If you believe what you hear on national sports shows, the Kansas City Chiefs play the Denver Broncos tomorrow.
Much of the hype — even after the Broncos lost to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday — has been this matchup of two of the top teams in the NFL in Week 11. The problem is, this is Week 8, and Week 8 means the Cleveland Browns at home at Arrowhead.
I’m reminded of a radio interview I heard last month on a Monday, just as players were recovering from Sunday’s game and starting to prepare for their next opponent. On this particular Monday, radio host Jim Rome interviewed Stevie Johnson, the talented wide receiver from the Buffalo Bills. Johnson told Rome how much he was looking forward to playing against the New York Jets and cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. The only problem is that Revis — the best and most famous cornerback on the planet — had been traded to the Buccaneers five months previously in perhaps the biggest transaction of the offseason. Fans scoffed at Johnson, because we follow every little transaction like our lives depend on it. What I loved about Johnson’s response though was that he truly plays one game at a time and wasn’t looking beyond the very next game. He went on to catch six passes for 86 yards, including a critical two-point conversion.
That’s what Kansas City needs to do this Sunday. The Browns, on paper — hell, on the field — are a team in relative disarray. The offense has scored a total of 13 points over the past six quarters. Their defense ranks 26th in the NFL in third down conversions allowed. Last week against the Green Pay Packers, quarterback Brandon Weeden was just horrible, completing 17 of 42 for a measly 149 yards. The Browns are -1 in turnover differential; the Chiefs are +11. It’s so bad that former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia, who hasn’t played since the Pleistocene Era, just offered his services to the Browns.
But this is the NFL. Jason Campbell gets the start at QB, and he won his last two games against the Chiefs as a member of the Oakland Raiders. Starting running back Willis McGahee has gashed the Chiefs numerous times in his previous life on the Denver Broncos. Browns center Alex Mack is perhaps the best in the league, and may neutralize, at least somewhat, the dominance that Dontari Poe has exhibited this year. The Browns still have Joe Thomas, one of the premier left tackles in the game, as well as a legitimate lockdown corner in Joe Haden and a great rookie pass rusher in Barkevious Mingo. And of course, wide receiver Josh Gordon may be the Browns’ best playmaker, playing against a Chiefs defense that has had its share of giving up big plays.
The Browns will believe that they have to take risks on offense, since they will not see many opportunities. That means going for it on fourth down, pursuing touchdowns rather than field goals in the red zone, going for home run pass plays and using misdirection and play-action on offense to slow down the Chiefs’ relentless pass rush.
And they will make mistakes with this high-risk approach. The Chiefs must capitalize. In addition to turnovers and field position, the Chiefs may take advantage of one matchup in particular involving Dwayne Bowe. If Bowe plays outside, Joe Haden will likely line up against him. But if Bowe continues to line up in the slot, as he did on occasion last week against the Houston Texans, then either Buster Skrine or Chris Owens may slide over on Bowe. This would be a match made in heaven for the Chiefs. On the other hand, if Haden stays on Bowe in the slot, head coach and play-caller Andy Reid has a number of one-on-one pass route options on the outside to take advantage of the much weaker Skrine, including to the speedy Donnie Avery, Jamaal Charles out of the backfield or even Junior Hemingway.
The Kansas City Chiefs need to keep their head down, their humility high, and play each game as if it were the first game of the season. If we beat the Browns, it’ll be because Andy Reid, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, special teams coach Dave Toub and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson will tell their players that it doesn’t matter what they’ve done, where they are ranked or the media attention they are getting. It only matters what they do on the field on Sunday.
Addicts, do you think the Chiefs will continue its winning ways this Sunday? How will they do it?!!