The Kansas City Chiefs will welcome the Cleveland Browns back to Arrowhead as part of NFL Kickoff in one of the most eye-catching and potentially massively important games on Sunday night.
For the Chiefs, they will be looking to show that they’ve not skipped a beat despite their 31-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV and to preserve their sixteen game winning streak in September under Andy Reid.
The Browns will be out for revenge after the Divisional Round matchup in January at Arrowhead saw the AFC West side halt all momentum and grind out a 22-17 win with Chad Henne getting the save after a fourth down pass to Tyreek Hill iced the game for good.
Improvements on both sides
Both sides will say that their core objectives have been met behind the scenes throughout the long spring and summer months.
The Chiefs bolstered their offensive line with additions including Orlando Brown Jr at right tackle, Kyle Long and Joe Thuney at guard. Vital moves when you consider their issues at the line in February, and more so as Mitchell Schwartz, Austin Reiter and Eric Fisher departed.
For the Browns the brief was pretty simple: overhaul the defense. Their first two draft picks saw the completion of that brief in cornerback Greg Newsome II and WILL linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, but more so were the acquisitions of safety John Johnson III, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and corner Troy Hill to name but a few.
Both sides will feel that their rosters are at their maximum potential going into the new season, and iron will sharpen iron for both of these teams.
Air threat potent for KC
With the Browns’ defense still bedding in and a number of players being eased into the system over camp thanks to injuries, COVID, or other reasons, the passing threat of Patrick Mahomes will remain as potent as ever.
The starting linebacker trio of Mack Wilson Sr., Anthony Walker, and Shone Takitaki will have to step up to minimise the space around the likes of Travis Kelce in the short and medium game, while Greg Newsome will likely be faced with an opening salvo against Mecole Hardman.
The Browns will feel happier than in January with their secondary as the difference in quality will feel night and day. However, against almost unarguably the best quarterback in football it will take a monumental opening day for many new pieces to align quickly to blunt the Chiefs most potent blade.
Linebacker issues open up 1-2 punch for Cleveland
The run game for Cleveland was vital last year as Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt shared the load for the third highest rushing yards per game last year at over 148. Behind one of the, if not the, premier offensive line of 2020 with no changes going into the new season it’s obvious that we’re likely to see more of the same going into 2021.
Combine this with the news that Willie Gay Jr. is on injured reserve with a toe injury, and that the Browns need to steal clock from the big arm of Patrick Mahomes and all of a sudden things seem a lot rosier for Kevin Stefanski when he calls up a running play.
Expect both Chubb and Hunt to get plenty of opportunities this Sunday as the Browns look to charge down the field in a deliberate but decisive manner.
This game is a lot harder to call than many might think. The oddsmakers have the Chiefs at a six point swing, but we didn’t see that in January and with the Browns arguably being the most improved team in football with effectively a brand new defense, it’s difficult not to see a close game now.
It could come down to who has the ball last, much like the Browns/Ravens Monday Night Football game last year. Either way, it’ll provide an excellent opportunity to both sides to go up against a Super Bowl challenger and see how they stack up for the month’s ahead.
It’s too close to call, but this being written by a realist Browns fan that’s been hurt too often, I’m going to give the fairytale ending to Patrick Mahomes. But only just.
Browns 23, Chiefs 27