The AFC North was the only division in the NFL in 2020 to send more than two teams into the postseason, with the Pittsburgh Steelers advancing as the division winners, claiming the third seed behind the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills, respectively. The Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns, who both finished 11-5—one behind the Steelers—advanced as the top two wildcard seeds in the AFC side.
The North would cannibalize itself in the opening round, with the Steelers falling to the Browns, marking the fourth consecutive season that Pittsburgh would fail to win a postseason game. It was the first playoff win for the Browns, however, since 1994, before their move to Baltimore to become the Ravens when then be restarted in 1999.
As for the Ravens, they lost their first postseason game each of the past two years, so beating the Tennessee Titans last week, and doing so coming back from a deficit, was seen as major progress, but that was halted in decisive fashion after the Bills defeated them, 17-3, largely courtesy of a 14-point swing in a Lamar Jackson red-zone pick six.
Now it’s the Browns’ turn as the last hope for the AFC North in the 2020 postseason, and they will be hosted by the Kansas City Chiefs in just a few years’ time at this point. The Chiefs went 14-2 during the regular season, the best record in the league, and that was with a loss in week 17 while resting starters.
And Patrick Mahomes has a good record of strong performances when playing for the first time since getting rest, though this time, he has now rested two weeks.
Still, it will be a tall task for the Browns to slow him down, let alone stop him, and they certainly can’t count on being gift-wrapped a litany of interceptions, as happened last week, starting with the Steelers botching the first snap of the game for a defensive touchdown.
The Chiefs finished the year ranked sixth in points and first in yards, with the third-most passing touchdowns, and the fourth-fewest turnovers overall, the majority of them being fumbles rather than interceptions.
Cleveland will be getting some reinforcements back in the secondary, though they also lost Olivier Vernon on the edge. It will be nice for them to have Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson back, but they still have to cover Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman.