We need to address the elephant in the room right out of the gate; yes, the Kansas City Chiefs are rested, the home team, and will probably win this Sunday’s game with the Cleveland Browns if it becomes a shootout. Andy Reid’s record after a bye is unbelievable, and the Chiefs are unlikely to lose this game.
However, if the Chiefs are going to lose in the playoffs. This is the game where it is most likely happens.
Browns succeeded where Chiefs’ struggle
Almost every single thing that the Chiefs’ struggle with the Browns do very well:
- The Chiefs’ defense has given up more rushing yards than any other team in the playoffs (twelfth most in the league total) while the Browns have the third-most rushing yards in the league (The Baltimore Ravens do have more rushing yards, but they also have a running quarterback who contributes to that stat, Cleveland does not) behind their dual-headed rushing monster named Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
- The Chiefs’ offensive line has struggled to protect Patrick Mahomes this season, allowing pressure on almost a quarter of dropbacks and allowing Mahomes to be hit or sacked 75 times this season (in only fifteen games because Mahomes did not play in week 17). Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns are pressuring quarterbacks on a fifth of dropbacks, forcing hurried passes on 10.6% of dropbacks.
- The Kansas City Chiefs are allowing teams to score touchdowns once in the Redzone a league-worst 76.6% of the time, while the Browns score touchdowns in the Redzone 73.6% of the time, the third-best rate in the league.
Sure, as we started with, if this becomes a shootout, the Chiefs win easily behind the arm of Patrick Mahomes. The Browns allowed Ben Roethlisberger, an aging QB with less athleticism and fewer weapons, throw for a whopping 501 yards and four touchdowns this weekend, which does not inspire confidence in the Browns’ chances this weekend. However, that is if this game becomes a shootout because a running game like the Browns have can keep the clock moving and force a slow, methodical pace that keeps the score low and the momentum neutral.
Sure, the Browns will be playing their sixth road game in eight weeks, but the Chiefs’ starters have not played a snap of actual football since the 27th of December, which will have been 21 days prior to this Sunday’s kickoff. This does mean that they are rested, sure, but it also means they are more likely to be a little rusty, and a little disorganized out of the gate. This also does not account for the injury risk present after such a long stretch of rest (soft tissue injuries specifically become a problem). Meanwhile, while the Chiefs were resting, the Browns were building momentum, beating their divisional rival handily two weeks in a row and overcoming a 26 year playoff win drought.
The Chiefs are the best team in the league, having one 14-1 with their starters this season. If they show up and play like everyone knows they can, then there is not a team in NFL history that can stop them, let alone the Browns. However, if the Chiefs play haphazardly like they have the second half of the season and allow the Browns the smallest opportunity, the Browns have the pieces to exploit the Chiefs’ weaknesses and escape Kansas City with a historic upset.