6 Chiefs players to watch in divisional round vs. Browns

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Charles Goldman and John Dillon
·5 min read
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The Kansas City Chiefs are set to play the Cleveland Browns in the AFC’s divisional round of the playoffs. After nearly three full weeks with no game, the Chiefs’ starters will look to pick up where they left off against a Browns team riding a lot of momentum into Arrowhead Stadium.

Despite the two weeks off, the Chiefs aren’t at full strength. They’ll need to rely on some of their biggest stars and some supporting cast members to pick up the slack. So who should Chiefs fans keep an eye on this week?

Here are six players to watch in the divisional round:

RB Le'Veon Bell

AP Photo/Brett Duke

In a season that's seen him transition from a feature back into a complementary weapon in one of the best offenses ever assembled, Le'Veon Bell's role in this week's matchup will be the toughest ask from Kansas City yet. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the team's rookie starter in the backfield, is still nursing an ankle injury and is unlikely to see significant snaps in the Chiefs' first playoff game. With the season in the balance, the trio of backs behind Edwards-Helaire is capable, spearheaded by the veteran presence of Bell as a quality spot starter in a big situation. Cleveland ended the regular season ranked ninth in rushing defense by yardage. Bell's ability to play his own vintage style of football, creating yards where there is very little room, could prove crucial to securing his first playoff victory in Kansas City. -John Dillon

DT Derrick Nnadi

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A big storyline leading up to this game has been the dominant run game of the Browns and the Chiefs' ability to stop it. Kansas City surrendered the 12th most rushing yards in the league this season. Yet it didn't seem to do them much harm, because they still managed to win 14 games. Nevertheless, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are a problem that the Chiefs need to account for. Nnadi has been the best run-stopping defensive lineman for K.C. this season with 20 run stops over 224 run snaps according to PFF. He's good for 8th in the NFL among players with over 220 snaps against the run. They'll need him to be at his best in a fight to win the line of scrimmage in the run game. -Charles Goldman

WR Mecole Hardman

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

2020 was a step back for Mecole Hardman after a promising rookie campaign that proved he could be an effective weapon in both the running and passing game. As the Chiefs' fourth option at receiver and most usually third with the oft-injured Sammy Watkins out (as he is this week), Hardman has looked out of sync with QB Patrick Mahomes at times. Maybe it's a predictable sophomore slump, but with playoffs in full swing, the time to play his best football is now. Hardman is likely to see significant snaps on special teams when he isn't running routes on offense, and with a couple of big plays this week, he could catch fire after a middling regular season. -John Dillon

TE Travis Kelce

AP Photo/Peter Joneleit

A native of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Kelce knows that he's the enemy of his friends and family this week. One of the prided athletes from Cleveland, Kelce is in the midst of the best season the NFL has ever seen from a tight end. He finished the year with 105 receptions for 1,416 yards and 11 touchdowns, all while playing in just 15 games. In the divisional round, Kelce is going up against a team that ranked 30th against the tight end position this season. The Browns surrendered 11 total touchdowns and a per-game average of 6 receptions for 57 yards to the position. With numbers like that surrendered on average, Kelce could be in for the biggest postseason game of his career. -Charles Goldman

LB Anthony Hitchens

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

An enigmatic character since he signed with Kansas City in 2018, Anthony Hitchens has been mostly unimpressive as the quarterback of Steve Spagnulo's defense during his tenure. As with others in the defensive supporting cast, this season has been a different story. They've done an excellent job of hampering opposing offenses, holding nine teams to 21 points or less this season. Hitchens' role as a defensive captain in the 2020 playoffs proved that he's a leader in the locker room, but to truly win over the Kansas City faithful, his play will need to take a big step forward this postseason. He'll have his work cut out for him against a tandem of running backs that led the league in combined yards and touchdowns. -John Dillon

KR Byron Pringle

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Special teams was a rollercoaster for Kansas City in last year's divisional round of the playoffs. They helped dig the Chiefs a 24-point deficit and then helped them climb back out of it. This season, Chiefs coordinator Dave Toub has placed an increased emphasis on making every play count. Hopefully, Byron Pringle was listening as he could have some opportunities in the return game this week. The Browns allowed on average the fifth-most return yards per kick this season (26.9) and a kickoff return touchdown. If you'll recall, Pringle had a monster 103-yard kick return touchdown against the Denver Broncos back in Week 7. A touchdown would be great, but if Pringle can keep the Chiefs in plus field position all day that'd be a huge advantage for the K.C. offense. -Charles Goldman