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First take: Respect to Cleveland, but the Chiefs can handle the Browns

The Wild Card games worked out extremely well for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Wild Card Round - Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

This Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs will come back from a well-earned week of rest to face the Cleveland Browns in the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

Coming into the postseason as the AFC’s sixth seed, the Browns advanced to the next round with a big 48-37 road victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night’s Wild Card playoff game.

First... all due respect to the Browns. The last time Cleveland won a road playoff game was in the 1969 season. The Browns were then an NFL team — it was only after the 1970 merger that they moved to the AFC — and Richard Nixon was President of the United States. The last time they won any playoff game was in 1994, when a young man named Bill Belichick was their head coach — and down in Austin, Texas, James and Gina Mayfield were expecting their second child: a boy they would name Baker. The last time the Browns even appeared in the playoffs was in 2002. Baker was just seven years old when Bill Cowher’s Steelers edged the Browns 36-33 in the Wild Card round.

As Chiefs fans, we understand — and appreciate — how difficult it is to overcome such a long record of failure. So let’s congratulate the Browns and their fans for finally getting over that hump. They absolutely deserve to be feeling great right now. We’ve been there, Cleveland. We know.

But Browns fans shouldn’t bet the farm on feeling great for more than a week.

To be sure, the Browns present some matchup problems against the Chiefs. They have a very good offensive line and a rushing attack featuring two excellent running backs — one of which Kansas City fans know very well. The play-action passing game they can build from that rushing attack has given quarterback Baker Mayfield — now in his third NFL season — his best statistical season to date.

And as we know, the Chiefs haven’t exactly dominated the teams they have played during the season’s home stretch. While the team finished the year with a franchise-best record of 14-2 — including ten consecutive victories — it hasn’t won a game by more than six points since their Week 8 thrashing of the New York Jets. Whether that’s because the team isn’t as good as their record indicates — or because the Chiefs have been playing strategically instead of tactically — is open to debate. Sunday’s game should tell us a lot about that.

But we should also remember that the Browns were able to cruise to a Wild Card victory against a Pittsburgh team that simply fell apart right from the opening snap, giving up five turnovers that the Browns converted to 24 points. It’s not easy for any team to win an NFL game in which you’re that sloppy with the ball — dating back to 1997, the Steelers had lost 17 straight games in which they committed five or more turnovers — so we shouldn’t be surprised that Cleveland won the game.

The Browns’ offense deserves credit for taking advantage of the opportunities they were given, but the Steelers — after failing on six consecutive drives to open the game — were then able to score 37 points. That should tell you everything you need to know about the Cleveland defense.

It’s the NFL playoffs. Every team you face has earned the right to be there — and is therefore entitled to respect. But the Wild Card weekend really couldn’t have worked out better for the Chiefs.