Breakdowns

Keys to the Game for AFC Divisional Playoff Matchups

The AFC’s final four will take the field this weekend in a pair of NFL Divisional Playoff matchups. Here’s a look at the keys to victory for the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs.

SEE ALSO: NFC Divisional Playoff Matchups

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC

Both these teams come into this game on a roll. Baltimore is currently on a six-game win streak during which they’ve averaged 34.3 points per game. Buffalo comes into this game with a seven-game win streak during which they’ve averaged 36.6 points per game. Both teams are playing high caliber football at the most important time of the season.

Keys to the Game for the Baltimore Ravens

1. Convert red-zone possessions into touchdowns

The Bills finished the regular season second in points per game (31.3) while Baltimore finished seventh (29.3). Both teams can score and will score, but this game will come down to who can convert red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. Buffalo’s defense is fifth-worse in the NFL in red-zone conversion percentage (65.5%). Finishing drives in the end zone will go a long way in this game and Baltimore has the offensive firepower to do so against a Bills defense that struggles inside the red zone.

2. Take advantage of Buffalo’s offensive mistakes

Buffalo has turned the ball over at least once in 13 of its 17 games this season. They make mistakes offensively and when they do, Baltimore will need to take advantage of these mistakes. Although he’s been great this season, Josh Allen finished with 10 interceptions and 10 fumbles (6 lost). Baltimore finished with the third-most fumbles forced this season and ball security will be a big factor in this game.

3. Don’t let Josh Allen stretch the field

Allen has noticeably struggled in three games this season and Buffalo lost all three of those games. The common factor in those games for Allen was his adjusted yards gained per pass attempt (AY/A). In those losses, Allen had his three lowest AY/A games of the season. Allen’s only two multi-interception games came in these losses. Baltimore will need to force Allen to use his checkdowns and limit his ability to extend plays. Allen creates big passing plays down field when he’s able to extend plays. Don’t allow Allen to win deep.

Keys to the Game for the Buffalo Bills

1. Don’t let Baltimore run the football effectively

During Baltimore’s current six-game win streak, the Ravens have averaged 262.2 rushing yards per game. They’ve eclipsed 200 rushing yards in five of these six games. From Weeks 8-12, when the Ravens went 1-4, they averaged just 149.6 rushing yards per game. Stopping Baltimore’s run game will stop their offense.

2. Force Lamar Jackson to beat you through the air

Baltimore is 1-4 in Lamar Jackson’s five games this season in which he’s had his most passing attempts. He’s finished with a completion percentage less than 60% in four of those five games. When the Baltimore offense needs to rely on Jackson’s arm to win, they are significantly worse as a team. Jackson has the same amount of turnovers (8) as he has touchdowns (8) in these games. Baltimore eclipsed 24 points in one of these five games. In the other 12 games they played this season, they eclipsed 30 points in eight of them.

3. Get into manageable situations offensively on third downs

Baltimore’s defense has been one of the best this season when it comes to getting stops on third downs. Baltimore is second in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage allowed this season (34%). In their wild-card win against Tennessee last week, the Titans converted just 4 of their 12 third-down attempts. Buffalo’s ability to make third downs manageable will be key. Buffalo leads the NFL in third-down conversion percentage, converting 49.7% of their third-down attempts.

— Brian Friedland

Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET, CBS

The Kansas City Chiefs are looking to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champions since the New England Patriots of 2003-4. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns are in the Divisional Round of the playoffs for the first time since the 1994 after a big win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Will the Browns have enough to stop the high-flying offense of the Chiefs? Here are the keys to victory for both of these teams:

Keys to the game for the Cleveland Browns

1. Control the pace of the game

The Chiefs went 14-2 in the regular season for a reason. This team can score a lot of points very quickly. When the Chiefs are at full strength, there really aren’t many ways to beat them. One way to do it, though, is to keep their offense off the field. The good thing for the Browns is that they are fully capable of doing this thanks to their two-headed rushing attack headlined by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Cleveland was third in the league in rushing yards per game with 148.4 and fifth in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt with 4.8 during the regular season. Moreover, the Chiefs’ defense was not very stout against the run this season — allowing 122.1 yards per game on the ground. The Browns may not be capable of keeping the Chiefs offense at bay, but they can certainly help to limit the damage by keeping Patrick Mahomes and company off the field.

