After enjoying an open date, the Kansas City Chiefs (14-2 straight up, 7-9 against the spread) start their quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions Sunday when they host Cleveland as 10-point home favorites. The total is 57 points at most shops, while the Browns are +400 on the money line.
Cleveland (12-5 SU, 7-10 ATS) has only been beaten by more than 10 points twice this season — Week 1 at Baltimore and Week 6 at Pittsburgh (when the Steelers were on their way to an 11-0 start to the season, NOT the squad that finished the year playing like one of the worst teams in the league). The Browns have won outright in five of their last six road assignments, with the lone defeat coming at the Jets when Cleveland’s entire wide receiver room was deemed ‘out’ due to contact tracing after one WR tested positive for COVID-19.
In this six-game stretch of road games. Cleveland third-year QB Baker Mayfield has a spectacular 16/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. In the Browns’ last 11 games regardless of the venue, Mayfield has a stellar 19/2 TD-INT ratio.
Although nothing was official as of Thursday morning, there’s a lot of optimism that Cleveland will get back Pro-Bowl offensive guard Joel Bitonio and starting cornerback Denzel Ward, who were both out of last week’s win at Pittsburgh due to the NFL’s COVID protocols.
Speaking of that victory at Heinz Field, Cleveland took full advantage of its first postseason appearance in nearly two decades. The Browns raced out to a 28-0 first-quarter lead, the fastest start and biggest first-quarter lead in NFL postseason history.
Even when Pittsburgh cut the deficit to 12 with several minutes remaining in the third quarter, Cleveland didn’t flinch and built its lead back up to three possessions on a Mayfield TD pass to Nick Chubb. The Browns held on for a 48-37 victory as 5.5-point underdogs.
Kansas City is currently mired in a 1-7 ATS slide. During this eight-game slump for our purposes, the Chiefs haven’t won a game by more than six points. Again, they haven’t won by seven points once, much less the 10 they’re on the hook for Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
When Andy’s Reid’s club has been installed as a double-digit favorite this season, it has limped to a 2-4 spread record in 10 such spots. Furthermore, Kansas City is 3-5 ATS in its eight home games.
While Mayfield has been picked off just twice in his last 11 games, Patrick Mahomes has thrown four interceptions in the Chiefs’ last three games.
The three Kansas City opponents it took the cash against as a double-digit ‘chalk?’ Those spread covers came at home against the Jets, Texans and Patriots, who were suddenly without Cam Newton after he tested positive for COVID-19 just a few days before the game.
That trio of teams finished the 2020 campaign with a combined record of 13-35. Also, the Chiefs struggled to sneak past Atlanta 17-14 as 11-point home favorites in their next-to-last regular-season game on Dec. 27, when the Falcons led for most of the game.
Now, could some analysts argue that Kansas City was bored finishing out the regular season without much to play for from a motivational perspective? Perhaps.
Maybe the defending champs are that good that they can just flip the switch now that we’ve finally reached the postseason? Perhaps, but I think it’s more likely that Kansas City gets all it wants from the Browns and will be fortunate to advance with a non-covering victory by a single-digit margin.
The Pick: Browns +10 at Kansas City