The weekend of the conference championships has arrived. The Baltimore Ravens will host the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the first of two Sunday games, as two of the best teams in the NFL compete for the title of AFC best.
The Ravens, who finished the regular season with the best record in the NFL, will use Lamar Jackson, who is expected to win the league MVP, against Patrick Mahomes and Co. Baltimore is trying to win its first AFC championship under Jackson and its first as a team since the 2012 season, when John Harbaugh’s team beat Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers in the Super Bowl.
Ravens vs Chiefs how to watch: In contrast, Kansas City is aiming to win its first AFC title game on the road and return to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in Mahomes’ six seasons in charge. The Bosses have facilitated the gathering title in every one of the most recent five years, and this will be another test for them seven days subsequent to going out and about without precedent for the end of the season games, period.
Which of these teams will compete in the Super Bowl on behalf of the AFC? We will learn soon enough. Here are some options for watching the game before we get into the matchup.
The Chiefs will now face the toughest defense they have seen all season, coming off two of their best offensive performances of the year. With the league’s seventh-best run defense and pass defense, Baltimore finished the regular season in first place in FTN’s DVOA.
A week ago, Mike Macdonald’s team held C.J. Stroud and the explosive Houston Texans offense to just 213 total yards, 10 first downs, and three offensive points. The Houston Texans offense had just blown out the Browns. Clearly, doing that against a youngster quarterback in his most memorable street season finisher game, while missing his Nos. Even though the Chiefs’ offense did not perform up to its usual standards this season, dealing with Tank Dell and Noah Brown, who are wide receivers two and three, is a very different challenge.
How well Kansas City’s offensive line responds to Macdonald’s various pressure looks will be the single most crucial aspect of this matchup. Macdonald uses a lot of simulated pressures so that opponents do not know where the rushers are coming from, even though the Ravens do not actually blitz very often (23.4 percent of opponent dropbacks during the regular season, according to Tru Media, the seventh-lowest blitz rate in the NFL).
The Chiefs have been excellent up front in recent seasons, but their signings of Jawaan Taylor and Donovan Smith to fill the tackle spots didn’t work out as well as their other tackles have over the past couple of years. As a result, they have been much more vulnerable up front than they have ever been since their Super Bowl defeat to the Buccaneers a few years ago. Because of his ability as a thrower and runner to create on the move, Mahomes is able to deal with and avoid pressure with the best of them. However, this season, he was also more affected by pressure than at any other time in his career. This year’s Chiefs could be thrown off their game if the Ravens can stop him from throwing in rhythm and get after him early and often. We’ve witnessed it occur.
Kansas City has discredited that issue these a long time, generally. However, even if they are able to do that once more, the Chiefs’ secondary will face more difficult opponents than they did against the Dolphins or Bills.
Roquan Smith in the middle of the field and Marcus Williams up top will be a lot of Roquan Kelce’s sights. Kyle Hamilton will be waiting for him if he goes to the slot. Rashee Rice will have to deal with Hamilton in the slot, where he plays a lot. He might see Marlon Humphrey, who has returned to practice this week, if he goes outside. He might also see Brandon Stephens and cloud cover behind him. Rice moving frequently to get him free releases on downfield routes would not surprise me.) As you want to be able to use the Ravens’ aggressiveness against them but also avoid being too passive when it comes to challenging them downfield, making wise use of screens against this Baltimore defense will be crucial.
Macdonald could throw to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justin Watson, Mecole Hardman, Richie James, and Noah Gray in an effort to force Mahomes to beat him, given the relative weakness of the rest of the pass-catching group. This would not be out of the ordinary. With Reid’s scheming, this is easier said than done, but throwing the ball against the Ravens’ defense has been the most difficult challenge in the NFL this season.
