Johnny Manziel could be forgiven for feeling a little frustrated, after waiting all year for an opportunity to showcase his skills for the Browns and the rest of the NFL, his ‘audition’ period includes back-to-back games against legitimate top 5 NFL defences in Seattle and Kansas City. Riding an 8 game win streak keyed by a ball-control offense and sturdy, opportunistic defense, the Chiefs will be looking to further enhance their playoff credentials in this one. The Browns season is best described as a ‘hot mess’ and it would be a major surprise if the season finished any better than 3-13 and the potential #1 pick in the draft. With only the, similarly dysfunctional, 49ers sporting a worse scoring differential (-137 to -134) than this Cleveland team the season has a familiar feel for loyal Browns fans. News this week of the arrest of promising OLB Armonty Bryant, who is second on the team with 5.5 sacks this season, will lead to his being inactive this week and further diminish the chances of Cleveland pulling the upset this week. In Kansas City, memories of a Browns-esque September and October have long faded with the Chiefs currently the hottest team in the NFL, with an outside chance of wresting the AFC West crown from the rival Broncos. Holding the tiebreaker over Denver by virtue of a superior divisional record KC will be hoping the Bengals can pull off the win in ‘Mile High’ vaulting the Chiefs into the 3rd seed in the AFC and a home playoff game.
Three keys to the game:
1. Can the Browns force any turnovers?
Entering this week the Chiefs rank 2nd in the NFL (behind Green Bay) with just 12 turnovers on the season. This mistake-free football has been a big factor in the Chiefs turnaround this season and if the Browns are to win this game they must force Alex Smith and the offense into mistakes.
2. Is Johnny Manziel able to play ‘in-structure’?
There is some good news for the Browns in this game. Kansas City might be limited in their ability to rush the passer with Justin Houston sidelined and Tamba Hali ‘questionable’ with a thumb injury. If the Browns are able to keep the pressure off Manziel and allow him to work through his progressions without leaving the pocket there may be chances against a secondary missing Husain Abdullah with a concussion.
3. Can Cleveland score a rushing touchdown?
So far this season the Browns have rushed for a league low 4 touchdowns, while Kansas City have given up just 6 on the ground all year, good for 3rd in the league.
Matchup to watch: Alex Mack vs Dontari Poe
Mack is arguably the best player on the Cleveland roster and that teams across the league will be looking closely at his availability due to the ‘opt-out’ clause in his contract meaning he could be a free agent this offseason. Mack will have his hands-full against Poe, a true Nose Tackle who does a lot of the dirty work on the KC front that allows Houston and Hali to make the impact they do. In order to keep Manziel in the pocket, Mack will need to negate the push of Poe and keep the interior of the pocket clean.
Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs
Matchups like this have thrown up surprises in the past but it is difficult to see one here, the Chiefs are simply too good for the Browns.