The time is finally here. For anyone who found the regular season more than a little tedious, we have arrived at the great flipping of the switch. We hope. We really really hope.
The Kansas City Chiefs will host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon for their playoff opener in the Divisional round. Cleveland rode a gigantic wave of momentum to a 28-0 lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers in their Wildcard game, but saw the Steelers climb back to 35-23 before balking on a 4th and 1 and handing back the game. The Browns were able to salt away the game late with a nice drive to close things out, and enter this week on an emotional high and planning to wreck the AFC bracket.
The Chiefs, on the other hand, are coming off a clunker win over the Falcons, resting almost all starters against the Chargers and a bye week. Travi s Kelce admitted in interviews last week that the team fought with boredom throughout the regular season, which was fairly apparent at times this season. Now Kansas City will need to prove that they kind find and flip the switch and remind the league exactly who they are.
The offense should be rejuvenated as several players had the opportunity to heal up and should look strong on Sunday afternoon. Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill both came out of the Falcons game with some minor injuries, so a clean bill of health three weeks later is a very good thing. Reports have leaned both way on Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but the most recent rumors say he will be back on the field on Sunday, which should provide some added vigor to the scheme.
Sunday’s game will also give us our first glimpse into what the defensive narrative will be this off season. Aside from potentially losing two of the team’s top secondary players, how big-money defensive linemen Chris Jones and Frank Clark perform under the big lights. The pair were key contributors in last season’s playoff push, but suffered through a disappointing regular season, and they will both need to take their game to the next level over the next three games to prove their value. If either or both are no-shows in the big moments of the next few games, they could find themselves on the trading block as the team looks to resolve imminent salary cap concerns.
As for the Browns, they certainly present their own problems. The two-headed monster of a backfield with Nick Chubb and former Chief Kareem Hunt can quickly grind away a game with a lead, and Baker Mayfield has been much better this season about turning the ball over. The offensive line has continued to be a highly rated group, even when slotting in backups due to injury. The defense is good enough to get by in most situations, but certainly not an inspired group. And to put it plainly, if they try to stick to the same umbrella scheme they used against Pittsburgh, Kelce and the backs coming out of the backfield will have a monster day.
It’s not always as simple as this, but I think on Sunday it will be—our offense is better than their offense and our defense is better than their defense, and that should be enough to carry the day. I fully expect the Browns to come out with plenty of vigor, and the threat of three weeks’ worth of rust is an honest concern, but I think the gap between the players, coaches and scheme that the Chiefs run out and the same group for Cleveland is just too great for the Browns to overcome. Calling this one the way I see it—the Chiefs rise to the bell and put up their first double digit win in what seems like ages.