Although Kansas City’s run game was at best inconsistent during the regular season, Isiah Pacheco has mostly run quite well since returning from an injury. Regardless of whether Joe Thuney, who has yet to practice because of a pectoral injury, is able to play, the Chiefs will need their mauler offensive line to show up on Sunday. Additionally, if he is ruled out, KC will fall further behind the eight ball against this terrifying Baltimore team, weakening a unit that has just been okay.
When the Ravens have the ball, Kansas City’s defense is a unit that, in contrast to previous seasons, is capable of competing with a high-level offense and winning. The Chiefs finished the season in seventh place in DVOA, ranking fifth against the pass and 27th against the run.
The previous number, clearly, is disturbing against a Ravens group drove by Lamar Jackson. According to Tru Media, the Chiefs gave quarterbacks the 10th-most rushing yards during the regular season. However, their strong second-level tackling helped them limit quarterbacks’ explosive runs to 6.6%, compared to the league average of 9.7%. This matchup could go in their favor slightly if Kansas City can keep Jackson’s runs to short-to-medium gains and prevent him from making big plays on the ground.
Ravens vs Chiefs how to watch: According to Tru Media, the Ravens had the sixth-most yards before contact per carry without running back runs this season. Although the Gus Edwards/Justice Hill combination does not provide nearly as much in the way of explosiveness as the likes of J.K. Dobbins and/or Keaton Mitchell would, they do each have their merits as ball carriers. The Ravens also had the sixth-most yards before contact per carry without running back runs. Hill, in particular, looked quite good against the Texans last week, a team that had finished the season ranked second in run defense DVOA. Both players tend to just get what is blocked for them and don’t break many tackles.
The Ravens’ ability to capitalize on the fact that Chris Jones, a true game-wrecker in the pass game, has not been as good defending the run this year as he has been for the majority of his career, as well as Baltimore’s offensive line’s ability to control the matchup up the middle, will also be crucial. The Ravens’ pass defense also relies heavily on the middle of the pocket. Jones is by a wide margin the best pass-rush danger on Kansas City’s protective line, and he’ll hang to go head to head with areas of strength for a triplet of John Simpson, Tyler Linderbaum, and Kevin Zeitler. Due to Jackson’s ability to maneuver the pocket, preventing Jones from pushing the interior back into his lap will be crucial. Jackson is typically the most vulnerable to pressure up the middle.
DeMeco Ryans threw an avalanche of blitzes in the first half against Houston last week, stopping Baltimore’s passing game. The Texans seldom blitzed during the standard season, yet did as such on a mind blowing 72.2% of Jackson’s pre-halftime dropbacks seven days prior. According to Tru Media, during the regular season, Steve Spagnuolo sent blitzes on 38.4% of opponent dropbacks, the fifth-highest rate in the league. It wouldn’t in any way shape or form be amazing assuming that Spags attempted to warm Lamar up as frequently as conceivable in this one, causing him to demonstrate that he can beat the barrage similarly he did after halftime last week. ( He completed 8 of 9 passes for 79 yards and a score.)
Mark Andrews could be back for this game, and with him and Isiah Likely, the Ravens could have an advantage over the middle of the field. The Chiefs’ decision to keep an eye on Zay Flowers with L’Jarius Sneed or whether they are content with any of Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams, or Jaylen Watson spying on him at any time will be interesting to watch. Last week, Odell Beckham Jr. did not receive the much-hyped increase in playing time, instead falling in line behind Nelson Agholor and Rashod Bateman. Jackson’s ability to find success through the air will obviously depend on how that group performs and whether they are able to achieve the same level of success against a secondary that is very stingy.
Prediction: The majority of the numbers and matchup details point in the Ravens’ favor. Chiefs 20, Ravens 17. They’re at home, they were the better group during the ordinary season, they have the reasonable association MVP … but then, I can’t force myself to pick against Patrick Mahomes as well as Andy Reid. I will continue to roll with these guys until they are eliminated.
The SportsLine Projection Model, which has been on fire this year, is highly recommended if you want to take a more in-depth look at your NFL picks. If you want to know which side to back in each divisional round game, check it out.