The Kansas City Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champions and who are coming off a 14-2 regular season, will play the 11-5 Cleveland Browns in the AFC Divisional round Sunday at 3:05 CST on CBS. Most people expect a blowout, as the high octane Chiefs’ offense have been nearly unstoppable all season long.
But the Browns are not to be taken lightly.
Cleveland, riding off their first playoff victory since 1994, a 48-37 victory over their heated rival Pittsburgh Steelers, have a lot of momentum on their side, and enter Arrowhead Stadium with an 8-3 record over their last 11 games. While they are big underdogs in this match-up (why wouldn’t they be?), there are analysts out there, such as Skip Bayless, who predict an upset on Sunday.
Now, before the I-70 Sports team gives our predictions for Sunday’s game, it’s time to delve closer into some keys to the game for Kansas City, if they want to be the team to end Cleveland’s hot streak and send them packing…
- Stop Cleveland’s Two-headed Monster
Kansas City to win, the most important thing they have to do is eliminate the Browns’ top ranked rushing attack, which includes the dynamic duo of Nick Chubb and former Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt, Mixed in with that is the fact that Cleveland boasts the highest-graded (according to Pro Football Focus) offensive line in the league, spearheaded by Pro Bowl LG Joel Bitonio and #1 ranked RG Wyatt Teller.
Despite missing four games during the regular season, Chubb still rushed for over 1,000 yards, and Hunt rushed for 841 yards while proving a prominent threat in the passing game as well. Kansas City finished 21st in rushing defense during the regular season, and that’ll have to improve significantly on Sunday.
2. Expose the secondary
Having Denzel Ward back is huge for the Browns, but let’s not forget that Patrick Mahomes is still the quarterback for the Chiefs. And let’s also not forget that despite Sammy Watkins being out due to injury, the Chiefs have more than enough weapons on offense at their disposal. Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman could wreak havoc on the Browns’ secondary, who have dealt with injuries all over the course of the season.
Cleveland cannot cover tight ends (in all honesty, they’ve struggled for years doing that), so Mahomes has to make throws to Kelce in the middle of the field, drive them down, and keep Chubb + Hunt on the sidelines.
Cleveland’s defense also thrives on turnovers, not having lost a game this season when winning the turnover battle in a game. Mahomes has a career 114-24 TD:INT ratio, so he’s not one to be turnover-prone. He has to expose the secondary and minimize turnovers, and if so, it’ll be a long day for Cleveland.
3. Score touchdowns in the red zone, not field goals
This key is brief, and straight to the point: of the original 14 playoff teams this season, the Chiefs ranked 10th in red-zone efficiency (touchdowns only). Meanwhile, the Browns ranked 3rd. Baker Mayfield has been nearly flawless in the red-zone, and Mahomes has to match that. Field goals will not win this game. In what could become a shootout, chances will have to be taken, and the Chiefs have to score touchdowns in the red-zone.
Our team’s predictions
Zach’s take: I’m going 38-31 Browns. Bold, I know. But Baker’s numbers combined with what the Chiefs’ defense has allowed in the red-zone have emboldened me. I’m also banking on the Cleveland defense to step it up after last week.
Jeremy’s take: This is tough. Really tough. The Cleveland Browns have the most momentum right now, with nothing to lose and everything to gain. That said, the Chiefs are still the defending Super Bowl champions, and have only gotten better since.
Mayfield and Mahomes are ready for yet another potential classic, but lost in the shuffle is which defense will step up. I see Cleveland doing just enough to emerge victory in yet another huge upset. 35-31 Browns.
Adam’s take: (Editor’s note: you can find Adam Freck’s FULL take on the game on his “Talking Dynasty” Podcast, so he will be providing just his score prediction for this article). 31-17 Chiefs.