After two Divisional games on Saturday, we get two more on Sunday. The Browns head to Arrowhead to take on the defending Super Bowl champs, then Tom Brady and Drew Brees square off down in the bayou. It should be an exciting day of football!
Tail or fade with caution!
Browns @ Chiefs
Spread: Browns +10
I would not be surprised if the Browns win this game outright. I feel like everyone is just waiting for this Browns team to go away, but they keep hanging around and winning games. They dismantled the Steelers last week from the very first play of the game, and they are playing with house money at this point. Cleveland rolls into Kansas City to face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, and I think the Browns will give them all they can handle.
The Browns were able to beat the Steelers on the road despite being down a number of key guys—including head coach Kevin Stefanski. He will be back on the sidelines for this one, and some notable names will return to the playing field as well, including All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio, and top cornerback Denzel Ward.
Baker Mayfield has not been turning the ball over very much, as he only has 8 interceptions on the year, and he has only thrown one pick in his last 10 games. The Browns love to keep the ball on the ground, and Mayfield avoiding interceptions has been huge. Mayfield was excellent against the Steelers, completing 21-of-34 passes for 263 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Steelers defense had been dominant all year, and Mayfield had a very strong outing last week. This week, he faces a Chiefs defense that was not as strong as Pittsburgh, but they are not to be taken lightly.
The Chiefs had the second-most interceptions this season (16), and they were just outside the top-10 in scoring defense, allowing 22.6 points per game. What has hurt them is their rushing defense. Kansas City struggles to consistently stop the run, and Cleveland can run the ball very well. The Chiefs were 21st in the league against the run allowing 122.1 rushing yards per game, while Cleveland was the third-best rushing team, going for 148.4 yards per game on the ground. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are as good of a 1-2 punch as you will see, and I think the Chiefs will have a tough time slowing them down.
Now, the Browns may have some struggles slowing down Patrick Mahomes and the electric Kansas City offense, as most teams do, but I think Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s injury will loom large for KC. The rookie out of LSU sustained a high ankle sprain in Week 15, and he was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday, then missed practice on Thursday and Friday. Head coach Andy Reid says he is “optimistic” about him playing on Sunday, but he does not appear to be near 100%. That could hurt the Chiefs offense because they lose their most consistent runner. Backup Le’Veon Bell is a shell of his former self, and I’m not sure how confident I am in him carrying the rushing load if Edwards-Helaire cannot go.
Overall, the running game is what has gotten the Browns to this point, and it has helped Baker Mayfield because they are not asking him to do too much. The Browns will run the ball with Chubb and Hunt, and that will open up the passing game downfield with the play-action pass. In addition, it will help them control the clock and keep the electric Kansas City offense on the sidelines. Mayfield has shown he is an excellent game manager who can avoid costly interceptions, and as long as he doesn’t force things, I think the Browns can give the Chiefs a run for their money. Since 2007, number one seeds are just 9-17-2 ATS in the divisional round, and I like the Browns +10 here.
Total: Under 57.5
I am rolling with the Under here.
Both of these teams know how to put up points, but I think the Browns running game will really slow the game down and perhaps limit the number of possessions for each team. They know that the best way to beat Patrick Mahomes is to keep him on the sidelines, and I think the Browns will really slow things down and move the ball methodically on the ground, which will keep the clock rolling.
As mentioned, the Browns don’t ask Baker Mayfield to do too much, and he has thrown just one interception in his last 10 games. However, his 62.9 completion percentage is 30th in the league among qualifying quarterbacks. That is not great, and the Chiefs secondary was fifth in completion percentage allowed this season. I think that will lead the Browns to opt for some shorter, more higher-percentage throws for Mayfield, along with their emphasis on running the ball.
The Chiefs rested most of their key starters in Week 17, and were off last week with their bye week. That means it has been a while since they have played meaningful snaps, which could have them a little out of rhythm, and lead to a slower start. I think they will be a little slow out of the gate, which not only favors the Browns, but the Under as well.
57.5 is a pretty high number, and I think this one stays Under that mark.
Buccaneers @ Saints
Spread: Buccaneers +3
Tom Brady and the Buccaneers will be looking to finally take down Drew Brees and the Saints after losing both contests against New Orleans so far this season. Brady threw two picks in the season opener at the Superdome in a 34-23 Bucs loss. Then in November, the Saints absolutely dismantled the Bucs in Tampa 38-3 on Sunday Night Football. For many reasons, I think the Buccaneers put together a much better showing in this third matchup, and I am taking them +3.
I think this Buccaneers team has improved dramatically since those two losses to the Saints. They have won five games in a row now, and they have outscored their opponents by 81 points during that stretch. Their offense is moving the ball very well, and they have scored 31, 44, 47, and 31 points in their last four games. The Bucs put up over 500 yards of total offense against Washington last week, and they were the No. 2 defense in the league this year. Brady picked up his 31st career playoff win against a Washington defense that was 4th in scoring, 2nd in YPG, 2nd in passing YPG, 3rd in DVOA, and 2nd in pass DVOA. He was 22-of-40 for 381 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a rating of 104.3. Brady is rolling right now, and even though the Saints have the No. 4 defense in the league, Brady’s performance last week gives me a lot of confidence in the Bucs offense here.
The Saints beat up on the Bears last week with a 21-9 win, and their defense completely shut down the Bears offense. However, I think this Tampa offense presents a lot more problems. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Scotty Miller, Cameron Brate, and Antonio Brown give the Bucs excellent depth at receiver, and Leonard Fournette ran the ball well last week with 93 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
Defensively, the Buccaneers have one of the best all-around units in the league. They were No. 6 overall in YPG, and No. 1 against the run. The Saints put up 38 and 34 points in the two games against Tampa Bay this season, but I think the third time around will benefit the Bucs. Their defense has really stepped up down the stretch, and after two full games against New Orleans, I think they will make the necessary adjustments to have a better go of it this time around.
The Saints have not defeated a team with a winning record since that Week 9 win over Tampa Bay, and I think Brady and the Bucs are on fire right now, so I’m taking them to continue their hot streak and take that momentum into New Orleans. Bucs +3.
Total: Over 52
While I think the Bucs defense can hold the Saints offense in check, I don’t think they will be able to completely shut them down. The New Orleans offense may move with a slow and methodical pace down the field, but they capitalize on their red zone chances once they get there. The Saints scored touchdowns on 72.2% of their red zone trips, which was 5th-best in the league. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s defense allowed their opponents to reach the end zone on 63.6% of their red zone drives, which was 24th in the league. Knowing how stout that Tampa defense is, the Saints will be sure to prioritize touchdowns in the red zone.
WR Michael Thomas is once again becoming a big part of the Saints offense, and he hauled in five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown last week against the Bears. Alvin Kamara is dangerous catching passes out of the backfield, and Brees does a good job of spreading the wealth among his receivers. I think they both will have strong performances in this one.
I also think the Tampa Bay offense is too explosive and too hot to go with the Under. They can put up points in a hurry, and they lead the league with 44 passing plays of 25 yards or more. Tom Brady also posted the third-highest quarterback rating on the road this season at 114.3.
These are two of the highest scoring offenses in the league (Bucs 3rd – 30.8 PPG, Saints 5th – 30.1 PPG), and a Brees/Brady shootout could be in the making. Give me the Over.
Title Photo: Don Wright / Associated Press