“Kareem talked about this game all year like he knew it was going to happen,’’ Nick Chubb, his best friend on the team said. “He’s excited for it. I’m excited for him. I’m excited to watch him go out there and play. He’s ready for it.”
After Sunday’s 48-37 wild card victory over the Steelers, in which Hunt rushed for two touchdowns and dragged defenders into the end zone, Baker Mayfield described his mindset.
“Kareem ran pissed off,’’ Mayfield said. “He ran like he wanted to get to Kansas City.”
Hunt was a liked teammate, someone who remains embraced by many who are still in K.C., ranging from the coaching staff to the front office and locker room. In the two years since his release, multiple Chiefs have said publicly that they still keep in touch with Hunt and wish him the best, including offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Hunt’s former position coach.
“Kareem is a beautiful kid, he has a beautiful spirit about himself, and I know that you guys really don’t get to see that side of him,” Bieniemy told reporters Thursday. “He’s a fun-loving family guy and he’s one of those kids that you just can’t help but want great things to happen for him.
“And obviously, he’s been missed. But more than anything I’m proud of the growth process that he’s gone through, I’m proud to see where he is, I’m proud to see him still pursuing his goals and all the accomplishments that he has made. I mean, hell, he’s like one of our own.”
1. Chiefs (1) vs. Buccaneers (5)
This matchup needs no introduction.
The first time Patrick Mahomes was given the nod as a full-time starter in the NFL, he went on a record-setting tear to lead the Chiefs to a playoff berth and a clash in the AFC Conference Championship against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, losing in overtime thanks to a clutch throw from Brady to future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski. Mahomes would avenge his budding legacy by going on to win a Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP honors last season, but he never again got a shot at Brady and Gronkowski in the postseason. Fast forward to the present and Brady and Gronk are hoping to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their first championship since 2002, and nothing would make for a better headline than him being tasked with going through Mahomes a second time, while Mahomes would work up a lather just thinking about avenging the playoff loss from two years ago.
Kansas City Chiefs 34, Cleveland Browns 30
In theory, this is the biggest mismatch of the Divisional Round. In reality, it pits the two worst defenses left in the playoffs against two elite offenses. Points will be scored.
After a strong start to the year, Kansas City’s defense quietly collapsed because it can’t pressure the passer beyond Chris Jones and its linebackers often play out of position. Enter Kevin Stefanski’s offense, which is expert at finding mismatches. After a week where Baker Mayfield literally wasn’t touched by the Steelers, it’s hard to imagine the Chiefs bothering the cohesive Browns group up front. Mayfield is throwing the ball well and adding in some second-reaction plays that, while not exactly Mahomesian, have helped the Browns control the ball. The combination of limiting possessions while staying aggressive offensively is a Raiders-like recipe to make Chiefs fans nervous in the fourth quarter, like they have been all year.
There is a theory that the Chiefs have been playing possum all season, somehow only motivated enough to barely beat teams like the Falcons and Broncos. I don’t buy that, but I do believe the team that wins in Arrowhead has to present more defensive challenges to Patrick Mahomes than this Browns group is capable of, even with Denzel Ward and slot corner Kevin Johnson back this week. There are no moral victories in January, but it’s amazing this Browns offense is already good enough to win a Super Bowl even without Odell Beckham on the field.
2. Kareem Hunt scores three times in return to Kansas City
The Browns have an uphill battle to beat the Chiefs in Arrowhead, to say the least. Chances are, Patrick Mahomes and Co. will be back in the AFC championship. But that doesn’t mean Kevin Stefanski’s squad will go down without a fight. The Browns are going to lean on their ground game as usual, and that means plenty of touches for Kareem Hunt, who only had one catch against the Steelers — but scored twice. Here, against his old team in the Chiefs, Hunt figures to be just as, if not more, involved as Cleveland looks to hold onto the ball and keep Mahomes on the sidelines with a methodical attack.
