Similarities abound for Chiefs, Browns in first playoff meeting
Despite their long and storied histories, with the Cleveland Browns having joined the NFL in 1950 and the Kansas City Chiefs with the AFL-NFL merger some 16 years later, the two franchises have rarely met – and never in the playoffs.
They are certainly familiar with each other headed into their divisional-round showdown Sunday, though.
Start with the coaches: The Browns' Kevin Stefanski, who missed their first playoff win since 2002 last week in Pittsburgh due to COVID-19, was a summer intern for Chiefs counterpart Andy Reid during his days with Philadelphia. Stefanski later followed Reid disciple Brad Childress to Minnesota, learning many of the nuances of his system along the way.
Then consider the quarterbacks: The Browns' Baker Mayfield hosted the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes during a visit to Texas Tech, before he transferred to Oklahoma. Later in their college careers, Mayfield and Mahomes waged an epic duel that shattered all kinds of records and ended with the Sooners claiming a 66-59 victory.
Finally, ponder the rest of the rosters: John Dorsey helped build both teams as general manager, only to watch them succeed from afar. Browns running back Kareem Hunt got his start in Kansas City before off-field issues led to his release. Just about everyone else has a former teammate, college or pro, standing on the other side.
"It's always fun to play friendly competition," Mayfield said, "and play against people you are familiar with."
"I've known him for a long time, since I was a senior in high school," Mahomes said of Mayfield, "and to be able to play on this stage is special. He got the better of me in college. I'll try my best to get the better of him in the NFL."
There is an end to the similarities, of course. The long-suffering Browns haven't won two playoff games in a season since 1950, long before the term "Super Bowl" was coined by Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt. Kansas City has won five straight AFC West titles and still has the tailwind of winning its first Lombardi Trophy in five decades.
"They definitely are a building team. Very good team. Very young team," Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill said. "We cannot take this opponent likely. We have to play this game like any other game, come out and play hard and be the Chiefs."
Mayfield and Mahomes are the first to praise their teammates for their marvelous seasons. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry and running backs Hunt and Nick Chubb take a lot of the pressure off Mayfield, while Mahomes has Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Le'Veon Bell at his disposal.
"Just talent all over the field offensively with the quarterback, who is special, and speed at all areas," Stefanski said. "They are fast. They are very sound. In general, a huge challenge. We understand that."
Hunt's return to Kansas City will stir good and bad memories. He led the NFL in rushing as a rookie in 2017, only to have his career derailed by video of him punching and kicking a woman in a hotel hallway.
Hunt has resurrected his career, though, and Cleveland native Kelce could not be more proud of his former teammate: "Kareem has done an unbelievable job of just going out there, playing football and keeping his head on straight," he said. "I'm happy as hell for him."
After Sunday's win in Pittsburgh, Hunt posted on Instagram that his return to Kansas City would be "personal."
"Kareem talked about this game all year like he knew it was going to happen," Chubb said. "He's ready to go."
The Browns are mostly back to normal after COVID-19 threatened to knock them out of the playoffs. Stefanski returned to the team Thursday, 10 days after he tested positive, and most of the players who also tested positive have returned.
"He never panicked," Browns linebacker B.J. Goodson said. "He stayed the course, and we are here."
Goodson was one of those that tested positive. He said his infection "hit really, really hard," and it led to four wide receivers being ruled out against the Steelers because of close contact after they were around him in the pool recovery area.
REST VS. RUST
Many of the Chiefs' starters, including Mahomes, Hill and Kelce, will step onto the field for the first time in 21 days. They locked up the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in Week 16, and Reid chose to rest them in their regular-season finale rather than risk an injury. But nobody within the facility at 1 Arrowhead Drive seems too concerned about rust.
"Our guys practice fast. They do it day in and day out," Reid said, "and that's an important quality to have, especially at this time of year and the way we've been scheduled here."
GETTING OUT OF THE GATES
One emphasis for the Chiefs is to start fast this postseason, especially after they watched the Browns race to a 28-0 lead against the Steelers last weekend. They struggled to do that last year, and it took three double-digit comebacks – against the Texans, Titans and the 49ers in the Super Bowl – for the Chiefs to win the championship.
"Our coaches brought it up: 'Let's not put ourselves in the same position we did last year,'" Hill said. "We just have to come out and have the energy we've had all year. Get the ball to the playmakers and let Pat be special with the ball in his hand."
