While win-loss records aren't everything, a 14-2 mark provides a fairly accurate representation of what the Kansas City Chiefs currently are: the best football team in the NFL. Despite that, there seems to be a feeling of uneasiness surrounding the reigning Super Bowl champs that stems from how they've been winning.
Dating back to the November 8 showdown with the Carolina Panthers, each of the Chiefs' last seven victories were one-score contests. Some were against playoff-caliber opponents (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints) while others featured far inferior competition (Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons). Every game had a different story, but the consensus was that the Chiefs were playing well below their potential. The team's A-game hasn't been seen in upwards of two months.
Some will call it a Super Bowl hangover. Others will describe it as an overachieving squad barely scraping by in games it should be losing. To be brutally honest, those critiques are (somewhat) warranted. Everyone knows the Chiefs can play better than they have been since their last blowout win, a 35-9 drubbing of the lowly New York Jets. Wins are wins, but the process is oftentimes — if not always — more important than the result. What better way to prove that the process is just fine than a playoff game?
When the Cleveland Browns come into Arrowhead Stadium on the heels of an exciting victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, emotions will be high. There will be no shortage of storylines, whether it be Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield's college thriller, Kareem Hunt's return to Kansas City or the potential for a Cleveland upset. What's largely being ignored, though, is the prospect of a motivated Chiefs team with something to prove.
Before sitting out of the team's regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Chargers, Mahomes seemed off. On the tail end of a campaign for his second MVP award, a trophy he'll most likely miss out on adding to his already crowded collection, he had perhaps his worst performance as a pro. The peripherals weren't bad as he went 24-of-44 for 278 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, but he was uncharacteristically erratic in his decision-making. The best player in the NFL hasn't been otherworldly in several weeks.
Luckily for Mahomes, he has two of the game's most lethal threats in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to throw to. The Chiefs' top receivers are looking to build off tremendous regular seasons and maintain the pressure on their opponents for a full 60 minutes. Far too many times this year, the team has gotten out to a lead and then taken its foot off the proverbial gas pedal. That can't — and won't — fly come playoff time.
Although it's had some rough moments when attempting to stop the run and may not appear quite as sharp as it was in 2019, Steve Spagnuolo's defense is quietly solid. For the second-straight year, the unit ranked in the top 10 in points allowed and is league average in yards allowed per contest. It may not be the most suffocating group in all of football, but timely plays from its stars are what makes it a championship-level one nevertheless.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones and defensive end Frank Clark have caught heat for their production in relation to some hefty checks being sent their way, but they almost always come up big when needed. Safety Tyrann Mathieu lives for playoff moments and thrives under pressure. They should all be well-rested and rejuvenated for another playoff run together.
Then, of course, there's Andy Reid coming off a bye week. The legendary head coach sports a 5-2 record after a first-round bye, which is the icing on the cake for the Chiefs. Not only will the players be refreshed and focused, but Reid's track record with extra time to prepare speaks for itself. He's as good as they come in situations like this.
Don't get it twisted. The Browns are a tough opponent. Kevin Stefanski is a Coach of the Year candidate, and rightfully so. He's turned the laughingstock of the NFL into a playoff team. Cleveland has overcome plenty of adversity this season and is coming off a huge win. With that said, they may be in the wrong place at the wrong time in this scenario.
Mahomes is already great, but after hearing the chatter about him and his team, the NFL should be scared of what may be around the corner. Combine that with the core from last year's championship team and a coach like Reid leading the pack, and there's little reason to expect the Chiefs won't hush their doubters on Sunday afternoon.