As the defending Super Bowl Champions prepare their title defense, we look at five key matchups that will decide the game.
Coming into the 2020 NFL season, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Kansas City Chiefs would return to the playoffs once the regular season ended. The title defense was always going to begin in earnest when the defending champions took the field for their first playoff game.
Despite that reality, the team still finished the regular season 14-2 and secured the number one seed in the AFC Playoffs. As such, when the Cleveland Browns visit Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday, it will kickoff a run it back campaign 11 months in the making.
While the oddsmakers are overwhelming favoring Kansas City in the contest, and media pundits far and wide are worried about the Chiefs stars’ long layoff causing rust (after taking Week 17 off, and getting the first round bye), along with the team’s lack of style points (no double digit wins since Week 8), Kansas City has simply been preparing and waiting for the tournament to begin.
Besides, it all comes down to matchups anyway, right? So what matchups will go the furthest in deciding who advances to the AFC Championship Game?
Browns RBs vs. Chiefs LBs/Safeties
It is no secret that the Cleveland Browns feature one of the best running back duos in football, and rely heavily on both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to make their offense go.
Over the course of the season, the Browns have amassed the 3rd most rushing yards in the NFL, while averaging 4.8 yard per carry. But, it is not just the running game that makes these two a fearsome combination. Both running backs are also skilled receivers out of the backfield, making it even more difficult to stop them from racking up yards.
Chubb played in 12 regular season games this year, but still amassed over 1,200 yards from scrimmage. Meanwhile Hunt, despite being the number two man, still gained 1,145 yards from scrimmage. Simply put, the two have been formidable, and integral, in Cleveland’s offense.
On the other side of the ball, Kansas City’s rush defense has been, well, not very good. The team finished 21st in the NFL after giving up roughly 120 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry. In addition, the team has regularly been torched by running backs when catching passes out of the backfield—swing passes, screen passes, etc. have been highly effective against the Chiefs.
A concern for the defending champions is that rookie Willie Gay, Jr. is still struggling with an injury which hampered him the last two weeks of the season. As the team’s most athletic and fastest linebacker, it could be important this weekend for him to be able to play.
On Sunday, the ability of the Chiefs linebackers and safeties to stop the run, and cover Hunt and Chubb out of the backfield, will go a long way in determining who comes out on top.