Kansas City is looking for its third consecutive Super Bowl appearance and fourth straight conference championship game appearance with Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid. Coming off a brutal Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chiefs revamped an offensive line that set a record for number of pressures allowed in the Super Bowl last year. Orlando Brown and Joe Thuney highlight an offensive line with five new starters tasked with protecting Mahomes, arguably the best quarterback in the game.
The Browns are coming off an 11-win season and a playoff victory, the first time the franchise has accomplished those feats since 1994. Head coach Kevin Stefanski injected new life into the franchise and salvaged Baker Mayfield’s career, as the Browns quarterback became one of the game’s most efficient quarterbacks in the second half of last year. Cleveland has arguably the best running back tandem in the NFL with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, along with a defense that has the potential to be among the top 10 in the league. The Browns are a contender to make a deep playoff run in the AFC.
Here’s a preview of this Week 1 showdown between two AFC contenders:
How to watch
Chiefs offensive line vs. Browns defensive line
The Chiefs revamped offensive line may be the best Mahomes has ever had. Brown didn’t allow a single sack or quarterback hit in 389 pass-blocking snaps at left tackle with the Baltimore Ravens last season filling in for Ronnie Stanley. Thuney is one of the most durable offensive linemen in the game, playing the second-most snaps in the league over the last five years (5,474). He also allowed just three sacks in 1,833 pass-blocking snaps over the past three seasons with the New England Patriots.
Rookie center Creed Humphrey didn’t allow a sack in in his 39 career games at Oklahoma (1,230 snaps). Fellow rookie right guard Trey Smith allowed only one sack in his final two seasons at Tennessee in over 2,500 snaps. Right tackle Lucas Niang, a 2020 third-round pick who sat out the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, didn’t allow a sack during his final two seasons at TCU.
The group’s first test will be a challenge against a pass rush that employs Myles Garrett, who finished with 12 sacks and four forced fumbles last year. Garrett’s 42 sacks are the seventh most by a player in his first 51 career games. Jadeveon Clowney lines up opposite Garrett with Malik Jackson and Andrew Billings at the defensive tackle spots. Cleveland was just 15th in the NFL in sacks last year (38.0), a number that should be higher. The Browns need more than just Garrett taking over the game.
Garrett vs. Brown will be worth the watch.
Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt vs. Chiefs run defense
Chubb and Hunt were a force in 2020, holding claim as the only pair of teammates to each have more than 840 yards rushing last year. Chubb and Hunt had a combined 23 touchdowns from scrimmage, the fourth-highest total in the league. Chubb rushed for 1,067 yards despite missing four games — becoming the first player since Mercury Morris (1972) to rush for 1,000 yards in 12 touchdowns on 190 or fewer carries. Hunt’s five receiving touchdowns were tied for the most among running backs.
The Chiefs defensive line is improved with the addition of Jarran Reed up front, but Kansas City still needs to improve upon its ranking from last season (122.1 rush yards per game, 21st in NFL) and yards per carry average (4.6, 24th in league). Chubb and Hunt combined for 101 yards on 19 carries in the divisional playoff loss, but had just three catches for six yards on six targets.
The Browns running backs will have to perform near their 2020 regular season levels (148.4 rushing yards per game, third in NFL) if they wish to upset Kansas City.
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Latest Odds: Kansas City Chiefs -6
Caesars Sportsbook has the Chiefs as 6-point favorites with an over/under of 54.5. Points will be scored in this one, especially with the duo of Mahomes and Reid. The Chiefs have averaged 31.4 points with Mahomes as the starting quarterback, the highest average for any team since 1950. They’re going to score points if Mahomes stays upright the entire game.
Mahomes had 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions on passes outside the pocket last season, the best ratio in the NFL. Throwing to Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill will have a very good Cleveland secondary on its heels, as the Browns will attempt to eliminate the big play.
The Browns have to get the run game going in order to have a shot at winning their first season opener since 2004. This is a tall task for Cleveland on the road but a good test for a franchise that will be competing for a conference title. Take the Chiefs and the points.
Chiefs 34, Browns 23
Check out CBSSports.com for even more predictions on this game and the rest of Week 1.