Saturday, November 3, 2018

Only the final score is a mystery

 In the old days of the National Football League, the really, really old days, there was a caveat issued by observers of the league that, every once in a while, rang true. It went like this.

“On any given Sunday, any team in the National Football League can beat any other team.” Made no difference if one of the teams was much worse than the other. Anything was possible.

The first time I heard that expression, it was uttered by Blanton Collier, the brilliant football mind who took over as coach of the original Browns from Paul Brown back in the early 1960s.

(I later found out that famous expression was originally made by Bert Bell, a team owner and coach in Philadelphia who later became commissioner of the NFL from 1946 to 1959.)

Collier said it one week while discussing an upcoming opponent, one that was clearly inferior to the Browns. Back then, though, just about every other NFL team was inferior to the Browns.

Collier’s cautionary approach to the game allowed the possibility that an upset was possible and not to automatically put the game in the win column. Numerous coaches over the years glommed onto it before it faded.

So what does that have to do with the Browns’ game Sunday against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs? Well, this kind of fits the Bell/Collier expression that became hackneyed over the years.

Here come the Chiefs rampaging their way through their 2018 schedule at a breakneck scoring pace behind the exploits of quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, who has put up some stunning numbers in his first full season as a starter.

The Browns are playing their worst football of the season and just fired their head coach and offensive coordinator. It’s a classic case of one of the best teams in the NFL against one of the worst. It’s so bad, oddsmakers have installed the Chiefs as eight-point favorites on the road.

The Chiefs average nearly 37 points a game. They have scored 30 or more points in all but one game. Their only loss, a 43-40 setback in New England. They seemingly score with ridiculous ease no matter where they are on the field. The Browns, meanwhile, have encountered problems on both sides of the ball with no solutions in sight.

To give you some idea of just how lethal the Chiefs’ offense is, Dustin Colquitt has punted just 21 times in eight games. His brother Britton, who boots for the Browns, has 59 punts. He reached 23 after the third game.

In the interest of honesty, there is no way the Browns can stop this offense, Bell’s bromide notwithstanding. Picking a winner in this one is easy. The only mystery is how many points the Chiefs score.

The only chance the Browns have in this one is taking advantage of the Chiefs’ lone weakness, their defense, and attempt to slug it out offensively. The KC defense can’t stop the run, can’t stop the pass. It is almost as bad as the offense is good.

It surrenders more yards a game than the offense musters and has given up only five fewer points than the 2-5-1 Browns. That’s why the offense has to literally outscore opponents to win.

Another possibility, albeit extremely slim. In fact, it is a reach. Here goes. The Chiefs haven’t played a bad game on offense this season They are due. It happens even to the best of teams. One stumble isn’t going to hurt, right?

Then you snap out of it and realize two facts: The Cleveland offense has slumbered the last three weeks. And on the other side of the football, the secondary has been strafed repeatedly this season.

One can only imagine how much fun Mahomes will have Sunday against that secondary. With tight end Travis Kelce, wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill and running back Kareem Hunt in his arsenal, this promises to be an unfair fight.

Hunt, who played his high school ball at Willoughby South, has compiled 854 yards and scored 10 touchdowns from scrimmage this season, proving his rookie season was neither a fluke nor an aberration. He is as dangerous in the passing game as he is in the ground game.

Kelce (Cleveland Heights High School), Hill and Watkins have combined for 122 receptions, 1,800 yards (not a typo) and 14 touchdowns, insane numbers for half a season.

In a perverse way, at least for Browns fans, it will be a treat watching Mahomes operate in almost surgical fashion. Having watched him in other games, he has such a great feel for the game and almost always comes up with the correct play. His unerring accuracy is a gift.

It’s as though the game has slowed down for Mahomes, whose father was a journeyman pitcher in the major leagues from 1992 to 2003. He sometimes sees things before they unfold. That innate talent cannot be taught.

Making it all happen up front is one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. You don’t put up 430 yards a game by accident. Three members of that unit are ex-Browns: Cameron Erving at left guard, Austin Reiter at center and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.

The Cleveland defense, which has not played well during the current losing streak, is still without middle linebacker Joe Schobert. It will be interesting to see how they perform now that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has added the duties of interim head coach.

The only hope the Browns have in slowing down Mahomes is continuing their rather amazing string of takeaways, which now totals a league-leading 22, six more than Chicago. That’s also a bit of a reach because the meager Browns offense hasn’t capitalized much, but at least it will theoretically keep the ball out of Mahomes’ hands.

With all due respect to Bell and Collier, this Sunday down by the lakefront will not be one of those given Sundays. The Chiefs will continue their plundering in rather easy fashion.

It will be close for a few minutes and the Browns might even score their initial first-quarter touchdown of the season. But Baker Mayfield will be on the receiving end of another NFL beatdown while Mahomes throws at least four more touchdown passes against the beleaguered Cleveland secondary. Make it:

Chiefs 41, Browns 16

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