Chiefs’ divisional-round matchup: Everything to know about the Browns
The Kansas City Chiefs (15-1) will play their first postseason game against the Cleveland Browns (11-5) on Sunday during the NFL’s divisional round of the playoffs. Cleveland is coming off a stunning win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card round, while the Chiefs are coming off a first-round bye week.
With the Browns heading to Arrowhead Stadium soon, it’s a great time to learn more about their team. Here’s everything to know about Cleveland ahead of the divisional round of the playoffs:
In town after their first playoff win since 1994
AP Photo/Justin Berl
If Chiefs fans thought their franchise was cursed in the postseason prior to their Super Bowl LIV championship, they were probably ignoring the Browns. They’ve been one of the most downtrodden franchises when it comes to postseason success for a long, long time. This year marked the first time in 18 years that the Browns made it to the postseason. Their win over the Steelers marks the first time since 1994 that they actually won a playoff game. Not only that, but you have to go back to 2003 to find the last time that the Browns won a game at Heinz Field. This was a ‘get the monkey off your back’ type of game in more than one way for the Browns. They’re coming into Kansas City with a lot of momentum because of that, but they’re also coming off of an emotional win. That can work in good ways and bad ways for a young team when it comes to newfound success.
A first-year head coach
AP Photo/David Richard
Browns HC Kevin Stefanski is in his first year on the job. He previously came up through the Minnesota Vikings organization, first as an assistant to head coach Mike Zimmer, then coaching tight ends, running backs, quarterbacks and eventually earning a role as their offensive coordinator on an interim basis in 2018. He earned the right to coordinate the offense full-time in 2019. Stefanski was hired by Cleveland over other candidates such as Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy. He seemed to be the right man for the job. In his first year with the team, he led them to an 11-5 record and their first postseason berth in 18 years. He did all of that despite the challenges surrounding the 2020 offseason and regular-season as it relates to COVID-19. Speaking of COVID-19…
Browns’ COVID-19 outbreak
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The Browns have been dealing with the results of a COVID-19 outbreak. This past game against the Steelers, they were missing OG Joel Bitonio, CB Denzel Ward, WR KhaDarel Hodge, and CB Kevin Johnson, who all landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. They also are dealing with an outbreak and close contacts among the coaching staff. Browns HC Kevin Stefanski, OL coach Bill Callahan, assistant OL coach Scott Peters, WR coach Chad O’Shea, and TE coach Drew Petzing all were unable to coach during Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh. A number of lower-level assistants were thrust into coaching the team in their win over the Steelers. The Browns also previously had a COVID-19 outbreak that wiped out their entire WR corp ahead of their regular-season game against the Jets. The current situation should be monitored, but things seem to be trending in the right direction for the Browns with players and coaches expected to return ahead of their game with the Chiefs.
Last game against Kansas City came in 2018
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The Chiefs and the Browns haven’t played against each other since the 2018 NFL season. That’s when Kansas City had a record-setting offense during QB Patrick Mahomes MVP campaign. K.C. ultimately won the game 37-21, but both teams were much different back then. The Chiefs hadn’t yet become Super Bowl champions. They were still playing in a 3-4 defense under then-defensive coordinator Bob Sutton with basically an entirely different group on defense. Oh, and Kareem Hunt was still on the team. Cleveland had just fired then-head coach Hue Jackson and had promoted defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as the interim head coach. They didn’t quite have the same balance in the passing game or the running game. The storylines after the game were about how Ohio natives Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt scored basically all the points for Kansas City.
Mayfield vs. Mahomes was one of the most historic college football games ever
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Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield have some history together. They were both on the same team at Texas Tech, but Mayfield eventually transferred to Oklahoma. They met as opponents in 2015 and combined for a record-setting college football game on the backs of two dominant offensive performances, smashing NCAA, conference and school records. Mahomes completed 52-of-88 passing attempts for 734 yards and five touchdowns passes. Mayfield completed 27-of-36 attempts for 545 yards and seven passing touchdowns. With 819 combined passing and rushing yards, Mahomes set the NCAA record for total offense by an individual player in a game. Mayfield and Mahomes combined for the most passing yardage in an NCAA game with 1,207. Mahomes basically shattered every single-game record for a Texas Tech quarterback, while Mayfield set the record for most passing touchdowns in a single-game by an OU quarterback. Here are some highlights (mostly of Oklahoma) from the game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7zgRRCPBoY
Top-5 running game
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The Browns boast one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, with a top-5 ranking in basically every category (yardage, average and touchdowns). Their run-game is headlined by former Georgia Bulldog Nick Chubb, who finished the year with over 1,000 yards rushing despite playing in just 12 games. This is his second consecutive season with over 1,000 yards rushing. Part of the Browns’ success in the run game has been their ability to win at the line of scrimmage. Cleveland’s offensive line was PFF’s top-graded unit in both run and pass-blocking to finish the 2020 season. Really, though, it’s the run game that opens up the passing game for the Browns and Baker Mayfield.
Worst-ranked defense remaining in playoffs
AP Photo/Don Wright
While the Browns have a lot of offensive success that they can hang their hats on, the defensive side of the ball isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. They have some great individual pieces on defense like DE Myles Garrett and CB Denzel Ward, but as a whole, they’ve not been great this year. During the regular season, the 11th-most passing yardage of any team and the 8th-most passing touchdowns. In the run game, they’ve allowed the 9th-fewest rushing yards and rank 17th in touchdowns allowed. Some of that success against the run can be attributed to the fact that teams have been able to get whatever they want in the passing game (7th-most attempts against). Teams only rushed against the Browns 412 times which is near the bottom of the league. It’s surprising after the crazy defensive performance that Cleveland had against Pittsburgh in the wild-card round, but this group still isn’t regarded very highly. They’re the worst team among remaining playoff teams in terms of weighted DVOA — a metric that weighs every play against the NFL’s league-average baseline. It’s not a unit to be underestimated, but if you’re looking to find a weakness for the Browns, this is it.
Two former Chiefs on Browns
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There are currently two former Chiefs players on the Browns’ 53-man roster. The most prominent is former third-round draft pick, RB Kareem Hunt. Kansas City made the decision to release Hunt after he lied to the team about an incident where he was videotaped shoving and kicking a woman at a Cleveland hotel. Hunt has since kept his nose clean and got his life back on track while playing for his hometown team. This season he has started five games for the Browns and has 198 carries for over 800 yards with six rushing touchdowns. He’s also been super productive through the air with 38 receptions for 304 yards and five touchdowns. The other former Chiefs player that has a prominent role for Cleveland is CB Terrance Mitchell. He’s currently a starter for the Browns at the right cornerback position. Mitchell was with Kansas City from 2016-2017, starting 11 games for the team opposite Marcus Peters. He had an impressive 2017 season, recording four interceptions and 18 passes defended on the year in 15 games played. This year with the Browns he started in all 16 games, recording 13 passes defended and three fumbles recoveries.
Another John Dorsey-assembled team
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Ex-Chiefs general manager John Dorsey was also once the general manager for the Cleveland Browns. He’s no longer be the general manager in Cleveland, but his fingerprints are still all over this now-thriving playoff team. He drafted Myles Garrett, David Njoku, Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and Denzel Ward. He even drafted Sione Takitaki, who had the game-sealing interception in the divisional round. Then you look at his other moves. He signed Jarvis Landry and Kareem Hunt in free agency. He traded to acquire Odell Beckham Jr., who is currently injured but will still be a big part of the future of this Cleveland team. Dorsey seems to have a reputation of leaving teams better off than he found them. It makes you wonder if he’ll earn another opportunity to be a general manager in the future.