Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens: Preview and Prediction
Following the Kansas City Chiefs' overtime victory against the Los Angeles Chargers, they now have to face off with arguably their biggest threat to repeating as Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have still not beaten the Chiefs in their two matchups during the Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson era, but the Ravens will be in a better position in this matchup, as they will host the game this time, not having to deal with an Arrowhead crowd.
Stat to Know: The Ravens went for it on 65% of recommended fourth-down situations in 2019.
The Ravens are changing the game with their analytical approach to the game of football, especially with their aggressiveness on fourth down and on PATs. Here are some charts of fourth-down aggressiveness based on what The New York Times' 4th Down Bot says to do based on historical data, courtesy of Ben Baldwin and his website, rbsdm.com:
As you can see, the Ravens went for it on about 65% of the fourth downs that The New York Times' 4th Down Bot recommended, while no one else in the last five seasons has even touched 55%. This is a stunning increase of correct, proactive decision-making that puts the 2019 Ravens in a league of their own and was a major factor in getting them the AFC's No. 1 seed.
Interestingly enough, as you can see in the final chart, the Ravens also led the NFL in 2015 for fourth down aggressiveness, but they were below 35%! We have truly come a long way and we can thank the people like John Harbaugh, Doug Pederson and Andy Reid (who just so happens to be the teacher of Harbaugh and Pederson) for that.
Matchup to Watch: Lamar Jackson vs. Chiefs linebackers
The linebackers are a bit of a weakness on the Chiefs' defense, to put it lightly. Anthony Hitchens, Ben Niemann and Damien Wilson have played 91, 82 and 76 defensive snaps respectively and all of them have a Pro Football Focus grade below 50. Meanwhile, the Chiefs' two most athletic, capable linebackers — Willie Gay Jr. and Dorian O'Daniel — have both played fewer than 10 defensive snaps.
Then we have Lamar Jackson, the Ravens' quarterback and reigning NFL Most Valuable Player, who broke the league's single-season rushing record for a quarterback and led the league in passing touchdowns in 2019. Jackson is a world-class athlete who will burn just about any defender in the league in open space, let alone the Chiefs' linebackers. This could go very poorly if the Chiefs are unable to contain Jackson properly, but they can't put too much focus on it either or they could get burned over the top with Jackson's deep ball. Jackson's 11 deep-passing touchdowns last season was tied for the second-most, trailing only Patrick Mahomes' 13.
Key to the Game: How many big plays does Patrick Mahomes make?
Patrick Mahomes is and has always been a big-play quarterback. We have dozens of plays we can think of off the top of our head where he leaves us in amazement. There is one against the Ravens in particular that is among the best of those plays. This one:
This is one of the greatest plays in NFL history, and if they didn't pull it off, they lose the game and don't get the AFC's No. 1 seed in the 2018 NFL playoffs. In fact, they would have been the AFC's No. 5 seed, because the Chargers would have won the division.
Against great teams, you have to make extraordinary plays in tough circumstances to win. Plays like that one against the Ravens, WASP, the left-handed pass and that 3rd-and-20 run with under one minute remaining just last week are great examples of where Mahomes does this better than anyone in league history, and it's why he's the best quarterback to ever play the game of football.
Prediction: Ravens 34 Chiefs 31
I believe the Chiefs are the best team in football, but unfortunately, the Ravens are pretty close in that regard and just seem to be in better form at the moment. I think Mahomes will get his, for the most part, but I also think Jackson has a field day against the Chiefs' linebackers in space and he will have a good day passing as well. I think the Chiefs would probably beat the Ravens in January and they can certainly win on Monday, but I am leaning the Ravens in this pick-em fight between the two best teams in this beautiful sport. May the best team win!