This week, the Cleveland Browns are back home as they get set to battle the Kansas City Chiefs. It took Cleveland awhile to build a two-game winning streak, and now they'll look to win three in a row for the first time in the Pat Shurmur era. The Browns couldn't ask for a better opponent to get the job done against; all of the emotional things aside regarding the Jovan Belcher tragedy, the Chiefs are still the worst team in football, period.
I didn't think for a second about giving the advantage at quarterback to the Chiefs, nor did I consider making it even. How ridiculous would it look if I said Brady Quinn, the former first-round pick who the Browns ditched for a fullback, was on the same level as the Browns' first-round pick from this season, Brandon Weeden? I'd be creating a paradox, in essence, and I am not going to go there. Thankfully, I don't have to.
Quinn was a huge disappointment during his reign with the Browns, and up until last week's superb performance against the Panthers, he hadn't done anything since leaving Cleveland. Every quarterback has a good game every so often, but that doesn't mean they are turning some corner in their career. As for Weeden, this year is still a maturation season for him. The chemistry with his receivers seems to be improving, but he needs to fix whatever problem is causing him to be inconsistent with his accuracy on the long ball.
I banked my fantasy football fortunes on Jamaal Charles this season, and that decision has failed me; not because Charles has been bad, but because of circumstance. For the whole first half of the season, it seemed like the Chiefs were down by several possessions before halftime, which really hurt the number of touches Charles was getting. Kansas City has gotten a lot better with staying in games as of late. Over the past four games, Charles has 421 yards rushing and is averaging 4.67 yards per carry. He hasn't involved as a receiver as much as you might expect, though, logging 8 catches for 42 yards during that same stretch.
This is a category I considered giving the Chiefs the advantage in due to Trent Richardson's lower yards per carry average on the season (3.6). With that said, Richardson has certainly proven his worth as an upgrade to what Peyton Hillis offered a season ago. The guy will play through everything and is hungry to do whatever he can to will the Browns to victory. He still needs to work on hitting/finding the hole better, and hopefully that can start against a lackluster Chiefs run defense. Richardson has also been a reliable checkdown back for Weeden, including on a big 4th-and-1 conversion a week ago.
In my scouting report for the Chiefs this week, I spent a good amount of time discussing how poor the Chiefs' situation at wide receiver is after Dwayne Bowe. That's not the only reason the Browns are getting the advantage here, though.
Josh Gordon has made significant improvements to his game over the course of the season, and Greg Little's drops have evaporated completely since the bye week. Mohamed Massaquoi appears to be the extra three-set receiver, and the tight ends had their best collective game of the year against Oakland. Everyone's roles are starting to become defined, which was something I had been complaining about since training camp (i.e. too many cooks in the kitchen at wide receiver). This is a unit that I might even consider ranking above, or even, with Washington a week from Sunday.
There are a lot of things that have gone wrong for the Chiefs this year, but the bright spot has been the offensive line, a unit that consists of LT Branden Albert, LG Jeff Allen, C Ryan Lilja, RG Jon Asamoah, and RT Eric Winston. If you recall, Winston was one of the players a lot of Browns fans coveted this past offseason, but the front office opted to draft Mitchell Schwartz instead.
Winston hasn't been a letdown by any stretch for Kansas City, but in hindsight, taking Schwartz worked out for the better for Cleveland. With the exception of Lilja, this offensive line has a lot of potential for the future due to their youth. Don't expect Cleveland's defensive front to have ease getting through the line; thankfully, Kansas City's terrible situation at quarterback and receiver counterfeits the production of the line.
The Chiefs have a pretty heavy investment up front, eh? At left defensive end, Tyson Jackson was 3rd overall pick of the 2009 draft. Nose tackle Dontari Poe was the 11th overall pick this season. Overall, the results have been suspect. While Jackson has had a couple of good games as of late, he hasn't been anything close to what the team had hoped for. Poe, on the other hand, is continuing to develop and starting to impress people. One person over at Arrowhead Pride did an insane snap-by-snap evaluation exclusively of Poe, if you're interested in reading that.
The Browns obviously run a different defense than the Chiefs, so it's tough to make an apples-to-apples comparison regarding the ranking here. For their system, Cleveland's depth is 100 times better, though, especially since the Chiefs just lost one of their backup defensive ends to injured reserve this week.
I knew I could squeeze a Chiefs logo in here somewhere. It's pretty rough when you want to do research on a position for the opposing team, and the only headlines coming up for the search terms "Kansas City Chiefs linebackers" are about the death of Jovan Belcher. Belcher was a starting inside linebacker for the Chiefs. Belcher has been replaced by Brandon Siler, a guy the Browns should really try to target on the ground and with their tight ends, if possible.
Regardless of that position, though, Kansas City gets the edge because of Derrick Johnson as the other inside linebacker, and outside linebacker Justin Houston. Houston has ten sacks on the season, including three over his past two games. Tamba Hali, the team's other outside linebacker, has 6 sacks this season and 60 sacks total in his career.
I like the fact that I've seen a few aggressive plays from Kaluka Maiava over the past couple of weeks. It's kind of weird, considering the fact that this is the same time of the season he came on strong in 2011. Maybe he's a November/December type of guy or something.
The Browns are expected to be at full strength in the secondary this Sunday, which would be the first time that's happened since Week 1. If the Browns get to field Joe Haden, Sheldon Brown, and Dimitri Patterson at the same time, who is Quinn going to target? Brown is still the probable choice, but he's coming off a tremendous game against the Raiders. The staff seems pretty comfortable with the use of safeties T.J. Ward and Tashaun Gipson, and Usama Young should be back as an extra usage player.
The Chiefs will likely be without safety Abram Elam. Although Kansas City's secondary hasn't given up a lot of passing yards, quarterbacks have had success against them. According to the Plain Dealer's Dennis Manoloff, "opposing quarterbacks have thrown for 2,774 yards at a 60.3 completion rate, averaged 8.3 yards per pass and posted a 103.0 rating. They have thrown for 25 touchdowns and been intercepted seven times." While top cornerback Brandon Flowers will probably play, he didn't practice on Wednesday or Thursday with a hamstring injury.
Kicker, Ryan Succop, like many other kickers around the league, is having a career year. Succop has connected on 26-of-29 attempts, including 10-of-11 kicks from beyond 40 yards. Their punter,, is right around the middle of the league in terms of performance. The coverage and return units for Kansas City have been neither great nor bad.
The Browns' Phil Dawson missed a kick for the first time all season last week due to a block, but don't count on that happening again. Reggie Hodges is still proving to be a liability when he puts the ball in the air, but Cleveland's return game continues to do well with Joshua Cribbs.
The positional rankings underscore the fact that Kansas City has been an awful football team this year. The primary culprits have been terrible quarterback play, very questionable coaching decisions, a sorry state of affairs for the receivers, and an underachieving defense. This is a team that, half-way through the season, had not held a single lead during regulation. And, prior to last week, the Chiefs had gone 28 weeks without scoring an opening-drive touchdown (h/t Manoloff).
The Chiefs might have struck gold against the Panthers last week, but Carolina has been a pretty bad team too. The Browns are full of confidence, are as healthy as they can be, and are a much better team talent-wise. We're going to enjoy this week.
FINAL PREDICTION: Cleveland Browns 34, Kansas City Chiefs 10