The Browns play the Chiefs on Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, Mo. Here’s a look at the matchups on both sides of the ball.
Baker Mayfield’s playing at an elite level. He’s thrown 19 touchdowns and one interception over his last 349 passes and beat the Steelers for the franchise’s first playoff win in 26 years. He’s got a big-time arm, strong leadership skills and scrambling ability.
He’s clearly second in this matchup.
Patrick Mahomes is just that good. He burst on the scene as the MVP in 2018, has maintained that level of performance and won a Super Bowl last season. He’s got an unbelievable arm, is an incredible athlete and has the trust of the entire Chiefs organization.
This doesn’t mean Mayfield can’t beat Mahomes in a single game or eventually win an MVP himself. But Mahomes has already established himself as on the road to all-time great.
Alone, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are special. Together, they can be unstoppable. The Browns finished third in the NFL in rushing (148.4 yards), as Chubb (1,067) and Hunt (841) were the NFL’s only duo with 840 yards apiece. Chubb is arguably the NFL’s best back but could take a backseat to Hunt in his return to Kansas City. He said his emotions will be running “high.”
Chiefs rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the No. 32 pick, had a solid season with 803 yards, a 4.4 average and four touchdowns but missed the last two games with ankle and hip injuries and was listed as questionable. Veteran Le’Veon Bell has been to three Pro Bowls but isn’t the same player.
Jarvis Landry has come on strong after getting healthy and is the clear-cut No. 1 option for Mayfield. Landry finished with 72 catches for 840 yards and three TDs. Rashard Higgins is a reliable No. 2, with rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge splitting time as the third wideout. Without Odell Beckham Jr., who tore an anterior cruciate ligament, the Browns lack a true deep threat.
Tyreek Hill makes things go for the Chiefs. He might be the fastest man in the league, and the Chiefs get him the ball on handoffs, short passes and bombs. He caught 87 passes for 1,276 yards and 15 TDs. Sammy Watkins (calf) has been hurt, but the Chiefs have depth with Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson.
Austin Hooper wasn’t much of a factor early then missed time after an appendectomy and with a neck injury, but he and Mayfield have found a rhythm over the last four games (23 catches, 195 yards, three TDs). The Browns have depth with rookie Harrison Bryant (24, 238, three) and David Njoku (19, 213, two).
Kansas City’s Travis Kelce surpasses them on his own. He set the NFL record for tight ends with 1,416 yards on 105 catches, adding 11 touchdowns. The Cleveland Heights graduate is big, strong and fast with good hands. The combination of Hill and Kelce is too much for most defenses.
Left guard Joel Bitonio is back after missing the wild card game with COVID-19, and right tackle Jack Conklin is going to try to play through a hamstring injury. If they’re in the lineup, the Browns have all five pieces of the line Pro Football Focus ranked No. 1 in run blocking and pass blocking.
Eric Fisher holds down left tackle for the Chiefs but isn’t elite. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is, but he’s on injured reserve with a back injury. Mahomes erases many of the line’s mistakes.
Myles Garrett is an All-Pro after 12 sacks in 14 games and gets help from tackles Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi and end Adrian Clayborn. They miss end Olivier Vernon, who had nine sacks before his Achilles tendon ruptured in the finale.
The Chiefs lean on a pair of Pro Bowlers in 6-foot-6 tackle Chris Jones (7.5 sacks) and end Frank Clark (six). They’re solid but don’t scare offenses.
The Browns have pieced it together all season, mixing and matching veterans and youngsters. B.J. Goodson has been reliable in the middle the whole time, and Sione Takitaki made more plays as the year progressed.
Clearview’s Anthony Hitchens is the man in the middle for the Chiefs. He was second on the team with 78 tackles in 14 games, missing the last two with COVID-19. He’s back and will certainly be excited to take on his hometown team.
The return of No. 1 cornerback Denzel Ward off the COVID list is huge. He’s clearly the secondary’s best player and allows coordinator Joe Woods to focus on the rest of the back seven. Strong safety Ronnie Harrison has been a playmaker when healthy.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu is the star for the Chiefs. He had six interceptions, including one for a touchdown, and can wreck a game. Free safety Daniel Sorensen is a tackling machine.
BROWNS RUN OFFENSE VS. CHIEFS RUN DEFENSE
Chubb and Hunt have the talent and potential to take over the game if they get the chance. Opponents have devoted extra resources to slow down the run, challenging the passing game to beat them. But if the game plays out like the Browns hope, it could turn into the Chubb and Hunt show.
The Chiefs ranked 21st in run defense (122.1) and 17th per rush (4.5).
BROWNS PASS OFFENSE VS. CHIEFS PASS DEFENSE
Mayfield must be concerned about Mathieu reading his mind, or eyes, and stepping in front of a pass. But if the protection can hold up against Jones and Clark, Mayfield should be able to exploit the rest of the secondary, which ranked in the middle of the pack.
CHIEFS RUN OFFENSE VS. BROWNS RUN DEFENSE
Kansas City ranked 23rd in attempts (25.2) and 16th in yards (112.4), handing off just enough to keep defenses honest and from coming after Mahomes every snap. If Edwards-Helaire doesn’t play, the threat is reduced further.
The Browns have been solid against the run all year, ranking ninth (110.8)
CHIEFS PASS OFFENSE VS. BROWNS PASS DEFENSE
The Chiefs are a 10-point favorite because they’re expected to dominate in this category.
Mahomes is as good as they come and has game-breakers in Hill and Kelce, depth in receivers Hardman and Robinson (even with Watkins injured) and a brilliant play caller in Reid. Cleveland’s secondary is better with Ward and Harrison but still seems overmatched.
The Browns have steadily improved throughout the season in this area and may have played their best game last week against the Steelers. They still lack a breakaway return threat but can win the field-position battle.
Hardman is a speed demon who could ruin the game. Kicker Harrison Butker was 4-for-4 from 50 yards but missed six extra points in 54 tries.