NFL Preview - Kansas City (1-0) at Cleveland (0=1)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - There's one born every season.
A team no one pays attention to all summer long rises up in Week 1 and scores a decisive win over a heavily-favored foe, triggering a bevy of "watch out, they're the new up-and-comers" reaction as it heads into the next game.
Where, as often as not, said team is summarily dismantled...and all goes back to normal.
Hoping to buck the now-you-see-them, now-you-don't trend for 2010 are the suddenly-successful Kansas City Chiefs, who opened the season last Monday with a 21-14 throttling of the San Diego Chargers -- the team that's owned K.C. and the AFC West band for four straight years.
Head coach Todd Haley and company can claim sole ownership of first place in the four-team loop after scoring the division's only victory last week. Recent doormat Oakland lost a 38-13 opener to the Tennessee Titans, while the Denver Broncos fell, 24-17, at Jacksonville.
Ironically, the Chiefs will face a Cleveland Browns team on Sunday that headed towards last week with the similar glint of a long-downtrodden franchise hoping to build on late-2009 momentum created by four straight December/January victories.
Instead, Cleveland lost at Tampa Bay by a 17-14 count on a Josh Freeman touchdown pass with 6:45 left to play. And all was right with the have-and- have-not world.
"We just played Browns vs. Browns, and the Browns lost," said Cleveland wide receiver Josh Cribbs after the game. "I would love to give Tampa lots of credit. They've got talented guys out there. But if you talk to them, I'm sure they'll tell you that we beat ourselves. We were the better team."
For Kansas City, running back Jamaal Charles and kick returner Dexter McCluster provided a spark in Monday's victory generally absent from the team's performance over the last three seasons, in which it's racked up just 10 wins -- one more than in its 9-7 playoff-worthy season of 2006.
Charles has 92 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown dash, on 11 carries against San Diego, while McCluster returned a punt 94 yards for a score to give the Chiefs a decisive 14-point lead with less than two minutes remaining in the first half.
"I think we're figuring out how to get things done," Haley said. "And I think that's good, and that's one of the things I've been real excited about with this group of guys. They work hard, I thought they did a great job of preparation. It never ends."
The Browns lead the all-time series with the Chiefs, 10-9-2, breaking a deadlock in the series with a 41-34 road win in Week 15 of last season. Cleveland also won the previous meeting, a 31-28 overtime affair at home during the 2006 season. The Chiefs are 0-2 against the Browns since last beating Cleveland in 2003, and the Chiefs' most recent win in Cleveland was a 40-39 thriller during the 2002 campaign.
Browns head coach Eric Mangini has a 3-0 career record against Kansas City, including wins while at the helm of the Jets in 2007 and 2008. Haley is 0-1 against both Mangini and Cleveland as a head coach.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
Suddenly, things begin happening. Former New England relief man Matt Cassel started his second season as Kansas City's starting quarterback with an unspectacular 10-for-22, 68-yard, one-touchdown performance, though he ripped up the Browns for 331 yards and two scores for a 99.1 passer rating in last year's matchup between the team. He's buffeted on the ground by the aforementioned Charles, who went for 154 yards against Cleveland last time around and has averaged 150 yards per game in his last five overall tests dating back to last season. New acquisition Thomas Jones was held to 39 yards on 11 carries in his Chiefs debut, but could provide more against a recently balky Browns run defense. Jones has gained 137 and 106 yards in his last two games against Cleveland. Tight end Tony Moeaki, a third-round draft pick in 2010, had three catches and a touchdown in his NFL debut, while veteran receiver Chris Chambers had five catches for 114 yards in last year's meeting with the Browns.
Ex-Saints linebacker Scott Fujita saw how the other half lives in his debut as a Brown, going from a Super Bowl championship with New Orleans in February to a disappointing Week 1 loss. He knows the Chiefs' side of things as well, as he was their fifth-round pick in the 2002 draft and spent three seasons with the team. He made six tackles (2 solo) against the Buccaneers. Fellow linebacker Marcus Benard had 1 1/2 of the Cleveland's three sacks in Week 1, sharing one with Fujita. Overall the Browns surrendered just 288 yards and 13 first downs to Tampa Bay, but were hampered badly by three offensive turnovers.
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
A state of flux could be occurring. Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme has not practiced this week due to an ankle injury, leaving second-stringer Seneca Wallace to take snaps with the first team. Delhomme was hurt during the Cleveland's season-opening loss, but managed to finish the contest while completing 20-of-37 passes for 227 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Wallace is in his first season with the Browns after spending the past seven years with Seattle. He has started 14 games in his career and thrown for 3,547 yards with 25 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Running back Jerome Harrison was a record-setter in last year's matchup with the Chiefs, rumbling for a franchise-best 286 yards, the third-most in NFL history. Additionally, former Bronco Peyton Hillis had a rushing touchdown in his Browns debut last week. Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi had a 41-yard touchdown reception in the opener and tight end Evan Moore led the team with a career-best 87 receiving yards last week.
For the Chiefs on defense, it's reunion day. New coordinator Romeo Crennel spent four seasons as the Browns' head coach from 2005-08, going 24-40 overall. On the field, cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers each had interceptions in their last meeting with Cleveland. End Glenn Dorsey and linebacker Tamba Hali shared the team's only sack against San Diego, while linebacker Derrick Johnson had 11 solo tackles, one assisted stop and a forced fumble. The Chiefs were gashed for 389 yards against the Chargers, but nonetheless held Philip Rivers and friends to just 14 points.
Delhomme's absence takes away a potentially worthwhile Cleveland play, but Harrison remains a no-brainer against a recently wounded victim. For those with ownership, Massaquoi isn't a bad bet this week either. For Kansas City, Charles proved his first-round worth against the Chargers and Cassel may post some high-end numbers as well. The Chiefs' defense isn't always a great selection, but could thrive against a backup signal-caller in Wallace on Sunday.
Last week the Browns tried to keep the vibe going from eight months earlier. This week the Chiefs will try to do it six days after a perception-foiling win. Given the topsy-turvy nature of the league, it�s not hard to see Cleveland regaining its upper hand first. Score one for the recuperative powers of Mangini.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Browns 24, Chiefs 20
09/16 17:37:09 ET