Quickly, here’s my prediction for Sunday: the Kansas City Chiefs will beat the Cleveland Browns. I’m sure it will finish as a one-score game thanks to a final-minute Browns touchdown after they spend the rest of the game trailing by 14+. That final score, from the Browns’ dying gasps in the face of a prevent defense, will ensure the game wasn’t a blowout but was, in fact, very close and one the Chiefs totally could have lost.
The narratives running into this game are of two teams held to standards galaxies apart.
Part of the narrative disconnect comes from anyone simply trying to sell a playoff matchup where the Chiefs are 10-point favorites as a game that might actually be competitive. Part of it is because everyone but Chiefs fans are already exhausted by the Chiefs. Part of it is the product of the contrarian nature of sports talk morning shows.
The Chiefs have beaten the Ravens, Bills, Buccaneers, and Saints, all on the road. The Browns lost to the Jets three weeks ago. They were great against the Steelers in the Wild Card round, but the Steelers were even worse than the Browns were excellent.
This isn’t to say the Browns aren’t good — they are. But they’re a Wild Card team. There were only two truly playoff-caliber teams in the AFC North, and the Steelers were not one of them. The Ravens are still the class of that division, but the Browns aren’t too far behind.
Meanwhile, the "Kansas City never blows anyone out" narrative lives on. I touched on this a couple of weeks ago, so I won’t repeat myself too much. The Chiefs’ close wins seem to come up far more often as stains on their playoff resume than the Browns' loss to the Jets or the Buccaneers' loss to the Bears.
It wasn’t that long ago the Chiefs were in the same position the Browns are currently in. Even the smallest amount of playoff success is so fresh and new for them. The fact that they’re even in the playoffs and past the Wild Card round is kind of cute. Everyone is going to make a case that they could beat the Chiefs, but no one is actually picking them.
That was the Chiefs’ lot in life for years. While the Browns were still trapped in their decades-long tire fire, the Chiefs were the playoff-version Browns — the perpetual underdog who’d make it to the postseason to be a practice dummy for the AFC’s true contenders. The way the Browns were a warm-up game for teams in the regular season, the Chiefs were the warm-up playoff game for Super Bowl-caliber teams.
Now, the Browns are where the Chiefs used to be. In place of the Browns are, like, the Jets or the Lions or whatever. But the Browns are finally an actual, real-life, properly functioning football team. They’re just good enough.
This is the Browns’ “anything else is just gravy” year. They could lose 70-0 on Sunday and their fans would probably still be perfectly satisfied with their season. That’s another feeling that’s familiar to the Chiefs' recent past. The catharsis Chiefs fans felt upon their 2015-16 playoff win against the Texans is what Browns fans just experienced tenfold.
Now, of course, the Chiefs are the face of the entire league. The unbeatable monster — the proverbial final boss of the NFL. Seemingly overnight, a playoff win has gone from feeling like an impossibility to a given.
This is why there isn’t a ton to say about this game. It’s by far the one on the divisional round schedule with the least intrigue. That doesn’t mean it won’t be fun to watch. Far from it; Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield at their bests is among the most ideal matchups in the league if you want offensive fireworks and bonkers schoolyard nonsense. The ending, however, we all already know. The Chiefs have been on the other side of it countless times.