Browns (+6.5) at Chiefs
The Chiefs have been awesome since Patrick Mahomes took over as quarterback in 2018. In two of the last three years, Mahomes has put up the two highest Passing Points Earned seasons of the Total Points era (since 2016). And in the other season, he won Super Bowl MVP.
Andy Reid is one of the top head coaches in the NFL, and he probably has the best trio of coordinators, too. Eric Bienemy, Steve Spagnuolo, and Dave Toub are all legitimate NFL head coaching candidates, with Bienemy at the top of many short lists and Spagnuolo having previous experience in the role. In my opinion, they are the rightful Super Bowl favorites heading into 2021.
That said, their defense is not to be confused with the ‘85 Bears or even the 2007 Giants; they don’t have that caliber of personnel. Instead, a lot of what they do is to try to outwit the opposing offense, complementing their (expensive) offense by understanding that they can afford to allow some points as long as they get some key stops, and most importantly, create turnovers.
A big part of their cerebral defense is how they deploy their safeties, and while the Chiefs were fourth in the NFL in usage of Middle of the Field Open (MOFO) coverages in 2020, they ranked just 24th in efficiency, allowing a Positive Play Rate of 51%. Their desire to keep two safeties high will be complicated by the Browns’ talented running game and preference for bigger personnel groups. It will be further complicated if star safety Tyrann Mathieu is unavailable due to COVID.
The Browns, for their part, were seventh in the NFL in EPA (31) and eighth in Positive Play Rate (56%) against MOFO coverages in 2020, so the Ivy-educated Kevin Stefanski should be able to create some favorable matchups.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that the Chiefs’ Achilles’ Heel during their Super Bowl loss wasn’t their defense, but rather their offensive line. They had a whopping 20 Blown Blocks and three holding penalties in the Super Bowl, and so they remade their offensive line. While their talent up front is better, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this unit take some time to jell.
As good as the Chiefs are, the Browns have some cause for optimism as they make the trip to Arrowhead.