On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Kansas City Chiefs to kick off the NFL regular season. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, or general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
Re-Match Time to Open a Hyped Season
- Expectations are sky high for the Cleveland Browns entering the 2021 season. The team is ranked in the Top 6 in average power rankings, and some people foresee them as the team to make the Super Bowl out of the AFC. Standing in their way? The Kansas City Chiefs.
- The Chiefs have a scary good offense, thanks to the wicked abilities of Patrick Mahomes. It still doesn’t seem quite real that the Browns played this team in the postseason last year, and actually had a legitimate chance at winning after an injury to Mahomes forced him to depart the game. The Browns obviously can’t bank on Mahomes getting hurt again, so what has changed from the team’s last game to this one?
- The defense — general manager Andrew Berry revamped this defense from top to bottom. Yes, he still had to sacrifice some positions (defensive tackle), but the overall body of work presents a unit that has the potential to create havoc on a lot of teams. But, we haven’t seen this first-team defense play together to see how well all of the pieces fit together. Chemistry matters — we saw that in Cleveland’s first game against the Ravens last year. The Ravens were a well-oiled machine still, whereas the Browns were a bit out of sorts and it cost them.
- The magnitude of this game is profound. If we are thinking that these are two of the top teams in the AFC, then the tiebreaker for the playoff seeding come January will be dependent on this very first game of the season. Does that play to the Chiefs’ advantage? Or could Cleveland’s “unknown” create a bit of shock factor for Kansas City?
The Secret Weapon?
- Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Williams II, John Johnson III, Troy Hill. The Browns made some nice defensive acquisitions this offseason, but could the X-factor on Sunday actually turn out to be LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, the team’s second round pick? According to Brad Stainbrook of The OBR, the Browns plan to start JOK in their nickel package; which, as we know, is pretty much the new base defense in the NFL these days.
#Browns are preparing to start LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the majority of their nickel formations, sources say. Expect to see Owusu-Koramoah a lot Sunday.— Brad Stainbrook (@BrownsByBrad) September 10, 2021
- I was blown away by JOK’s closing speed and finishing ability in that first preseason game. I know it was just an exhibition, but that skill he showed is not something you can teach — he seemed to have that “it” factor, and it’ll be fascinating to see if he gets any free shots to shoot the gap and close in on Mahomes, who is always so crafty at dodging defenders.
The Biggest Disadvantage
- On Sunday, the kicking game stands out as something that could have Browns fans pulling their hair. Cody Parkey and Chase McLaughlin were competing all camp, but Chase Naggar could be the guy to get the call-up to kick on Sunday, thanks to a hamstring injury to McLaughlin. McLaughlin is listed as questionable, though, so it’s possible he could still kick too, depending on how he feels Sunday morning.
- The Chiefs have one of the best kickers in the business on their sideline. Whether a lot of touchdowns are scored or Cleveland needs a field goal to stay score-for-score with Kansas City, it’s not the best feeling to be holding your breath for every kick on Cleveland’s side. What will be a bit fascinating is if the Browns decide to adopt a strategy of going for two points instead of taking the extra point.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “I believe in the Browns this season, and I am more than intrigued to see how they can put everything together against the Chiefs. But I’ve always had a ton of belief in the Chiefs, thanks to Mahomes, and it’s hard to ever bet against him. Even in a shootout, he just knows how to elevate his team to come out on top. This pick isn’t a knock on the Browns, but rather my continued feeling that Mahomes is the best in the business, no matter what you throw at him (yes, I know they lost in the Super Bowl last year).” Chiefs 31, Browns 27
Thomas Moore: “Sunday’s game against Kansas City is a prime opportunity for the Browns to gauge how much they have improved since seeing their 2020 season end in the playoffs against the Chiefs. The offense should be fine in the second year of head coach Kevin Stefanski’s system, so much of the focus will be on the rebuilt defense, which could not stop the immortal Chad Henne in a key spot in that playoff game.
A good sign on Sunday will be if the Browns simply play like a team that has had the entire offseason to prepare for the opener. That might sound like a small bar to clear, but too often over the years Cleveland has shown up on Week 1 and played as if they just realized there was a game that day.
There are also several streaks on the line on Sunday, as the Browns have not won a Week 1 game since 2004, the Chiefs are a perfect 10-0 in September with Patrick Mahomes as the starting quarterback, and Kansas City head coach Andy Reid has never lost to the Browns as a head coach in the NFL.
