NFL decided to flex out this week’s “Sunday Night Football” game and put Buffalo-Kansas City in its place.

That became a moot point because the NBC game features two big market teams with winning records, Philadelphia (5-0) and Dallas (4-1), that assuredly will get a big rating.

But for argument’s sake, let’s say the NFL wanted to flex the Bills-Chiefs game into prime time on Sunday night. Before it could, it would have given CBS the opportunity to protect the Bills-Chiefs game. And CBS almost assuredly would have protected such a huge game in its national window from moving to prime time on NBC.

Games can’t be flexed to ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” this season, but they will be able to be flexed into “MNF” next season.

All the discussion over whether the game should have been in prime time ignores the fact that the 4:25 pm Sunday NFL window almost always gets more viewership than NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”

The 4:25 pm games have some advantages. They don’t have to compete with prime-time network and cable programs, and they end at a reasonable time in the early evening.

Prime-time games end past 11 pm, which can also be past many people’s bedtimes.

Now on to a second question I’m hearing from Bills fans.

Why does it seem like the Bills are always on the road playing Kansas City in the regular season?

Teams are scheduled to play each other in two different ways.

The first way is on a rotating basis when AFC East teams play AFC West teams.

The second way is if the Bills and Chiefs finish in the same place in their divisions. Both finished first in their division last season, which is why they are meeting in the regular season. The Bills also have two other divisional winners last year on their schedule, Cincinnati and Tennessee (who they beat on “MNF”). Cincinnati is also in the AFC North and the Bills are playing everyone in that division this season.

The Bills will have visited Kansas City in the 2021 and 2022 regular seasons because the first place AFC East team was scheduled to be the road team against the first place AFC West teams both seasons. If they both finish first in 2024 and 2025, those games will be in Buffalo.

Over a 12-year period, the NFL tries to balance the number of times each team is home and away when they play each other. If they play 12 times in the regular season over the period, the goal is to have each play at home six times.

In the eight times the teams will have played in the regular season since 2012, Kansas City has been the home team four times and the Bills have been the home team four times.

Since 2015, the Bills have played at Kansas City three out of four times in the regular season and this year’s game makes it four out of five times. They are also scheduled to play in Kansas City next season under the normal rotation. The Bills also played at Kansas City twice in the postseason, but that was due to the Chiefs’ better record.

But from 2012-2014, the Chiefs came to Buffalo three straight times during the regular season.

With history as a guide, if the Bills and Chiefs continue to play annually in the Mahomes-Allen era, it will be Buffalo’s turn to host its share of those games in Orchard Park.


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