While the Cleveland Browns will see the return of head coach and offensive play-caller Kevin Stefanski and two Pro Bowlers in guard Joel Bitonio and cornerback Denzel Ward from the COVID-19 list on Sunday in the divisional round at Kansas City, the team isn't sure on the injury status of right tackle Jack Conklin and linebacker BJ Goodson as of this writing. The Chiefs, meanwhile, may or may not have excellent rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (update: game-time call) and/or receiver Sammy Watkins (update: out). Kansas City at -10 is the biggest favorite of the weekend on William Hill Sportsbook's NFL odds.
Needless to say, practices Friday for the Browns and Chiefs will be important for the questionable guys – although all four are likely to carry that tag into Sunday. Conklin, a big-ticket offseason free-agent addition from Tennessee, was named All-Pro this season for the second time in his career. He left the wild card upset of the Steelers in the second quarter with a hamstring injury and didn't return to the field.
Bitonio, incidentally, was named second-team All-Pro for a third straight season. That Conklin left early and Bitonio missed the Steelers game made it even more shocking that Pittsburgh, which led the NFL in sacks yet again during the regular season, didn't sack Baker Mayfield once.
Goodson left vs. the Steelers in the first half with a sprain of the AC joint in his shoulder but was able to return. He led the Browns in tackles during the regular season with 91 despite missing two games on the COVID list and then had a team-best 10 tackles vs. Pittsburgh. Ward missed the past two games on the COVID list. He missed four overall in the regular season and still led the league with 16 passes defended.
Conklin and Goodson seem much more likely to play than Edwards-Helaire and/or Watkins. Neither has practiced fully this week entering Friday. CEH, the last pick of the first round of the 2020 draft, was limited Wednesday but then DNP on Thursday so that's concerning. He hasn't played since Week 15 after going down with hip and ankle injuries. If CEH can't go, that would mean Le'Veon Bell and Darrell Williams would compete for touches.
It should be noted that the last Chiefs game that counted was in Week 16, a 17-14 win over Atlanta that clinched the top seed for Kansas City. Williams (10 carries, 46 yards; four receptions, 27 yards) was used more than Bell (seven carries, 30 yards; one catch, nine yards).
Watkins injured his calf in Week 16 and didn't play in Week 17 – but then most of the Chiefs' key guys rested in that one. Because he is out Sunday, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle will be counted on more alongside All-Pro Tyreek Hill at wideout. Kansas City also has some tight end named Travis Kelce.
Cleveland has lost 14 straight games and covered the spread in just one dating to 2015 against teams with a winning percentage of .800 or greater (at any point in the season) as Kansas City has. If the line closes at 10 points, the Browns have lost 21 straight games as double-digit dogs – their last such win was +12 at New Orleans in 2010.
On the flip side, Kansas City hasn't won a game by more than six points since Week 8 vs. the Jets. Since Week 9, the Chiefs are an NFL-worst 1-7 ATS.
The SportsLine Projection Model, which simulates every NFL game 10,000 times, is up almost $7,900 for $100 players on top-rated NFL picks since its inception five-plus years ago. It is a sizzling 24-14 on top-rated NFL picks this season, returning well over $800. The model also enters the Divisional Round of the 2021 NFL Playoffs on an incredible 120-78 run on top-rated NFL picks that dates back to the 2017 season.