Time off for Patrick Mahomes has not equated to time away from football.
He practiced for the Kansas City Chiefs. He cheered teammates on while sitting out the last regular-season game. And then last week, with the bye that goes to the top seed in the AFC playoffs, Mahomes scouted opponents.
He will rely on what he learned about the Cleveland Browns, who will be coming off an explosive 48-37 upset of Pittsburgh in the wild-card round, which elevated them into the divisional round Sunday at Kansas City, Mo.
"I had a day's worth of film on the Browns," said Mahomes, "so whenever we found that out, I was able to look back at that and look at my notes and see how it presents to us."
Despite sitting out the Jan. 3 setback to the Los Angeles Chargers, Mahomes helped engineer a 14-2 season for Kansas City while passing for 4,740 yards and 38 touchdowns. He will square off against Baker Mayfield as they reprise their old Big 12 shootouts.
"To be able to play against him on this stage is going to be special," Mahomes said. "I mean, he went to Oklahoma, I went to Texas Tech, so he got the better of me in college, so I'll try to do my best to win in the NFL."
Mahomes knows he has the weapons to accomplish that feat, especially after the Chiefs scored at least 31 points in each of their postseason wins a year ago. Travis Kelce, who set an NFL record for tight ends with 1,416 receiving yards, also sat out the defeat against the Chargers, which snapped a 10-game Chiefs' winning streak.
"Everybody kind of locks in a little bit more and gets excited to play when the playoffs come around, especially in this building, especially (Mahomes) himself," Kelce said.
The same could be said of the Browns after claiming their first playoff win since 1994.
Cleveland should regain several players off the reserve/COVID-19 list -- Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio was removed Friday -- while coach Kevin Stefanski returned to practice on Thursday after his own stint with the virus.
"We're looking forward to getting a full complement of guys," Stefanski said. "Anytime you get good players back, whether it be injury or COVID list, it's always a big boost for your entire team."
Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson have been activated and will provide depth to a secondary that grabbed four interceptions against Pittsburgh. Receiver KhaDarel Hodge was also taken off coronavirus protocols.
Mayfield will again look to execute a balanced attack, which also features the rushing tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Hunt will have some additional motivation playing against the Chiefs. They cut Hunt during the 2018 season after video surfaced of him kicking a woman. Kansas City selected Hunt in the third round of the 2017 draft. He then led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards as a rookie.
Another Browns connection who can point to his time with the Chiefs is general manager John Dorsey, who was around when Andy Reid took over as Kansas City coach and traded up to take Mahomes in the 2017 draft after already drafting the likes of Kelce and Tyreek Hill.
Dorsey was eventually fired by the Browns in late 2019.
"He did a nice job here and there of bringing the right people in," Reid said.
The Chiefs ruled out receiver Sammy Watkins (calf) and linebacker Willie Gay (ankle) on Friday. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle) was listed as questionable.
The Browns listed four players as questionable: offensive tackle Jack Conklin (hamstring/knee), linebacker B.J. Goodson (shoulder), and tight ends David Njoku (hamstring) and Stephen Carlson (groin).
--Field Level Media