The Cleveland Browns face off against the Kansas City Chiefs in what should be a fantastic matchup. Of course, the Browns are the 9.5 underdogs here. No surprise. But there are a few factors that could make this game less one-sided than most would expect.
Browns vs Chiefs: A Good Matchup
Kansas City’s reputation precedes them. There’s no denying they’re a force. Patrick Mahomes hasn’t struggled to make a throw. Ever. Some say receiver Tyreek Hill is faster than a cheetah. All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce is tall, solid, and moves like a slot receiver.
For 26 years, Cleveland faced challenges and bitter disappointments. Now it’s 2021 and they’re playing in the AFC divisional round against the defending Super Bowl Champions at Arrowhead. No one saw this coming. Well, maybe five people did.
It’s Not That Far-Fetched
The Browns and seven other teams are still alive. Last week, there weren’t many people who thought they could overcome less training, less key players and less coaches due to COVID. They proved they could beat a team that for the most part of the season, seemed unstoppable.
They’re used to being being looked down upon. When being asked about being overlooked before they brought Pittsburgh to their knees, Baker Mayfield said “sounds pretty normal to me.” It’s the endless insults and assumptions that have given the Browns a fighting spirit.
Key Players Browns Must Look Out For in Chiefs Matchup
Kelce’s 1,416 yards set a single-season record by a tight end. He finished second in the league in receiving yards. Kelce moves with fluidity, making his way to softs zones and runs away with ease from safeties in man coverage. As a play breaks down, he moves instinctively as Mahomes scrambles. In the second half of the season, he had five 100-plus yard games, plus back-to-back 136-yard games. The Browns rank 28th against opposing tight ends. Their safeties are in for some grueling work.
In the past, the Browns struggled against the speed of Baltimore Ravens Lamar Jackson. Hill and Jackson are the fastest football players in the league. Will the Browns struggle against Hill? The only way to slow Hill is with two high safeties on him and a cornerback underneath. This is where Denzel Ward comes in. The Browns best way of dealing with Hill is with a Cover 4.
A Chubb/Hunt Running Game
The Browns are able to control the clock through a dynamic running game. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt present a one-two punch that will give Chiefs defense a good workout. Add to this the fact that Hunt stated going back to Arrowhead is personal for him. The Chiefs cut him in 2018.
He ran with vengeance for two TDs in Pittsburgh. As Mayfield said “He ran like he wanted to get to Kansas City.” He’s been outstanding for the Browns since then, rushing for 841 yards and six TDs, and catching 38 passes for 304 yards and five TDs.
Mayfield and Landry
Mayfield did everything right against Pittsburgh and he must repeat that. The Chiefs are rested, while the Browns are still recovering from pre-wildcard issues and getting banged up during that game. Mayfield played safe and yet it worked out. He spread the ball around well, and he found a perfect partner in Jarvis Landry. If Landry is in his element, he can be a strong performer again. An offensive design that negates the Chiefs pass rush will be ideal.
Defense Is Still Good
Key defensive players like Myles Garrett are still capable of getting to the quarterback. They will need to pounce early, to take advantage of the fact that Mahomes will be slightly rusty from 20 days of no football. The Chiefs rank 16th against the pass and 31st against the run, which makes them seem somewhat less threatening.
Scoring big and early will help the Browns as it has before. But the Chiefs have come back swinging from deficits on many occasions. On paper, the Chiefs will make it out of this game alive. But remember: in 2011, the 15-1 Green Bay Packers were knocked out by the New York Giants in the divisional round. Crazy things happen in the playoffs.
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