GAME TIME: 12:00 p.m. CT on Sunday, Nov.4
LOCATION: FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio
HOW TO WATCH: CBS (KCTV5 local)
HOW TO LISTEN: 101.1 The Fox
It was almost exactly two years ago that these two quarterbacks set the college football universe ablaze.
In a showdown for the ages between Texas Tech and the University of Oklahoma, the Red Raiders’ Patrick Mahomes and the Sooners’ Baker Mayfield combined for an NCAA-record 1,279 passing yards and 14 total touchdowns, with Oklahoma eventually emerging victorious by a score of 66-59.
It was simply an incredible display of offense by two quarterbacks destined to play on Sundays.
“There were a lot of talented people on the field,” Mahomes recalled. “It was one of those Big 12 shootouts, and if you look at the rosters, there are a lot of players [from that game] that are in the NFL now. I wish we would have won, but just being a part of something like that was awesome.”
Mahomes, of course, is continuing his record-breaking ways for the Kansas City Chiefs while Mayfield, whom the Cleveland Browns selected with the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, is in the midst of his first season as a professional.
Both players have found their fair share of success this season and, as the Chiefs take on the Browns this Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, the two quarterbacks will meet for the first time in the NFL.
Mahomes has engineered the league’s top offense through eight games this year, leading the Chiefs to at least 30 points in all but one contest. Kansas City has racked up the most points (290), touchdowns (36) and plays of at least 20 yards (49) in the league while ranking second in scrimmage yards (3,445) and first downs (193), smashing a handful of franchise records in the process.
It’s been a joy to watch as the Chiefs have assembled the top record in the AFC behind the right arm of their 23-year-old quarterback.
Mayfield, meanwhile, has often flashed the playmaking ability that won him the Heisman Trophy in 2017 - with multiple touchdown passes in three of his five starts under center - but it hasn’t translated to the standings.
The Browns have just two wins on the year, culminating in the firing of Head Coach Hue Jackson and Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley earlier this week.
That turnover withstanding, the Chiefs are not taking Cleveland lightly.
“We don’t get into that. We know there is talent there and coaching there,” said Head Coach Andy Reid. “What we do is focus on the process of getting ready to play a football team and eliminate all those other things. That is what we can control.”
Indeed, the Browns have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball.
Rookie tailback Nick Chubb is averaging 6.12 yards per carry on the year, and pass-catchers Antonio Callaway, Jarvis Landry and David Njoku have each hauled in multiple touchdowns.
Landry leads that group with 49 catches for 528 yards, and with an AFC-most 94 targets this season, the five-year veteran has consistently been Mayfield’s top option on offense.
Though despite the contributions of Mayfield, Landry and the rest of the Browns’ playmakers, Cleveland has struggled to score points lately. They’ve tallied fewer than 20 points in three of their last four games, and as recently as last week, the Browns amassed only 237 yards of offense.
That’s a trend the Chiefs’ defense, which has impressed in each of the last two weeks, will look to prolong on Sunday, and much of that centers around the pass rush.
Led by linebacker Dee Ford, whose six sacks in October garnered AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors, Kansas City has brought down the opposing quarterback the second-most times of any team in the league this season (24), while the Browns, fittingly, have yielded the most sacks in the NFL (33).
“[Mayfield] can extend plays with his feet and he can make all the throws, so we need to do a good job of getting in his face,” said linebacker Reggie Ragland. “We have to let Dee, [linebacker] Breeland [Speaks] and our big guys up front get to work, and I think we have a shot of getting to him.”
The Browns, meanwhile, also have a guy that’s pretty good at rushing the quarterback.
Linebacker Myles Garrett - the top pick in the 2017 Draft - is tied with Ford for the second-most sacks (8) in the NFL this season, recording three in the past two weeks alone.
“He is a great player right now,” Reid said. “You see him getting better from last year to this year. He is way more comfortable. He can bring it now. [He’s] fast, big, strong and quick - all those things make for a [good] defensive end or outside linebacker at this level. He is very quick off the ball.”
The second-year linebacker has three forced fumbles on the year, contributing to Cleveland’s NFL-leading 22 takeaways on the season.
For context, that’s more than 17 teams tallied all of last season, and nearly twice as many as the Browns forced in 2017. This defense can take the ball away.
“They know how to get turnovers. They go for the strips and they go for the interceptions,” Mahomes said. “For us, it’s about staying within our game, playing the game we’ve been playing this entire season, not trying to force anything and just trying to put some points on the board.”
That strategy has worked pretty well so far this season, as the Chiefs are off to their best start in five years, and they’ll look to keep it going on Sunday in Cleveland.
Catch the game on CBS (KCTV5 local) and 101.1 The FOX.