NFL Divisional Round: What to watch for in Sunday’s games

The defending champion Kansas City Chiefs went 14-2, locked up home field and have gone about their business without much noise. Arash Madani goes inside the film room with Jordan Palmer to look at Patrick Mahomes and company.

The Cleveland Browns and Kansas Chiefs don’t exactly have a storied rivalry. They’ve never once met in the post-season. And yet, there are plenty of ties that bind these two franchises, which meet Sunday afternoon with a spot in the AFC Championship on the line.

Many of Sunday afternoon’s biggest stars – Chiefs trio Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and Browns cornerstones Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett and Nick Chubb, to name a few – were drafted by the same guy in John Dorsey, who after serving as GM of the Chiefs for four years took over Cleveland’s rebuild for two. Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski once interned for Andy Reid (who didn’t? Reid’s legendary coaching tree now has branches extending across the entire league).

Even Mayfield and Mahomes have a little history between them, having gifted college football fans with one of the most electric showdowns ever just a few years ago. Time for a rematch on a bigger stage.

The Sunday nighter, meanwhile, puts history front and centre as Tom Brady and Drew Brees, two historically good – and, two historically old (haha) – quarterbacks go head-to-head for what will likely be the final time before they meet again in the Hall of Fame.

Here’s what you need to know heading into Sunday’s Divisional Round double-header that’s sure to be fun, nerve-wracking, and yeah, maybe even historic.

CLEVELAND BROWNS AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET

What Vegas is saying: Chiefs -10 | O/U 57

Notable Injuries

Browns: TE Stephen Carlson (Questionable, groin), T Jack Conklin (Questionable, hamstring and knee), LB B.J. Goodson (Questionable, shoulder), TE David Njoku (Questionable, hamstring)

Chiefs: LB Willie Gay (Out, ankle), WR Sammy Watkins (Out, calf), RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Questionable, ankle and hip), CB Rashad Fenton (Quesitonable, foot and ankle), TE Deon Yelder (Questionable, groin)

How they got here

Browns: Their first playoff game since 2002 was worth the wait – four interceptions and 48 points against Big Ben and the division-topping Steelers in what was a thrilling underdog performance without head coach Kevin Stefanski and so many starters they had to turn to a heroic guy named Blake.

Chiefs: The Chiefs spent last weekend the same way most of us did – at home, watching the big game. Owners of the NFL’s best record, Patrick Mahomes and the 14-2 Chiefs earned themselves the AFC’s No. 1 seed and the bye week that comes with it.

What to watch for

Pressure’s on for Baker – and that might be a good thing

From the very first (faulty) snap right down to its fourth interception against Big Ben, the underdog Browns defence made Pittsburgh pay for every mistake, and the dynamic offence had Blitzburgh on its heels. While mistakes aren’t exactly in Mahomes’ vocabulary, the Browns’ offence should remain the same with Stefanski now COVID-free and back at the helm.

Against Pittsburgh, Baker Mayfield proved very effective under pressure. His commitment to getting the ball out of his hands fast exploited the Steelers’ plan to blitz, and that pace will be needed against a Kansas City team that likes to pressure.

Because we all know containing Mahomes isn’t exactly an option — and don’t even try to foil him with with a blitz — Mayfield & Co. will have to simply keep up… and keep Mahomes off the field altogether. The Browns’ dynamic offence is well-suited to this, particularly when it comes to the run game. Kareem Hunt was a nightmare for the Steelers early and often on Sunday, and Nick Chubb gets better as the game goes on — he’ll need to eat up big minutes late to keep Mahomes on the sideline on off the scoreboard as much as possible.

Slow starts = stressful finishes

As long as we have bye weeks, we’ll have the “rest vs. rust” debate. Considering the Chiefs also rested a handful of starters for a meaningless Week 17 game, rust could be an issue. But it won’t be the only factor at play, should Kansas City saunter out of the gate this Sunday.

As dominant as we know the reigning Super Bowl champs are, the scoreboard hasn’t always reflected that this season, thanks to slow starts and a tendency to let opponents hang around a little too long for comfort. It’s tough to criticize a 14-2 team that just won it all a year ago, but you have to wonder if this trend will soon spell trouble against the right (or wrong) opponent.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET

What Vegas is saying: Saints -3 | O/U 52

Notable Injuries

Buccaneers: DT Jeremiah Ledbetter (Out, calf), S Andrew Adams (Questionable, not injury related), RB Ronald Jones (Questionable, quadricep and finger), S Jordan Whitehead (Questionable, knee)

Saints: CB Patrick Robinson (Out, hamstring), OL Will Clapp (Questionable, not injury related), QB Taysom Hill (Questionable, knee), RB Latavius Murray (Questionable, quadricep)

How they got here

Buccaneers: The emergence of Taylor Heinicke, signed to Washington’s practice squad and thrust into the playoff spotlight last Saturday night, threatened to cut short Tom Brady’s 12th consecutive playoff run but a strong performance and a clean pocket for Tompa Bay prevailed.

Saints: A cakewalk over the Chicago Bears saw the trio of Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas finally all together after each missing parts of the season.

What to watch for

A first, a last (?) and plenty of history

If you thought the Senior Bowl was in Alabama this year, you were wrong. It’s in New Orleans.

Nowadays, we can’t watch Tom Brady or Drew Brees with mentioning age – particularly at a time when so many young star quarterbacks are taking over the playoffs.

These two veterans have accomplished just about everything in their respective careers, but for the first time face on another in the playoffs.

While the “will he retire” questions have cooled off for Brady since he moved south to Tampa Bay, it’s widely speculated that this will be Brees’ last run. The respect between these two legends will be palpable on the field, and so too will the desire to go out on top.

Saints’ 2-0 record vs. Tampa suggests they’ve got the edge

We’ve seen Brady put up some truly elite numbers this season, especially in the last month.

But while momentum suggests he’s got the edge, the Saints have made some statements of their own against Tampa Bay this year. In two regular-season matchups, the Saints have handily defeated the Buccaneers – first, by a score of 34-23 in Week 1 and then a 38-3 whooping back in November, which saw Brady throw three interceptions.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.