(6) Browns at (1) Chiefs: Sun. Jan. 17, 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
Kansas City Chiefs -10
Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield have faced each other just once in their NFL careers, back in Week 9 of 2018 when the Chiefs beat the Browns by 16 points. It’s not the only time they have ever faced off in their football careers, however, as the two set a college-football record with 1,279 combined passing yards when Oklahoma and Texas Tech matched up in 2016. It’s more about the run game when it comes to the Browns, however, as in 14 games with Nick Chubb active, the Browns have rushed for 160.2 yards per game and 23 touchdowns, and finished the regular season with the No. 3 rushing offense in the league. Interestingly enough, the Chiefs have allowed 122.1 rushing yards per game this season, which is worst among all playoff teams. Still, I have a hard time believing that the Browns will upset the Chiefs in the divisional round. I do think that they can cover the spread, however, as the Chiefs haven’t won a game by more than six points since Week 8. Since Week 9 they are 1-7 against the spread, which is worst in the NFL!
The pick: Browns +10
Projected score: Chiefs 38-30
Patrick Mahomes destroys Cleveland Browns
Andy Reid is practically unbeatable coming off a bye week, and Patrick Mahomes has prepared for this game for three weeks. Plus, with Aaron Rodgers expected to win NFL MVP, Kansas City’s quarterback will use that as motivation. It’s all very bad news for Cleveland. Consider this defense needed Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers’ hands to gift it four interceptions and a defensive touchdown, yet Roethlisberger still finished with 501 passing yards and four scores. Imagine what arguably the most talented quarterback in NFL history, with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill and play-caller Reid, will do to the Browns’ secondary.
Cleveland doesn’t have enough of a pass rush to make life difficult for Mahomes, and blitzing him will backfire. If the Chiefs get the ball first and jump out to an early lead, forcing Cleveland to rely on its passing attack, this will be a blowout. That’s what we expect to happen, leading to five touchdowns from Mahomes and a three-score victory.
Around the NFL
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per informed sources, that Saleh’s deal is for five years. 49ers passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur is expected to be the first member of Saleh’s first staff and serve as offensive coordinator, Rapoport added.
Saleh’s hiring comes after an expansive head-coaching search, one that saw the Jets complete nearly a dozen interviews in an attempt to find the best leader for the team.
“This is a great day for Jacksonville and Jaguars fans everywhere,” Jaguars owner Shad Khan said in a statement. “Urban Meyer is who we want and need, a leader, winner and champion who demands excellence and produces results. While Urban already enjoys a legacy in the game of football that few will ever match, his passion for the opportunity in front of him here in Jacksonville is powerful and unmistakable. I am proud to name Urban Meyer the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.”
No need for video, however, when Rodgers can describe exactly how then-Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher got him.
“He duped me,” Rodgers recalled for ESPN on New Year’s Eve as he drove home from Lambeau Field. “He kind of no-looked me. He looked like he was going to come down, and then he wheeled up and made a nice play on the ball down the seam. It wasn’t a great throw by any means, but he was messing with me on that one.”
Rodgers might not be able to recount all 89 of them in such detail, but his recall, even while driving home — with a stop to pick up a bottle of Dom Perignon along the way — says two things: how much interceptions stick in his craw and how few he has thrown.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
Why has this story emerged in Cleveland? Because leading into the Wild Card matchup against the Browns, Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster made a silly comment that will now live in AFC North infamy forever:
“I think they’re still the same Browns teams I play every year,” Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said, via NFL.com. “I think they’re nameless gray faces. They have a couple good players on their team, but at the end of the day, I don’t know. The Browns is the Browns.”
Running after what I would conservatively call a reach of an encore, Cleveland reporters have been asking the Browns about Watkins’ tweet-reply all this week.
“I have no problem with it to be honest with you because if you don’t have confidence, then you’re not going to have success,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said, via the Akron Beacon Journal. ”And those guys [with the Chiefs] have been doing it together for a few years now.”
Was that the end of it? Nope.
Asked about the tweet-reply, wide receiver Jarvis Landry said he would not get into Twitter wars.
Odds for which team will score the most points during the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs (Bovada):— Odds Shark (@OddsShark) January 15, 2021