The Kansas City Chiefs will once again host the divisional round as the AFC’s top seed. Now well-rested and eager to get back to work, the Chiefs will begin their playoff quest against the upstart Cleveland Browns.
The Chiefs haven’t played the Browns since 2018, when they went to Cleveland and won 37-21. The last time the Browns came to Kansas City was in December of 2015, and the Chiefs came away 17-13 victors that day. The Browns have not beaten the Chiefs since a 30-7 thrashing in Cleveland, back in 2012. The only player on either team that was there that day was offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz; but he played for Cleveland then.
The Chiefs do appear to hold the upper hand against the Browns, with an elite passing offense, multiple weeks of rest, and the luxury of playing at home. But the Browns are coming in hot after dispatching the Steelers in the Wild Card round.
Let’s take a look at a few questions before kickoff.
How healthy are the Chiefs after a few weeks rest, and how will injuries affect this game?
The rest seems to have done some good for several Chiefs players. Offensive tackle Mike Remmers, running back Le’Veon Bell, and linebacker Ben Niemann all seem to have recovered from injuries they suffered in December, and each will be ready to play. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes had been taking a ton of hits in the second half of the season, so the rest has assuredly been good for him, too.
The biggest names on the injury front are wide receiver Sammy Watkins and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Watkins came out of the Week 16 Falcons game with a calf injury; three weeks later, he has been declared out for the Browns game.
The Chiefs clearly function better when they have Watkins in the lineup. He provides an explosive third option in the passing game, and we have plenty of evidence to see that the offense is just not the same when he’s not on the field. With the Chiefs, Watkins averages a sparkling 93 yards per game in the playoffs. That number is not easily replaced.
The Chiefs have several capable players like Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, and Byron Pringle waiting in the wings. Pringle has played well and will be an exclusive rights free agent in 2021. Look for him to receive the biggest uptick in opportunities on Sunday.
Edwards-Helaire suffered a high ankle sprain late in the team’s Week 15 win at New Orleans, but if you witnessed that injury, you probably would not have expected to see the rookie back at practice just 3 1/2 weeks later due to its gruesome appearance. Edwards-Helaire was limited at practice on Wednesday, but did not practice on Thursday or Friday.
Rookie linebacker Willie Gay, still hobbled by a Week 17 high ankle sprain, will miss Sunday’s game. Cornerback Rashad Fenton is questionable with injuries to his feet suffered in the Week 17 Chargers game. For Cleveland, they are mostly healthy. Offensive tackle Jack Conklin (hamstring/knee) is their lone starter whose status is still up in the air. He was limited on Friday in his first practice all week.