Expectations in Cleveland are high. For the first time in 18 years, the team managed to make the play-offs again, but this has raised the bar for the team. Just making the play-offs is no longer enough. The Browns now want to go to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs are an ideal indicator in week 1. A wonderful poster for the first Game of the Week.
The two teams have already faced each other earlier this year. In the play-offs, the Kansas City Chiefs got off to a flying start and Andy Reid ‘s team was already leading 19-3 at halftime. The game almost turned around after an injury to Patrick Mahomes, who had to leave the field with a concussion. The Cleveland Browns came back strong and Baker Mayfield had a chance to win the game, but the defense made just enough stops to send Kansas to the Championship Game.
Sunday will show how the teams came out of the offseason. Both teams will mainly play the long game, knowing that they have a good chance of making the playoffs as long as their star players stay fit. They therefore do not have to be in top form immediately, which reduces the pressure on the Chiefs. Not only because they have proven themselves several times, but also because the competition in the AFC West is less strong than in the AFC North. In that case, an early defeat does not have to directly jeopardize the home advantage.
Stopping Mahomes is a huge task, but for the defense of the Browns, every opponent was difficult to stop. The defense was not good enough, especially on third down. As a result, the players often had to stay on the field for too long. That is why almost all of the Browns’ investments in the offseason were focused on defense, with the secondary in particular receiving a major upgrade.
The game against the Chiefs is an ideal pot for the Browns to see how they are doing. It is not realistic to expect that the unit will play directly at the play-off level, but it will be nice to see if there is an improvement and whether the new players are really reinforcements.
Offensively, expectations are high for the Browns as well. Odell Beckham Jr. is back after an injury. The connection with Baker Mayfield has not yet been optimal in Cleveland, but OBJ of course still has the talent of a top receiver. With the duo Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt as running backs, Beckham doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting alone.
On paper, Cleveland has an ideal group of players to keep opponents confused. Throw or run, both are always possible. There are certainly opportunities here for Cleveland, as the defense of the Chiefs is clearly the weaker side of the team. If the Browns take the lead, they have the potential to kill the game over the ground.
The Chiefs’ defense is generally mediocre at best. For Sunday, Reid’s team has an extra problem: safety Tyrann Mathieu is in the corona protocol and has not been able to train for days. It is still unclear whether the captain of the defense can play on Sunday. Should Mathieu be sidelined, it will be a major loss for the Chiefs.
If Mathieu is not there, the secondary becomes vulnerable. The Chiefs will then likely try to put more pressure on Mayfield in hopes of forcing the quarterback’s mistakes. In that case, there is an important role for newcomer Jarran Reed. The defensive tackle should boost the pass rush, an area the defense wasn’t very good at last season.
Even if Mathieu can’t play and the defense turns out to be at the same level or less well, the Chiefs still have a chance to win the game against the Browns. This is for the simple reason that they have Patrick Mahomes. The quarterback is by far the best player in the NFL and has shown time and again what he can do. The defeat in the Super Bowl has given Mahomes extra motivation to excel this year.
Kansas City also has the possibilities. The eyes will mainly be on the new offensive line on Sunday. In the Super Bowl, the O-line was humiliated, after which five new players were brought in front of the line. They must protect Mahomes and give him time to find his weapons. If she succeeds, each opponent will have to have the day of the year to defeat the Chiefs.
The Browns seem stronger this year than last year. The team has everything it takes to control the duel with the Chiefs. With Chubb and Hunt they can milk the clock over the ground, but is a problem. The Chiefs have Mahomes and a fit Mahomes is almost always the favourite. It won’t be any different on Sunday, especially in a loud Arrowhead. In the end, the Chiefs take the game after the break.