The reductive projection would be easy to understand: If the Cleveland Browns (11-5) could score 48 points in ousting the Steelers from the N.F.L. playoffs last weekend, playing without their head coach who calls the offensive plays, their best offensive lineman and two of their starting cornerbacks because of a coronavirus outbreak, they should be able to put up at least that number against Kansas City with everyone available.
Alas, the Kansas City Chiefs have a way of thwarting opponents’ plans.
The Chiefs (14-2) have only lost one truly competitive game this season — a Week 5 stinker against the Raiders — and have established a reputation for letting games get interesting before cranking up dramatic or spectacular finishes to win. Their only other loss was to the Chargers in the last week of the regular season, with quarterback Patrick Mahomes and other starters on the bench. Kansas City enjoyed a bye week during the wild-card round as the A.F.C.’s top seed, giving Mahomes an extended layoff to prepare for a deep playoff run.
But the Browns are thriving in their underdog role in the playoffs, as evidenced by the glee with which they dispatched the Steelers. Boasting a superb offensive line, a dynamic rushing attack and one of the N.F.L.’s premier edge rushers, Myles Garrett, the Browns do have the pieces to exploit Kansas City’s (relative) weaknesses.
With a victory Sunday, the Browns would reach the A.F.C. championship game for the first time since the 1989 season. The Chiefs, conversely, could become the first A.F.C. team to host three straight championship games. The only other team to accomplish that feat, the Philadelphia Eagles from 2002-04, was also coached by Andy Reid.
Later Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the New Orleans Saints in a matchup for Tom Brady and Drew Brees, two quarterbacks who have been faces of the league for a long time — both seeking another deep playoff run toward the end of their careers.
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs, CBS, 3:05 p.m. Eastern.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints, Fox, 6:40 p.m. Eastern