8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Ravens -3.5, Over/Under: 54.5
What better way to cap off an exciting week of NFL action with a potential Playoff preview featuring AFC elite? That’s precisely what we’ll be getting tonight, folks, as the reigning Super Bowl Champion, Kansas City Chiefs, take their offensive onslaught to meet the Baltimore Ravens in a battle of what is very clearly the top two powers within the conference, from M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. Winning Super Bowl LIV was not only a triumphant performance, but a vindicating one to boot for the Chiefs (2-0, 1st in AFC West), who put to rest a good degree of longstanding negativity associated with their franchise and it’s number. First, Kansas City hadn’t enjoyed very much in the way of postseason success, having gone 5-17 (.227) in the Playoffs from 1970 to 2018, with a whopping forty-nine years passing since they lasted hoisted the Lombardi Trophy back in 1970. And then there was there Head Coach, Andy Reid, who had became the posterchild for successful/influential coaches without a Super Bowl on their ledger; the 62-year old had amassed 209-128-1 (.620) record during the Regular Season before last February’s triumph, but had the misfortune of losing all but two of the previous seven Conference Championship Games that he had participated in. However, both coach and club put all that behind them as they rallied back to defeat the San Francisco 49ers, 31-20, signaling a new era of success in Kansas City.
For all intents and purposes, the Chiefs appear to have the dynastic makings of a habitual champion to will be here for many years to come. Granted, we’ve been fooled in the past (and we’re looking at the Packers and Seahawks), but this team sports a combination of youth and firepower that is rare for a champion, with a front office that has gone about retaining the services of their key talent for years to come. First and foremost, Patrick Mahomes (64.6%, 513 YDS, 6.07 NY/A, 5 TD, 0 INT, 87.3 QBR) is only 25-years old. In just three seasons in the league (two as a Starting Quarterback), Mahomes has accomplished a GREAT deal, earning an MVP award while slinging FIFTY touchdowns in 2018, following that up with a Lombardi Trophy a year later. Even though there was still two years left on his rookie deal, Reid and General Manager, Brett Veach, got down to work on a landmark contract extension that would likely keep their talisman in house for the duration of his career; back in the Summer, Mahomes signed a staggering ten-year/$450 million contract extension with over $141 million in guarantees, that is somehow both exceedingly lucrative for the player while also cap-friendly to the franchise (at least in the short term). This also allowed management to extend All-Pro Tight End, Travis Kelce (15 REC, 140 YDS, 9.3 Y/R, 2 TD) on a four-year/$57.25 million extension with $20.75 million in guarantees, alongside Pro-Bowl Defensive Tackle, Chris Jones (7 TKL, 4 QBH, 1.5 SK), on a four-year/$80 million extension, with $60 million guaranteed, ensuring that this particular Super Bowl Champion would not be poached of their talent like so many before them. Furthermore, Reid and Veach added more weapons in the NFL Draft, selecting Tailback, Clyde Edwards-Helaire (35 CAR, 176 YDS, 5.0 Y/C, 1 TD), with the final pick in the First Round; the versatile rusher is also an excellent receiver out of the Backfield, a talent that was on display throughout LSU’s National Championship campaign in 2019. The Rookie was showcased in Kansas City’s 34-20 victory over the Houston Texans in the Season Opener, compiling 109 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown on just fourteen touches. Finally, with the exception of Reid himself, this is a team that is comprised of players either entering their prime or very much in the midst of it, with the average age of their roster being 25.5, with only eight players thirty or older, three of which are starters.
“It’s going to be all about execution… When you play a defense like this that’s very mobile, multiple, you have to be ready to go and have answers for everything. Whenever they give us an un-scouted look, try to have a positive game, go to the sideline and try to figure it out.”Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback
When we last saw them, the Chiefs survived a spirited effort from the Los Angeles Chargers to best their division rivals, 23-20, an affair that required overtime to decide a winner. Over the past few seasons, the Chargers’ Defense has proven to be a solid foil to the Chiefs’ explosive Offense, and last weekend’s meeting was no different, as the hosts opened their new stadium (though technically the Rams did it first) leading by as many as eleven points in the second half. It was an uncharacteristically SLOW start for Kansas City, who sat on nine points until the Fourth Quarter where Mahomes & Co finally came to life, with the MVP launching a virtuoso 54-yard touchdown to fellow Pro-Bowler, Tyreek Hill (10 REC, 145 YDS, 14.5 Y/R, 2 TD), a ball that seemed to travel the length of SoFi Stadium. Rather than kick the extra point, Reid opted to go for two, with his Quarterback obliging with a successful conversion to Sophomore Receiver, Mecole Hardman (3 REC, 36 YDS, 12.0 Y/R, 0 TD), to tie the score at 17-17. The teams would trade field goals heading into overtime, where after forcing Los Angeles to punt, Kansas City drove downfield, where their Kicker, Harrison Butker, would effectively kick three field goals of over fifty yards (the first two didn’t count due to a penalty and a timeout), to earn a 23-20 victory and unblemished start to their title defense. In the end, the visitors totaled 414 yards of offense, with Mahomes completing 27-of-47 passes for 302 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with both Kelce (9 REC, 90 YDS, 1 TD) and Hill (5 REC, 99 YDS, 1 TD) amassing ninety or more yards and a score. However, the story of the day was the Chargers’ young Quarterback, Justin Herbert (22-of-33, 311 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT), who received the first start of his career at the last possible moment, with the Chiefs struggling to defend him with a game plan cultivated to combat his predecessor, Tyrod Taylor, who was a late scratch due to injury. Herbert led an attack that posted 479 total yards, including 183 on the ground, possessing the football 39:27. Defensive Coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, might wanna tighten up that aspect of his Defense in lieu of tonight’s matchup…
Meanwhile, the Ravens (2-0, 2nd n AC North) hope to be following the blueprint laid before them by their opponent tonight, for there are a slew of parallels between these two teams at the moment. Despite a sterling franchise record 14-2 campaign that earned them top-billing in the AFC, Baltimore flamed out in the Playoffs in a disappointing 28-12 defeat against the Tennessee Titans, who physically manhandled them in arguably the biggest upset of the postseason. That team was led by an MVP Quarterback, Lamar Jackson (77.6%, 479 YDS,7.96 NY/A, 4 TD, 0 INT, 83.1 QBR), who just like Mahomes took the league by storm in just his second season as the Starting Quarterback, breaking record of his own becoming the first Quarterback in NFL History to throw for thirty or more touchdowns and rush for over 1,000 yards. Simply put, the Sophomore was SPECIAL in 2019, throwing for 3,127 yards and thirty-six touchdowns while rushing for 1,206 yards and another seven scores, spearheading an attack that under the creative gaze of Offensive Coordinator, Greg Roman, proved to be a bonafide juggernaut that the majority of the league was simply unprepared for. Oh, and have we failed to mention John Harbaugh? The aforementioned Reid has supplied the NFL with no shortage of Head Coaches over the years, and you would be hard-pressed to find a more successful one than Harbaugh, his former Special Teams Coordinator who in thirteen years with Baltimore has gone 120-74 (.619), capturing a Lombardi Trophy of his own back in 2012.