2. Utilize Jarvis Landry’s versatility

It is clear from watching the Browns this season that veteran receiver Jarvis Landry is not a one-trick pony. He is fully capable of beating defenders in all three facets on offense, which is why head coach Kevin Stefanski should take advantage of Landry’s versatility. There have been games this season where Landry has helped the Browns dominate offensively because they were able to utilize him in various plays (like vs. Cowboys in Week 5). With the Chiefs’ struggles on the defensive side of the ball, it is certainly possible the Browns can catch this unit off guard by using Landry as more than a receiver. Furthermore, if the Browns are unable to get their run game going, then using Landry for trick plays could help to jump start the offense. Cleveland needs to bring out all the stops in order to defeat the reigning Super Bowl champions.

3. Prevent big plays from Tyreek Hill

Not many teams have figured out how to stop Kansas City star wideout Tyreek Hill. One formula that seems to work is to use the second-best corner on the team and bring safety help over the top. Hill has only had two games this season in which he had less than 50 yards receiving and he is one of the only players to have over 200 receiving yards in a single game in 2020. The Browns’ biggest weakness in 2020 has been their pass defense, as they gave up 247.6 yards through the air (22nd in the NFL). It will be essential to get corner Denzel Ward back for this game, but the Browns will have to make do with what they have. They will have to make sure they do not leave one of their corners on an island with Hill since his speed is a complete game-changer. Moreover, the Browns cannot get into a shootout if the Mahomes-to-Hill connection is working at a high level; that could be a recipe for a disaster. The Browns cannot get beat deep by Hill.

Keys to the game for the Kansas City Chiefs

1. Limit Kareem Hunt’s impact

This is the first game that former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt will be playing against his old team. This Browns’ offense has been really lethal when Chubb and Hunt are playing at a high level. Hunt has been really effective as a runner but he has also been a viable option out of the backfield, as he compiled 304 yards and 5 touchdowns on 38 receptions in the regular season. Against the Steelers, Hunt had 48 yards on 8 carries to go with 2 scores. Hunt’s impact helped to make his running mate, Chubb, that much more dangerous, as Chubb had over 150 total yards against the Steelers in the wild-card round. If the Chiefs can limit how effective Hunt is when he comes into the game, the Browns’ running game may not click as much as Cleveland wants it to.

2. Continue to get the ball to Travis Kelce

The Chiefs’ offense is headlined by Mahomes, Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. In the regular season, Kelce set the record for most receiving yards ever in a single season for a tight end with 1,416 yards. The Browns’ pass defense was not great in the regular season and it was especially not great against tight ends. In fact, the Browns gave up 907 yards and 10 scores on 90 receptions to tight ends. Kelce has been an excellent security blanket for Mahomes. If the Browns are able to shut down Hill and the Chiefs’ running game, it could be up to Kelce to carry a lot of the load on offense. He has fully proven he can do that. When the Chiefs’ offense struggled, Kelce was typically the lynchpin to get it going, and he should continue to see a big role in this game with how poorly the Browns have played against his position this season.

3. Take advantage of the Browns’ offensive line

The Browns had a solid offensive line this season, but it got absolutely decimated in the week prior to their game against the Steelers in the wild-card round due to injuries and COVID. It was an incredible job by Cleveland offensive line coach Bill Callahan to put a plan in place where that offensive line was able to dominate one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Even if Cleveland’s offensive line is back to almost 100% health this week, the Chiefs will need to find a way to take advantage of the rust of some of these starters. Moreover, if the Browns are forced to play an inexperienced offensive line once again, the Chiefs will have to do a good job of getting pressure on quarterback Baker Mayfield and forcing him into some poor turnovers. The Chiefs were not great at getting after the passer in the regular season, as they only had 32 sacks on the season (19th in the NFL). This performance will have to be much better.

— Jared Hammond

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