When the Kansas City Chiefs face off against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday in the AFC Divisional Round, all eyes will be on the quarterback matchup between MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes and former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield.
Following Mayfield’s strong three-touchdown performance to help knock off division rival Pittsburgh in Sunday night’s Wild Card game, NFL Network analyst and former three-time All-Pro wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. made a questionable claim using a pair of active and retired NBA superstars — Steph Curry and Shaquille O’Neal — as a reference point.
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Baker Mayfield Righted the Ship in 2020
Given Mayfield’s performance this season, Smith’s comparison to a career 52.7% free throw shooter is at best confusing and at worst unfounded.
After tossing 35 interceptions through his first 30 games from 2018-19, the 25-year-old showed noticeable growth under first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski, throwing a career-low eight picks along with 3,563 yards and 26 touchdowns behind the Browns’ third-ranked rushing attack.
While Cleveland hasn’t relied much on Mayfield to carry its run-heavy offense, the third-year quarterback has put on a handful of dominant displays in 2020, including a five-touchdown, last-minute comeback win against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 7 or his 334-yard, four-touchdown showing to upset the playoff-bound Tennessee Titans in Week 13.
In what will be the 27th overall matchup but first playoff meeting between the storied franchises this weekend, Mayfield and Mahomes will get their second crack at each other since entering the league.
The first came in 2018, just eight games into Mayfield’s young career. Mahomes, who went on to win the NFL MVP award that season, outdueled the Oklahoma gunslinger, throwing for 375 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on 32 attempts in a 37-21 road win at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Chiefs Open as Double-Digit Favorites on Sunday
Fast forward to today, Kansas City opened the week as a double-digit home favorite over Cleveland, also the owners of the worst Super Bowl odds (+2500) of all eight remaining NFL clubs as of Monday.
During Mahomes’ tenure in Kansas City, head coach Andy Reid’s track record coming off of a bye week is strong — like 228 points in six games strong — so the Browns may need another flash of brilliance from Mayfield if they’re going to pull off a major upset of his MVP counterpart at Arrowhead Stadium.
One thing working in the Browns favor is the Chiefs’ recent history of close games, which prior to a meaningless Week 17 loss, included seven consecutive wins of six points or fewer dating back to November 22. All three of Kansas City’s 2019 postseason bouts, including its Super Bowl LIV victory over San Francisco, required comeback efforts from Mahomes and company.
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Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!