Rather than sulk throughout the Offseason, the Ravens went about their business getting better, with General Manager, Eric DeCosta, making a point to correct the flaws that Tennessee had exploited back in January. Offensively, Jackson needed more weapons, particularly at the skill positions; Baltimore added former Ohio State Tailback, J.K. Dobbins (55th Overall) in the Second Round, followed by Devin Duvernay (92nd Overall) a true vertical threat at Receiver out of Texas in the Third. Furthermore, the Defense received plenty of reinforcements, particularly in the Front Seven; the Draft also netted them an athletic, rangy Linebackers such as Patrick Queen (28th Overall) from National Champion LSU, and another Buckeye, Malik Harrison (98th Overall), alongside Defensive Tackle, Justin Madubuike (71st Overall) from Texas A&M. In Free Agency, veteran Defensive Lineman, Calais Campbell (6 TKL, 1 TFL, 3 QBH, 1.0 SK, 3 PD) was quickly signed following his release from the Jacksonville Jaguars, while emerging Linebacker, Matt Judon (5 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 QBH) was retained on the Franchise Tag. Through two games, it appears that all these transactions have proven to do is further strengthen a team that has now won fourteen consecutive games in the Regular Season dating back to last year, embarrassing the Cleveland Browns (38-6) in the Opener, and dumping the Houston Texans in a 33-16 victory last weekend. This one wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would lead you to believe, folks, for the visitors utterly DOMINATED this affair on multiple fronts; Baltimore hung up 407 total yards on twenty-three first downs, rushing for a staggering 230 on thirty-seven carries which allowed them to possess the football for 34:51, while converting 6-of-16 Third and Fourth Downs. For their part, the hosts could only muster 304 yards of their own, going 3-of-10 on Third and Fourth Down, and committing two turnovers in defeat. The aforementioned Jackson completed 18-of-24 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for another fifty-four yards on sixteen carries, with the three-headed Backield of Mark Ingram (19 CAR, 84 YDS, 4.4 Y/C, 1 TD), Gus Edwards (14 CAR, 90 YDS, 6.4 Y/C, 0 TD), and Dobbins (9 CAR, 70 YDS, 7.8 Y/C, 2 TD) accounting for another 176 rushing yards and a score courtesy of Ingram. Nine different players also caught a pass, with Sophomore Receiver, Marquise Brown (10 REC, 143 YDS, 14.3 Y/R, 0 TD), hauling in five receptions for forty-two yards.
“I don’t have to focus on Mahomes. I’ve got to focus on their defense, I’ve got to focus on scoring, I’ve got to focus on my job. My defense has to worry about him.”Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens Quarterback
With all that said, it’s certainly setting up to be a collision course with the Chiefs, whom the Ravens must find a way to surpass if they wish to earn their third Super Bowl Championship in franchise history. Tonight’s meeting will mark the third consecutive year in which they’ve met during the Regular Season, with Kansas City having bested them in each of the previous two meetings, both of which were played at Arrowhead Stadium. The first of those was indeed a portent of things to come, as the Ravens were riding off of three straight victories after installing a young Jackson as their Starting Quarterback. This was the game in which Mahomes broke out his no-look pass, with the hosts rallying back from a late 24-17 deficit to win via another Butker field goal in overtime, 27-24. When they met in Week Three of last season, Kansas City unloaded on Baltimore in the Second Quarter, scoring twenty-three unanswered points, before the visitors would answer in the second half, where they would cut the lead to five points. After Jackson rushed for a 9-yard touchdown, he would again try his hand at reaching the end zone, though was eventually stopped by a wall of humanity, giving the Chiefs another close win, this time 33-28. Look for the Ravens to copy the game plan that worked so well for the Chargers (and many before them) last weekend, and control time of possession by rushing the football. No team in the league is more adept at doing so than Harbaugh’s charges, who lead the NFL in both rushing attempts (37.3), yards (206.0) and yards per carry (5.5).