AFC Divisional Round Matchup:
#6 Browns at #1 Chiefs
(O/U 55, Chiefs -9.5)
Sunday, January 17, 12:05 PM PST (CBS)
The Cleveland Browns weren’t supposed to be in the AFC Divisional Round. They squeaked into the playoffs. The Steelers, who they knocked off in a “not even nearly as close as it looks” 48-37 victory last week, were once 11-0. This was supposed to be someone else. But, the Browns are here, after winning their first playoff game since Bill Clinton’s first term in office. Their prize? The buzz saw Kansas City Chiefs. How do the Browns make history twice in one offseason? What do the Chiefs need to do to waltz out of this AFC Divisional Round matchup?
How the Cleveland Browns Win
Key Player: Nick Chubb
The Browns are now 10-3 with Nick Chubb in the lineup this season, and 2-2 when they don’t have their stud running back. Everything just works better for them. Kareem Hunt is more efficient on a per touch basis, and the offense just flows better. The Browns scored 13 points combined in two of the four games Chubb missed, and they averaged 20.5 points in his absences. With Chubb in the lineup, Cleveland averaged 28.7 points per game, a whole extra touchdown + 2 PT conversion (plus a little extra). The Browns will need to score a lot because that’s the only way you can beat the Chiefs. Coincidentally, that takes us into our key statistic for this game…
Key Statistic: Points Scored
This might sound stupid, but it’s true. You can’t slow down the Chiefs. But, you can outscore them. The two teams that defeated Kansas City this season—the Raiders and the Chargers—just crushed them in a shootout. They were the only two teams this season to top 32 points against the Chiefs. Two other teams, the Raiders (again) and the Panthers topped 30 points and lost by a combined 6 points. This Chiefs offense cannot be contained, but if you keep up with them, you can go punch-for-punch with them and take them down. All-in-all, the Chiefs lose shootouts: four teams have topped 30 points, and the Chiefs are 2-2 with a -9 point differential in those games. The Browns need to keep their foot on the pedal and try to outdo the Chiefs.
Key Position Group: Defensive Front Seven
Myles Garrett has been a beast this year, and his 31 pressures in 14 games ranked him as the #17 pass rusher. Had he played sixteen at that rate, he would have tied for the tenth-most pressures. He’s a big, grown man. They need every little bit of Myles Garret in this one, given that Olivier Vernon is out for the year. Cleveland also needs to get the rest of the front seven involved, given the Chiefs’ propensity to use Travis Kelce, and the Chiefs’ running game (including Patrick Mahomes). The Cleveland front-seven is a stout run defense, allowing the eighth-fewest rushing yards to running backs this season. This will be a difficult matchup for the Browns but the front seven getting to Patrick Mahomes, stymying the running back, and containing Kelce will go a long way to a Browns victory. Sione Takitaki getting another pick wouldn’t hurt, either…
How the Kansas City Chiefs Win
Key Player: Travis Kelce
I know I just got finished talking about how the Browns front seven needs to stifle Travis Kelce to find victory in this AFC Divisional Round matchup. Unfortunately, they weren’t very good at that during the season. We don’t need to get into Travis Kelce, but we do need to understand that the Browns’ tight end defense wasn’t good in the season. They allowed the fourth-most touchdowns to the position, and were top eight in both receptions and receiving yards to tight ends. All-in-all, the Browns weren’t good against tight ends. Luckily for the Chiefs, they have the greatest tight end trump card in the league. If Travis Kelce has a big game, the Chiefs should cruise to victory in this game.
Key Statistic: Turnovers
The Browns won last week mostly because the Steelers vomited all over themselves to the tune of five turnovers. That’s how they ended up down 28-0, frantically trying to figure out what went wrong. Unfortunately for the Browns, the Chiefs don’t give the ball up. Their sixteen giveaways are tied for the fourth-fewest in the league, alongside the Chargers and… the Cleveland Browns. That’s right, the Chiefs not only need to focus on not getting turnovers, but they hope to induce the opposition into some turnovers. Both the Chiefs and Browns averaged a turnover per game.
Key Position Group: The WR2s
This doesn’t include Tyreek Hill, he’ll do his thing. But Sammy Watkins was key to the Chiefs winning the Super Bowl last year. Whether it’s Sammy again, or one of Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, or Byron Pringle, the Chiefs need someone to step up. The Browns should have Denzel Ward back this week from the COVID-19 list. He’ll get the majority of the snaps against Tyreek Hill, which means it’s up to the rest of the wide receivers to step up if Hill gets locked down against the strong cover corner.