Obvious names will garner the most attention entering this Sunday’s matchup. For the Kansas City Chiefs, the trio of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill will be of much focus. On the other hand, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Jarvis Landry and Baker Mayfield are going to be the most talked about Browns on offense.
But, it’s the playoffs. Anything can happen. And in a season unlike any other, there has already been more unimaginable results or showings than what could have been predicted. This Sunday in Kansas City, there is a possibility for the same to happen for individual players. Difference makers making that one stop, or one long yardage catch in crunch time could be the difference in the outcome. As a result, we have six total players, three from each the Chiefs and the Browns that we do not want to forget about. Here are our under the radar x-factors to keep in mind for Sunday.
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Last time the Chiefs starters played, we did not see Anthony Hitchens against Atlanta. The linebacker was on the COVID list, and he has since been activated as of Monday’s NFL Transactions Report. Hitchens tweeted out that he was excited to be back in the Kansas City facility the week before.
The Chiefs have to be thrilled to have him back. Of course, it will be interesting to see how he does returning from the COVID list. It has affected some players differently than others. Meanwhile, this has been Hitchens’ best season since coming to Kansas City in 2018. For some that look simply at stats only, those will not tell the whole picture. For example, tackles have become a pointless way to measure defensive players success.
More importantly, his missed tackle percentage was his lowest as a Chief this season. He has been diagnosing run fits and reading plays a lot more confidently. Hitchens has even improved some in pass coverage. The yards per completion allowed (9.1) and yards per target allowed (7.0) were his lowest during his time in Kansas City. That is why his role and presence will be important for the Chiefs on Sunday. Slowing down running backs like Chubb and Hunt, especially when they can catch, will be vital to Kansas City’s defense.
Let’s continue the discussion with another linebacker. With Joe Schobert leaving in free agency this past offseason, there were big shoes to fill. While BJ Goodson had performed admirably previously with the Giants and Packers, there were not magnificent expectations. For the most part, he has turned in a career best season.
The Browns have trusted in him and have been rewarded with a reliable campaign. Goodson has made plenty of stops in all areas of the field. Whether it be by driving downhill, hustling laterally or even in coverage, Cleveland has benefitted. Like Hitchens, his missed tackle percentage is very miniscule. This is important to note that it is a similar number to his one with Green Bay. However, Goodson is playing way more snaps this season than in years past. Where he may be most vital in the matchup against Kansas City, might be in the passing game. His two interceptions on the season are actually tied for the team lead with Denzel Ward and MJ Stewart. Knowing how the Chiefs can win over the middle of the field, Goodson may be tested often.
Of the weapons on the Chiefs offense, wide receiver Demarcus Robinson might be the most beneficial of a matchup like this one. He does not have the speed of a Hill, Mecole Hardman or Sammy Watkins. Yet, his route running has continued to become more smooth and his ability to leave defenders guessing is an asset. Robinson has seen his chemistry with Mahomes grow.
As such, he has set new career highs in 2020. This includes receptions (45), receiving yards (466), catch percentage (76.3%) and receptions resulting in a first down (26). After thinking Robinson would sign elsewhere in free agency last year, it was exciting to see him return to the Chiefs. Another under the radar performance this week against the Browns could increase his free agent stock yet again for this upcoming offseason.
With Odell Beckham Jr. out for most of the season due to injury, Landry has unsurprisingly been the lead dog at receiver. Though, there is a receiver who has a sneaky strong rapport with Mayfield who does not always get talked about. That would be Rashard Higgins. His 599 receiving yards may not look like a lot. But, he is second in that category on the team.
To put this into perspective, his looks and opportunities are not as frequent as other skill players. This gives Mayfield a lot of trust and pride into Higgins. His best asset is as a downfield target. Higgins has garnered 11.5 yards per target and 16.2 yards per reception this season. Kansas City can not allow him to get easy YAC chances or allow him to beat them deep. Because if a ball has any chance of being caught, Higgins seems to come down with it no matter what. His long arms and body control allow for some catches that leave defenders frustrated.
It is one thing for a cornerback to be able to win with speed. It’s another thing, where a rookie feels completely comfortable in coverage. Simply, nothing fazes L’Jarius Sneed. And this is something that the Chiefs have longed for from the cornerback position. Not many defenders have made as early of an impact in their careers with Kansas City. He will likely be named to an All-Rookie team. However, the collarbone injury he suffered left us wondering what could have been, if he played an entire season.
With Bashaud Breeland suspended early, Sneed was locking down receivers left and right on the outside. Since he came back from injury, he has assumed the slot role. And somehow, Sneed has been even better. Other than his speed, his ball skills, confidence and awareness have led to a red hot start. Given the mix of short area quickness and downfield ability in Cleveland’s passing offense, Sneed will likely be a vital part of the Chiefs pass defense once again.
It may not seem important to mention former Chiefs cornerback Terrance Mitchell. Nonetheless, in a season filled with injuries and COVID for the Browns secondary, he has been the most called upon DB with guys like Ward, Kevin Johnson and Ronnie Harrison missing time.
While he may not be considered a shutdown corner, Mitchell has held his own on a fair share of opportunities this season. His completion percentage allowed has been pretty steady and fairly honorable during his time with Cleveland (58.6% this season). Where you cannot count Mitchell out, is with his ball skills. He has a keen nose for the football and timing to break up passes. His 13 pass deflections this season are second on the team, only behind Ward. In addition, Mitchell is one of the better tackling cornerbacks on the outside.
Be on the lookout for more FPC Chiefs articles throughout this week. For more great sports and NFL content, stay tuned to Full Press Coverage.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.