For the two teams themselves, there's little at stake on Sunday except positioning in next April's draft. But as we turn our attention to the upcoming offseason, the game might actually hold a fair amount of importance for Chiefs' fans.
This matchup with the Browns is probably our final chance – and it's a last-gasp, hail-Mary attempt at that – to get a minor sense of hope and optimism about where the Chiefs are headed. Sunday doesn't mark the end of the season, but with the Chiefs playing on the road in Cincinnati and Denver the final two weeks it seems unlikely that any positive reinforcement will be gained.
Even if the Chiefs manage to pull out an unexpected win, it wouldn't mean a lot in the big picture if they stumble this week against Cleveland. A win during the last two weeks would be nice, but seeing continued progress would be even better. If the Chiefs can't hold the Browns in check, it would be difficult to look at an upset of the Bengals or Broncos as anything but a reoccurrence of the Pittsburgh game – fun but ultimately meaningless.
To come away from Sunday's game with something resembling hope, defeating Cleveland is absolutely essential. But that's merely the beginning – beating a two-win team with a late field goal isn't going to convince anyone that the Chiefs are on the right track.
Essentially, what we need to see is a perfect game. Or at least a performance as close to perfect as the Chiefs are capable of producing.
We need to see them get out to a lead larger than 10 points. We need to see Matt Cassel put the doubts to rest, at least for one week. We need to see a strong defensive effort, particularly against the run. If we can't see those things now, when will we ever get to see them?
If the Chiefs turn in a solid, never-in-doubt win on Sunday, then maybe – just maybe – we'll be able to carry a tiny bit of hope with us into the offseason. Assuming that Cincinnati and Denver don't pound it out of us, that is.
But if the Chiefs can barely squeak past the Browns – or worse yet, if they lose – what exactly will we have going forward?
The draft? Even with the Chiefs having three of the first 50 picks, any excitement is likely to be tempered with the knowledge that the new administration's first draft class has yet to bear much fruit.
Free agency? Check out a list of the 2010 free agents and you'll see that the impact players are few and far between. Then keep in mind that with the owners backing out of the collective bargaining agreement, many of the players scheduled to become free agents will only be eligible for restricted free agency. And, as always, most of the top players will just end up staying with their current teams, either through a new contract or the franchise tag.
Scott Pioli? After an initial season that saw a failure to address the offensive line, several whiffs in talent evaluation, a quarterback trade that looks questionable, and a draft that hasn't delivered much, it's going to be hard to be confident in his decisions until he starts to earn it.
If the Chiefs are unable to provide us with any optimism over the remaining three weeks, we might not have anything to sustain us throughout the offseason except the blind faith that things will improve.
Unfortunately, faith is getting harder and harder to come by.
Getting back to the game, all this talk about hope may be premature. Getting a win over Cleveland could be a lot easier said than done.
If you look at the Browns' statistics on the season, it's not a pretty picture. They have the league's worst offense by yardage and the third-worst offense by points. Defensively, they're the second-worst team in the league, right behind the Chiefs and ahead of only Detroit.
But if you look at their more recent stats, the numbers tell a different story.
Over their last four outings, the Browns have averaged 20 points a game, about eight full points above their season average. This increase in offense has come with the return to the lineup of quarterback Brady Quinn, who was inexplicably benched for six games by head coach Eric Mangini.
A month ago, Quinn threw four touchdown passes in a wild 38-37 loss to the Lions. Two weeks ago he threw three touchdown passes as Cleveland put up 23 points in a loss to the San Diego Chargers. The Chiefs didn't score 23 points in either game against the Chargers this year. In fact, they didn't score 23 points if you combine their scores from both games.
While they didn't light up the scoreboard last week, the Browns managed to upset their division rival Steelers, holding Pittsburgh to just six points in the process. Along the way, they appeared to find a new way to utilize their best weapon, with returner Josh Cribbs lining up in the wildcat formation and gaining 87 yards on just eight carries.
Cleveland's improving offensive attack could present a lot of trouble – not only for the Chiefs' defense, but for a Chiefs' offense that hasn't scored more than 14 points in nearly a month. The Browns have a generous defense, but if the game turns into a shootout, can the Chiefs stay out of their own way long enough to put up the necessary points?
You can see them try on Sunday. Well, as long as you have tickets.
Chiefs Searching For Hope Against Browns
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