The reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs will play their first playoff game since winning the Super Bowl when they host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon kickoff at 3:05 EST.. Currently, the Chiefs are 10-point favorites with the over/under listed at 56 points.
Cleveland’s return to the playoffs after an 18-year absence was nothing if not memorable. The Browns jumped out to a 28-0 lead but still had to withstand a comeback attempt from the Steelers. Ultimately, the Browns were able to score enough points in the fourth quarter to survive and advance.
As for the Chiefs, they’ve more or less had two weeks off. After Kansas City finished 14-2, the Chiefs earned a bye last week. Of course, they also rested several key starters in Week 17, causing them to lose to the Chargers. One of the few question marks facing Andy Reid’s team coming into this weekend is whether or not they’ve had too much time off.
Ready for the Moment?
Kansas City’s long layoff is worth mentioning because Patrick Mahomes wasn’t exactly at his best late in the season. Between wins over the Saints and Falcons in Weeks 16 and 17, Mahomes only completed 55% of his passes and averaged less than six yards per pass. In fairness, that’s a small-sample-size from a quarterback who’s been nothing shy of elite over the past two seasons. But given Kansas City’s inconsistent rushing attack, it’s worth wondering if Mahomes can flip a switch and be at the top of his game this week.
The good news for the Chiefs is that Cleveland’s defense isn’t one of the more formidable in the NFL. Despite forcing five turnovers last week, the Browns still gave up over 500 yards against the Steelers. In fairness, the Browns have a few standout players on their defense. But they’ve also given up 32.5 points per game this season in games against playoff teams.
In the Trenches
Offensively, the Browns know that the key to winning this game will be running the ball effectively, which is something they’ve done all season. The tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is capable of taking over a game and limiting the role of quarterback Baker Mayfield. The problem is the status of Cleveland’s offensive line, which saw both Jack Conklin and Joel Bitonio leave last week’s game with injuries. The Browns are hurting up front, which could hinder their ability to create running room for Chubb and Hunt.
Meanwhile, the strength of the Kansas City defense is at the line of scrimmage with the likes of Chris Jones and Frank Clark. If the Chiefs can force Cleveland into must-pass situations, those two can create trouble for Mayfield. On the other hand, the Chiefs have allowed a minimum of 24 points in seven of their last eight games, so they weren’t exactly playing at a championship level even before last week’s bye.
A Little Hope
Despite questions about Cleveland’s offensive line’s health, it’d be surprising to see the Chiefs completely shut down the tandem of Chubb and Hunt. The Browns should find success on the ground, which will help keep Mahomes out of rhythm. Perhaps more importantly, the Chiefs haven’t won a game by more than six points since beating the Jets in Week 8. Bet on the Browns beating the 10-point spread but losing the game.
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