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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.

Willie Gay and Sammy Watkins are out for Sunday’s game against the Browns. Rashad Fenton, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Deon Yelder are questionable. https://t.co/m2cRzF9svj

— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 15, 2021

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.

Are you ready for the divisional round of the playoffs, Chiefs Kingdom?

Just as we have over the past four seasons, the Chiefs Wire staff will offer its weekly predictions for each Chiefs game, including the playoffs. Below you’ll find all of our picks for Kansas City’s divisional-round game against the Cleveland Browns at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 17 at 2:05 p.m. CT.

Charles Goldman

The Browns are riding a lot of momentum heading into Arrowhead Stadium, but the Chiefs aren’t the Steelers, they’re the reigning Super Bowl Champions. I don’t think Browns have the defensive firepower to stop Patrick Mahomes from doing his thing, even with injuries to Sammy Watkins and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The question is, do they have the offensive firepower to keep up with Kansas City and make this game interesting?

The production for the Chiefs on offense will come from the usual suspects, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. On average the Browns have surrendered 57 yards per game to tight ends and allowed 11 touchdowns to the position on the year. I’m not sure they have anyone who can consistently cover Kelce. They’ve also allowed 23 touchdowns to receivers this year and with Hill, it’s only a matter of time before he speeds by a defender for a big play.

On defense, I feel like slowing Baker Mayfield down might be more important than stopping the running game. I understand that is probably the opposite of what you’ve heard this week. There’s going to be some point in the game where Cleveland will need Mayfield to put the team on his back and make a play. That’s when the defense for K.C. needs to be at its best.

Chiefs win 34–20

Five Arrowhead Pride contributors thought the Los Angeles Chargers would defeat the Kansas City Chiefs in their Week 17 game — when the Chiefs rested their starters — and three thought otherwise. But no one predicted a final Chargers point spread above 10. So our aggregate prediction of a 23.0–20.1 Los Angeles win bore little resemblance to the 38–21 final score. Our readers didn’t fare any better. 53% predicted a Chiefs victory. Just 7% thought the Chargers would win in a blowout.

Let’s see what the staff — and our readers — think will happen in Sunday’s Divisional round playoff game between the Chiefs and the Cleveland Browns.

Tom Childs (@tomchilds56)

The Chiefs simply cannot start as slowly as did last year. I also think they are sick to death of hearing others talk and the narrative surrounding this team. So I am saying that the poor Browns defense is going to be victimized by Patrick Mahomes and company. Chiefs 51, Browns 31John Dixon (@Arrowheadphones)

Three seasons ago, the Browns ended a three-season stretch where they had won a total of four games. Now they stand at 12–5, having won their first playoff game since 1994. So it’s not fair to think of these men from the shores of Lake Erie as the same old Browns. They’re coming into Arrowhead with an impressive rushing attack, good players on both sides of the trenches — and more emotion than the Chiefs have likely seen since the Las Vegas Raiders came to town in Week 5. Kansas City can’t afford to overlook them — and I don’t think they will. The Browns have turned a significant corner — and for that, I offer my sincerest congratulations. But their time is yet to come. Chiefs 34, Browns 27Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp)

I can’t wait any longer for this game to kick off. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing how the Chiefs have barely beaten all their opponents down the stretch. I’m exhausted of hearing that Aaron Rodgers — and now even Josh Allen — had a more impressive season. I’m fatigued from all the questions about this team, so don’t you think the Chiefs are, too? Mahomes comes out and sets the Arrowhead turf on fire with his most productive playoff game yet. It may be a close contest at the start, but Kansas City’s offense begins to lap the Browns’ in the second half with a statement of a performance. Chiefs 48, Browns 27

Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina)

The Chiefs have come out and given 110% for approximately four quarters this season and none have been consecutive. Whether it’s boredom, feeling like they are on top of the world — or something else — they simply haven’t strung together long stretches of play at their top-end level. The crazy part? They still won 14 games. Now, after a month of hearing how vulnerable and overrated they are, they are geared up and ready to come out swinging. Both sides of the ball show up early and often as the Chiefs come back to remind everyone exactly why they won the Super Bowl last year. Chiefs 42, Browns 20Matt Stagner (@stagdsp)

The Cleveland Browns are on the rise, and they made history last week with a playoff win. It seems they finally have an exciting quarterback and an identity built around a dynamic duo of running backs. They showed last week they are opportunistic and that the playoff stage is no longer too big for them. Unfortunately for them, the dream may end on Sunday. The Chiefs are well-rested — and while not totally healthy, still have enough key pieces to play the game they want to play. I still think Reid and Mahomes are going to do some things we haven’t seen all season as they go on a run or two that puts this game out of reach. Watch for Kelce to dominate, Mecole to get lost for a big play, and Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu to lead a defensive effort that is better than most expect. Chiefs 35, Browns 17

Craig Stout (@barleyhop)

The Browns are a good running team with a stellar offensive line and a strong play-action passing game. Unfortunately, all of those elements can be taken away by scoring early and often — which the Chiefs offense should do. Everything that Patrick Mahomes and company do well on offense is a known weakness for this Browns defense, which should lead to a lot of points from a motivated offense. The Browns can’t hang with a Mahomes-led offense that’s not turning the ball over, and it should lead to big games from Chris Jones and Frank Clark. Chiefs win big and cruise to the AFC Championship game. Chiefs 42, Browns 24

Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson)

Kansas City has been different since February 2, 2020. Its relationship with the football team took on a new meaning when the Chiefs re-paid years of loyalty with a Super Bowl victory. Expectations have risen after that moment — and simultaneously, the calm of knowing the Chiefs have the best player in the world settled over the city. The regular season felt different this year — because in Kansas City, the season now starts in January. It’s go time, pals. The Chiefs won over 93% of their games with Patrick Lavon Mahomes playing this year — and it feels there is more than they showed ready to unleash on teams in the playoffs. It starts on Sunday against a good Browns team that I expect the Chiefs to comfortably lead for the duration of the game. Chiefs 38, Browns 27

Pete Sweeney (@pgsween)

It’s been 12 months since January 2020 — a year we can collectively say has been the longest of most of our lifetimes. The Chiefs showing up to the 2021 postseason being as-good-as-if-not-better than they were this time last year is a credit to Andy Reid and the player-leaders, who simply stayed the course through the hardest of circumstances. In the first game of the playoff portion of Running It Back, I think the Chiefs come out firing — as there was a certain energy to Chris Jones’ press conference showing that they have had just about enough of the naysayers calling them bored. As for the Browns, they knocked off Spider Rico last Sunday. This is Rocky Balboa. I’ll take the Chiefs to have the game in hand late in the third quarter, with the Browns finding a way to the back-door cover late in the game. Chiefs 38, Browns 29

Poll

Who wins Browns (12–5) at Chiefs (14–2)?

  • Chiefs in a blowout
  • Chiefs in a close game
  • Browns in a close game
  • Browns in a blowout

VOTE view results

2020 Standings

Ties in the standings are broken with prediction points error — how much each prediction misses the actual point spread and the number of points scored by each team.

Among those who predicted the Chiefs’ Week 17 loss, Pete Sweeney’s 28–20 pick came closest to the mark, accumulating 20 points of error. It was Pete’s first win of the season. Kent Swanson was right behind Pete with a 27–17 prediction that was off by 22 points. John Dixon paid the price for predicting a 27–24 Chiefs win. It toppled him from the top of the standings — where Kent, Ron Kopp and Pete now stand supreme.

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