Many have been hyping up this Sunday's season-opening contest between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Browns as a Divisional Round rematch from last season. While many pillars of each organization remained over the course of the offseason, both teams saw significant changes from January to September. To act as if things will be the same this time simply isn't fair.
First and foremost, let's address things from the Chiefs' perspective. After seeing his offensive line crumble due to injuries and subsequent lackluster performance in the Super Bowl, general manager Brett Veach overhauled the entire unit. This season, five new starters (Orlando Brown Jr., Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith and Lucas Niang) will take the field Week 1. This is a stark contrast from the collection the Chiefs fielded a year ago, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity.
Another thing to consider: Patrick Mahomes was forced out of the aforementioned playoff matchup due to do an injury. Under normal circumstances, he plays the entire game. That's never guaranteed with any player but for the sake of argument, we have to expect that the Chiefs' offense will look much different personnel-wise than it did for most or all of the Divisional Round contest.
The Browns will also look different. With plenty of additions on defense and a major piece returning from injury on offense, things are looking up for a team that may have the most complete roster in the NFL. Pete Smith of Browns Digest joined me on today's Roughing the Kicker Podcast to provide some insight on what the Chiefs should expect this time around.
Cleveland's defense struggled to stay healthy and thrive in 2020. This year, things look quite a bit different. Not only did the team bolster the pass rush by adding defensive ends Takk McKinley and Jadeveon Clowney to the mix, but it also revamped the secondary. Entering the fold are safety John Johnson and cornerbacks Troy Hill and Greg Newsome II. All of these players have specific strengths that will play to the Browns' advantage.
In the second round of this year's NFL Draft, the Browns also added a human chess piece to their linebacker room. Former Notre Dame standout Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah projects to be a safety-linebacker hybrid who is very light on his feet, both literally and figuratively, but is a good fit in the modern NFL. Safety Grant Delpit is also slated to return from a torn Achilles and will make his debut this year. This myriad of additions presents defensive coordinator Joe Woods with far more options than in 2020.
Offensively, not a lot has changed for Cleveland. One major "add," though, is wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. You can look up the Baker Mayfield splits with and without him all you want, but there's no denying that he gives the Browns a lethal threat to unleash in several different ways on offense. If he's still as athletic as he was before tearing his ACL in October, the Chiefs will have their hands full making sure he's accounted for.
While the Chiefs should be (and are) favored in this game, it should be a battle. Of course, there's always the possibility that the team's offensive line jells together quickly and Cleveland's defense can't figure things out on the fly. With that said, the inverse is also true. That's the beauty — and the struggle — of having shiny new toys to play with. They take time to get used to.
In this highly-anticipated Week 1 matchup, don't treat it like a carbon copy of the playoff game from the beginning of this year. Things have changed for both of these teams, and for the better. The Chiefs and Browns should be two of the best teams in the AFC this season, and it's a treat to have them square off so early in the schedule. Perhaps this can be a 2021-22 playoff preview but even then, we may be having the same conversation then that we are right now.