Alvin Kamara, Andy Reid, Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Drew Brees, Joel Bitonio, Kansas City Chiefs, Kevin Stefanski, Le'Veon Bell, Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints, NFL, Patrick Mahomes, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Taysom Hill, Tom Brady, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill
Two down and two to go so let us look at what matchups this divisional Sunday has in store for us.
Cleveland Browns (6th) @ Kansas City Chiefs (1st)
The team with the best regular season in 2020 finally starts their playoffs tonight with last season’s Super Bowl winners hosting a Browns team who won their first playoff game in twenty-five years last week. I understand why the Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid rested qaurterback Patrick Mahomes amongst several starters in week seventeen, but it does mean that it has been three weeks since any of them have taken a competitive snap. There should be plenty of confidence given that Mahomes when 14-1 as a starter this season, but if there is a slight hesitancy to declare them overwhelming favourites it is because the Chiefs did not beat a team by more than a touchdown after beating the Jets in week eight. The Browns are an interesting matchup in that between Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt they have a running game that is more than qualified to trouble the Chief’s thirty-first ranked rush defence by DVOA, whilst Kevin Stefanski has found enough in the passing game with Baker Mayfield to make him effective playing within his limitations. If the Browns try to just eat up clock then they will be in trouble as Patrick Mahomes will likely find a way to win a close game, but if they can get the game flow in their favour and run the ball then they might stand a chance of making it a competitive game. However, whilst the offensive matchup is workable for the Browns, their twenty-fifth ranked defence by DVOA looks to be outmatched as unless there is an awful lot of rust, the second ranked offence by DVOA should have enough to overcome the Browns. It does seem like running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has hit something of a rookie wall and Le’Veon Bell looks like a shell of the back who dominated in Pittsburgh only a couple of seasons ago. Still, with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill the Chiefs have game winners enough without the contributions they will likely get from the rest of their receiving options. I’m really happy that both Stefanski and Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio are going to get a taste of the playoffs, and there is a chance the Browns’ great progress continues, but I have to think that ultimately the Chiefs and Mahomes wins out in the one.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5th) @ New Orleans Saints (2nd)
The final game of this weekend has the potential to be a great spectacle as it sees two of the great quarterbacks of the game face off for a third time this season. It is hard to beat a team twice in one season, yet alone three times, which is precisely what the Saints are aiming to do tonight when they host the Buccaneers. The Bucs will be hoping that they can carry the form of the last quarter of the season into this contest as they have now won five straight games, but I have to think that the thirty-five point margin of victory for the Saints when these teams played in week nine will be on the Bucs’ minds as they approach games. Both teams have offences and defences in the top ten by DVOA. The Bucs offence is ranked a bit better but thee Saints’ defence ranks better. The Bucs have a plethora of receiving options whilst Tom Brady has looked good over the last few games as it real feels like things are really coming together for him in his first season in Tampa. For Drew Brees however, it has been another difficult season with receiver Michael Thomas missing for a lot of games not to mention his own problems from breaking eleven ribs. The passing game has never quite fully clicked for the Saints even if both Brees and backup\gadget player Taysom Hill have completion percentages above seventy percent, but Alvin Karama has had another remarkable season as running back. The Saints defence has been strong all season and while the Bucs have looked as good as anyone in the league in stretches, somewhere between their form and blitzes they have had big problems every now and again. I can’t help but feel that given it is the playoffs that the very least Tom Brady will do is keep the Bucs competitive, but I have to wonder if there is something in the way these two teams matchup that gives the Saints an advantage. It’s rare to see a team with Brady as quarterback lose by thirty-five points, but with the Saints at home I wonder whether the advantage they have in continuity having been together for so long, and the matchups gives them an edge. I think this game could be as good as any we’ve seen this year, but if you force me to pick I’m leaning Saints, but what I’m really hoping for is a great game to finish off the divisional round and I think we should at least get that.
DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measuring a team’s success on every play versus the league average and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com.