While a win would obviously be nice, a loss does not derail the team’s season. But a victory would feel so good, calm a lot of nerves, and signal Cleveland’s intention as a contender in the AFC.” Browns 28, Chiefs 24
rufio: “I was really hoping to review the playoff game in preparation for this one, but the NFL’s film has been down for quite a while. Kansas City obviously has an explosive offense, and we weren’t really able to slow them down last year prior to Patrick Mahomes getting injured. From what I remember, they used pre-snap motion to really cross us up and we had trouble communicating in real time. It is hard enough to cover Kelce, Hill, Hardman, etc. after the snap, but when you have to cover them pre-snap for 5 seconds in addition to whatever they do when the play is live, things get dicey. Their offensive line is their weak point on that side of the ball, and we have a few guys who can cause issues for them in the pass rush. But we have to cover well enough to make use of those matchups, and we have to do it against a tremendous offensive mind.
There’s good news and bad news here. The good news is that we have a lot of new faces on defense. We no longer have to do everything in our power to scheme around Sendejo ending up 1 on 1 with Tyreke Hill. We probably shouldn’t rely on JJ or Ronnie Harrison to cover him all game, but for a play here or there we might survive. Greg Newsome, Johnson, JOK, and potentially Delpit and Greedy Williams should all help us in coverage. Clowney and Jackson should help up front. The bad news is...that we have a lot of new faces on defense. We will need to communicate due to KC’s pre-snap motion, and we will need to understand how to quickly adjust to receivers moving into the backfield or out wide, or from one side to the other. We don’t have the built-up chemistry on that side of the ball that would come with continuity.
In the end, I think this one is a shootout. I picked the Browns to win every game last year, so why stop now?” Browns 36, Chiefs 33
Barry Shuck: “The Browns last opponent in 2020 is their first contest in this season. Too bad they couldn’t get a few games in before they were tested against the AFC’s best team and got a running start. Cleveland brings back all 11 starting offensive players plus is adding a healthy David Njoku and OBJ coupled with rookies Anthony Schwartz and Demetric Felton into the mix. This offense is made to run and should become a huge part of the success of the this year’s roster. That is the good news. On defense, there are a lot of new bodies - which is good. It makes sense to replace Andrew Sendejo with John Johnson and Malik Jackson over Larry Ogunjobi. But until we see how this new Browns defense looks like in person and on the field full bore, I am not betting against Kansas City - in a home game with the first full stadium crowd since the pandemic.” Chiefs 38, Browns 20
Matt Wood: “Browns will experience some growing pains with their defense in this first game of the season. It’s to be expected with so many new faces and no playing time together in the preseason. I would love to see this game played in week four, but hey got to start somewhere. That being said, the Chiefs need to stop the Browns too and that will be a tall task. Browns offense gets cranked up and we have one of the best games of the year right out of the gates.
Home field plays a big role as the Chiefs get lucky and have the ball last. Chiefs get the win, but the Browns announce that they belong on the big stage.” Chiefs 38, Browns 36
Dan Lalich: “The Browns and the Chiefs both have a lot to be excited for this year. While on paper this matchup looks like it should be a clash of explosive offenses, I think both teams will be a bit out of sync to start the year due to the short preseason and starters not seeing much action. I expect to see a lot of yards, but also a lot of turnovers and a lot of “stop and go” drives where things stall out after a couple first downs. In a sloppy game featuring a little bit of everything, I’m picking the team with experience playing in sloppy games.” Browns 11, Chiefs 5
Ezweav: “It’s a new year and more to be excited about than we’ve had in ever. Obviously this matchup creates a challenge but I think maybe not as much was made in the offseason about just how effectively Tampa Bay shut down what KC was trying to do offensively in the Super Bowl. It’s been sort of written off as bad offensive line plus good TB pass rush equals nine points. However there may be something to the notion that the code could have been cracked a little bit and while Mahomey himself will still be a problem every time he goes out there, the Chefs overall may not be as invincible as they’ve been perceived to be during the last three years and all of this offseason. We’ll see.
To be sure, the Browns themselves are not without vulnerabilities - particularly on the defensive side of the ball. But there’s a pretty decided advantage with Myles lining up against anyone KC has as their bookends (either a functional rookie or a slow-footed former RT). If pockets are able to be crashed early I don’t think it’s too bold to suggest that Mahomes & crew are going to struggle, especially if he starts hearing footsteps and bailing early like he did against the Yuccaneers.
Thus, our running game, pass rush, improved secondary and home run threat (in the person of a returning Odell) line up nicely for us to have one of the more enjoyable opening days we’ve had in a long, long time.” Chiefs 63, Browns 3
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.