Cleveland @ Kansas City
Recommended Wager: CLE +10
Sizing: 1 unit
Spread watching: The consensus is sticking at 10.
Injury news: Full details here. The Browns are officially over their COVID breakout. They have zero players listed on their reserve/COVID-19 list, meaning HC Kevin Stefanski, WR KhaDarel Hodge, LG Joel Bitonio, and CB Denzel Ward will all be back after missing last week. RT Jack Conklin injured his hamstring last week and is a true questionable, though he did get in a limited session to end the week. Conklin is a monster at right tackle, and if he can’t play the line will be weaker. The Browns also lost CB Robert Jackson (hamstring) and LG Michael Dunn (calf) last week, but both are back ups (for Bitonio and Ward). In fact, neither played at all save for a few reserve/special teams snaps prior to filling in. They are depth pieces only and shouldn’t impact the game.
The Chiefs will be without WR Sammy Watkins, who injured his calf week 16 and hasn’t practiced since. RT Mike Remmers will return after missing week 17 with a back injury, as will LB Ben Niemann (hamstring). LB Willie Gay will miss after injuring his ankle week 17. Gay is second round rookie and had a decent season as a coverage linebacker, where Niemann was #bad. In the fantasy world, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire is also questionable, but my feeling is he’ll play and split carries with Le’Veon Bell.
Game breakdown: 2020 is the year of the dogs, and we’re taking the biggest dog of the weekend who has a section of their stands called “The Dawg Pound.” Good luck trying to convince me that the model, which exclusively uses advanced NFL statistics and in-house power ranks, isn’t actually just narrative hunting.
The Browns offense (9th in DVOA and 7th in EPA/play) should match up well against the Chiefs defense (22nd in DVOA and 19th in EPA/play). Baker Mayfield finished 10th on the season in PFF grades (81.6). He completed 62.8% of his passes (0.8% above expectation), gained 7.3 yards per attempt, and had a 26:8 TD:INT ratio. TD:INT ratio can often be a farce, but PFF labeled 5.12% of his throws as a “big time throw” and just 2.81% of his passes as “turnover worthy,” which suggests the stat isn’t lying for Mayfield. In the trenches, the Browns have arguably the best offensive line in football (assuming Conklin plays), and the Chiefs have struggled to generate pressure outside of Chris Jones. I’d also give a slight edge to the Browns receivers over the Chiefs corners — Jarvis Landry had another solid season out of the slot, and even though the OBJ injury hurts, Rashard Higgins has filled in well. On the ground, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are running against a Chiefs defense that ranks 31st in DVOA. Naturally, that won’t matter unless the Browns can get out to a lead.
The Chiefs offense (2nd in DVOA and EPA/play, behind the Packers) can’t be stopped by anyone, but the Browns defense wouldn’t have a chance anyway (25th in DVOA and 22nd in EPA/play). Pat Mahomes finished 4th in PFF grades (91.4) with a 66.3% competition percentage (0.9% below expectation), 8.1 yards per attempt, and a 38:6 TD:INT ratio. The 6 interceptions are a bit misleading — PFF labeled 3.19% of his passes as turnover worthy. Either way, you don’t need me to tell you that he’s really good at this football game. The Chiefs have a solid offensive line even without Mitchell Schwartz, but they’ll have their hands full with Myles Garrett and Sheldon Richardson. For the skill positions, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce will lead the way in targets. Denzel Ward is one of the better coverage corners in football, but the Browns line their corners up on the same sides throughout the game, so the Chiefs will know how to avoid a Hill vs Ward matchup. The Browns are also 23rd in DVOA against tight ends. Expect the Chiefs offense to do what they do every week, put up shit loads of points.
There’s a reason this game has a total of fifty god damn seven.