Five To Watch: Chiefs v. Browns

It's now crunch time for the Kansas City Chiefs as they travel to the new Dawg Pound on Sunday to face a struggling Cleveland Browns team. But the boys in red shouldn't take Cleveland lightly as they did the Miami Dolphins three weeks ago. Let's hope that game serves as a lesson and the Chiefs continue their playoff drive with a win.

Something has happened on the way during the Chiefs' march to 7-4. In the last two weeks, this team has come of age. In short order they've gone from a mid-level team with fading playoff hopes to a team in complete control of their destiny. They have the opportunity to seek all the riches January can provide by winning each of their December battles against the Browns, Ravens, Chargers, Raiders and Jaguars.

It's pretty simple. Win them all, and you're in.

Now, I'm not taking the Browns as lightly as the Chiefs took the Dolphins heading down to Miami back in mid-November, but the Chiefs will win this game. It's a foregone conclusion.

For the players, this game is probably the most critical game of the season thus far. In fact, it might be the biggest game they play this year. It's equivalent to a playoff game.

But, the Browns are 3-8. The Chiefs have bigger fish to fry. Why is this game so big?

Winning this one game will start to sway the naysayers who believe the Chiefs can't win on the road in December. November wasn't bad, as the Chiefs split their contests in St. Louis (Arrowhead East) and Miami.

This Browns football team is but a mere blip on the NFL radar screen, but for the Chiefs, they are the size of Mount Everest.

This game will determine how serious a run the Chiefs make during the final five games of the season. Kansas City needs to destroy the Browns. They need to knock them out in the first half, inflate their souls in the second half and run over and through them as if they were merely ghosts.

The Chiefs are a resilient bunch. In their victory over Denver on Thanksgiving night they found an identity and a swagger. The offense isn't the greatest show on turf anymore, but the defense is far removed from the ‘32' defense that was the norm under the previous coaching staff.

This team has expectations and is entering the stretch run in nearly 100 percent health. That generally doesn't happen in the NFL, as teams usually don't recover from having six starters sidelined for a long period of time.

Trent Green, Tony Gonzalez and Brian Waters have all been sidelined at some point. The team lost starting fullback Ronnie Cruz, but that was a blessing in disguise when you consider how Kris Wilson has put his stamp on the offense.

On defense, Tamba Hali, Greg Wesley and Derrick Johnson have missed games, but rookie safety Jarrad Page and linebacker Keyaron Fox have made an impact that gives the defense more depth. That depth could prove invaluable and might make the difference in winning on the road in December.

Herm Edwards has built a real football team. The foundation of this team was formed the day he took over as head coach. Since then, improving the fortunes of this football team on the road in December has never left his mind or the minds of his players.

Now that the seeds of those sermons have sprung up, it'll be interesting to see how far each player grows over the next five weeks.

Edwards knew all along they'd be in this position, but maybe the players didn't. That's all changed after back-to-back wins over division rivals Oakland and Denver.

Now that expectations are at a fever pitch, Edwards' sermon before the Cleveland game might be one the players never forget.

Five to Watch:
1. LT Jordan Black - I'm on the bandwagon now. I think Black has answered his critics with stellar play at left tackle. He's not Willie Roaf, but he doesn't have to play like that to garner respect from his line mates and his starting quarterback. Black is playing like someone who wants to remain the starter in 2007 and beyond. That's good news if you're a Chiefs fan. He's a big reason why LJ has been tearing it up and Green isn't throwing the ball off his back.

2. RB Larry Johnson - After all the flap from his interview on Inside the NFL this week, the Chiefs' premier offensive threat needs to turn in his best Jim Brown impersonation tomorrow. 250 yards would be in order against a Browns defense that knows they don't have the talent or the drive to stand in Johnson's way.

3. DT Jimmy Wilkerson - This is a huge game for the former Oklahoma star. Herm Edwards tabbed him the starter ahead of Ryan Sims, and that means the next five games are his audition for a starting spot in 2007. Wilkerson will be a free agent come March, but he's a valuable piece on this defense with James Reed sidelined due to a strained groin. His play in the middle could be key in getting pressure on Browns quarterback Charlie Frye.

4. TE Tony Gonzalez - Kellen Winslow, Jr. declared himself the best tight end in the NFL at the start of the season. In my opinion, that honor belongs to Gonzalez. Winslow hasn't done squat in the NFL. This week he was singing a different tune, praising Gonzalez, who played incredibly well against Denver considering his shoulder wasn't fit to drive a car, let alone play a football game. Gonzalez is the hardest worker on the team and he knows how close the Chiefs are to becoming very special this season. He's also showed that he's nowhere close to being done.

5. QB Charlie Frye - Seriously, he's struggling, and after taking abuse from wide receiver Braylon Edwards last weekend on the sidelines, the pressure is really on him to try and make some plays against a solid Chiefs defense. I'm not sure he can get it done, but it would be nice to see him throw a few passes to Edwards just to show there are no hard feelings. That doesn't mean he'll catch them. Some people never learn, but Frye appears to be a solid player on a bad football team.

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