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
Chiefs' playoff opener
WHAT — Cleveland Browns (12-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) in AFC Divisional Playoff
WHEN/WHERE — Sunday, 2:05 p.m., Arrowhead Stadium
TV/RADIO — CBS (KCTV 5, Comcast Cable channel 3, HD 803)/WDAF-FM-The Wolf (106.5 FM)
OPENING LINE — Chiefs by 10
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Browns 7-10; Chiefs 7-9
SERIES RECORD — Chiefs lead 13-11-2
LAST MEETING — Chiefs beat Browns 37-21 on Nov. 4, 2018, in Cleveland
LAST WEEK — Browns beat Steelers 48-37; Chiefs had bye, lost to Chargers 38-21 on Jan. 3
AP PRO32 RANKING — Browns No. 12, Chiefs No. 1
BROWNS OFFENSE — OVERALL (16), RUSH (3), PASS (24).
BROWNS DEFENSE — OVERALL (17), RUSH (9), PASS (22).
CHIEFS OFFENSE — OVERALL (1), RUSH (16), PASS (1).
CHIEFS DEFENSE — OVERALL (16), RUSH (21), PASS (14).
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — The Chiefs have won three straight and four of their last five against Cleveland. The teams have never met in the postseason. ... With a win, the Chiefs would be the first AFC team to host three consecutive conference championship games. ... The Browns are coming off their first playoff win since the 1994 season. ... The Browns' Kevin Stefanski will make his playoff head coaching debut Sunday after missing last week's wild-card game due to COVID-19. ... COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with the Browns in recent weeks. They were also missing Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio and top cornerback Denzel Ward against the Steelers. Both are expected to play against the Chiefs. … Ward's return along with CB Kevin Johnson (COVID) will help a secondary that gave up 501 yards passing to the Steelers. … The Browns have also been decimated by injuries. In the win at Pittsburgh, they lost G Michael Dunn and CB Robert Jackson – Bitonio and Ward's replacements – to season-ending injuries. … Cleveland averaged 148.4 yards per game on the ground, the most for the franchise since 1978. ... Browns RB Kareem Hunt will face the Chiefs for the first time since they released him in 2018 after a video emerged of him shoving and kicking a woman. Hunt, who was suspended eight games for violent altercations, spent two seasons with Kansas City. He led the NFL in rushing as a rookie in 2017. … Browns RB Nick Chubb is the first player since Miami's Mercury Morris in 1972 to rush for at least 1,000 yards and scored 12 TDs on 190 or fewer attempts. ... Chubb had 76 yards rushing, 69 yards receiving and a TD against the Steelers. He's been over 100 yards from scrimmage in three straight games with TD runs in six of his past seven. ... Cleveland QB Baker Mayfield threw for 263 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions last week in Pittsburgh. He has not thrown an interception in his last five games. ... WR Jarvis Landry has caught a TD pass in five consecutive road games, including last week's win. ...Cleveland turned over the Steelers five times with a turnover of its own last week. The Browns are 11-0 when they win or tie the turnover battles. ... The Chiefs are defending their first Super Bowl title in 50 years. They won their fifth straight AFC West title while winning 14 regular-season games for the first time in franchise history. ... The Chiefs tied a league-high with seven players picked for the Pro Bowl. ... Chiefs coach Andy Reid would tie the Steelers' Chuck Noll for the fifth-most postseason wins with his 16th on Sunday. ... Kansas City led the NFL in total offense at 415.8 yards per game. ... Kansas City allowed 22.6 points per game, fifth best in the AFC. ... Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes was second in the NFL with 4,740 yards passing and fourth with 38 TD passes despite sitting out Week 17. ... Mahomes has 13 touchdowns and no interceptions in four postseason starts at Arrowhead Stadium. He has thrown at least two TD passes in four straight postseason games. ... Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire was fourth among rookies with 1,100 yards from scrimmage despite missing three games to injuries. ... The Chiefs' Tyreek Hill was second among WRs with 17 total touchdowns this season. He has at least one touchdown and 60 yards receiving in his last two playoff games. ... Unanimous All-Pro Travis Kelce had 1,416 yards receiving in 15 games, the most in a season by a TE in NFL history. He has four touchdown receptions in his last three postseason games. ... Kelce has 632 yards receiving in the playoffs. He needs 109 to pass Brent Jones for fifth most among TEs. ... Chiefs SS Tyrann Mathieu had a career-high six interceptions this season. ... Fantasy tip: This should be a high-scoring game, so any of the skill position players are worth having active.
– The Associated Press