This seems like Baltimore’s time.
The Ravens are primed and ready to go on all levels of offense, defense, and special teams. They have an exceptionally difficult task before them, but I guarantee you these men are undeterred.
The Ravens enter Sunday as 3 1/2-point favorites over the Chiefs. Under Harbaugh’s leadership in conference championship games, the Ravens are 1-2 (.333) with a combined per game point differential of +1.0. All three of those games were played on the road against the eventual Super Bowl champion. The Ravens went scoreless in the first quarter of each of those games, so if Sunday’s contest starts slowly, don’t be caught off guard.
Andy Reid is 4-6 (.400) in his conference championship game career, with a per game point differential of -.4. He’s always had an elite, tough, intelligent quarterback, yet he has a losing record in this round of the playoffs.
Obviously, to have a losing record in the conference championship round is different from having a losing record in the regular season. I mentioned it to underscore that winning now, no matter how loaded and veteran your team is, takes so much. So much has to go right for you to even get to this point, much less win. That said, the fact that these two coaches have been doing so well for so long only adds to the intrigue of what moves and counter-moves will take place.
From a player’s perspective, both Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes calmed their critics last week, with strong performances against game opponents. No two players in the NFL have been more dominant over the last five years than these two.
Speaking of players, a few players made news on the injury front this week that is sure to impact the outcome of this game. On Baltimore’s side, Mark Andrews and Marlon Humphrey practiced on Friday. Andrews was activated from injured reserve, so he will play Sunday. It’s very rare that a team doing as well as the Ravens are is set to host a conference championship and adds a former All-Pro back to the fold before the game. Usually, teams lose key players this time of year. Coach Harbaugh said he was “confident” when asked about Humphrey, but he wouldn’t comment on whether or not Humphrey will play.
For Kansas City, their outlook is much less promising. Joe Thuney (offensive guard) and Willie Gay (linebacker) did not practice Friday (neck). Gay was questionable with the same injury designation last week and played but exited early. Thuney (pectoral strain) has been assumed to be inactive this week, while Gay’s DNP (did not practice) was a new addition to the injury report, as he was a limited participant on both Wednesday and Thursday. Running back Isiah Pacheco did practice, which is great news for Chiefs faithful, but he’s been banged up for weeks, so him being active doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll play at 100 percent.
Given who’s available, I think the Ravens have a great shot to win. Their run game is absolutely roaring, which is the absolute best thing a football team can hope for this time of year. Lamar ran for an average of 9.1 yards carry last week—the highest per-game average of his career when he’s carried at least 10 times. Zay Flowers is gaining steam each week. Even against a Texans secondary that was athletic as he was, Flowers found space on seemingly every route he ran.
And if you thought Isaiah Likely has been playing out of his mind, consider how he could see less coverage now that Mark Andrews is active.
With regards to special teams, Devin Duvernay and Tylan Wallace (if active) make up an elite return unit, Jordan Stout is solid as always, and of course, there’s Justin Tucker. It’s not hyperbole to say Tucker is the best kicker of all-time. He literally has never missed an extra point in the playoffs (33-for-33) and is 17-for-21 in postseason field goal attempts (81.0%).
On the flip side, Kansas City has Pacheco, Travis Kelce, Rashee Rice, and Mahomes. As diverse and as imposing as Baltimore’s defense is, Kansas City will always have a chance with Mahomes at the helm. They will always be in the fight. If the Ravens win, they will absolutely have to earn it.
The more I look at this game and all the potential scenarios, the more I see the Ravens looking to establish dominance on the ground to control what they want to do on offense and vice the Chiefs in when they have the ball. The Chiefs play offense very similar to how the Patriots did in 2012. What hampers this style of offense is great 1-on-1 defenders, which the Ravens have plenty of. In other words, even if the Chiefs want to throw the ball all around the lot and do so in a hurry-up fashion, they won’t find many weaknesses and will have to pass protect against the league’s best pass rush.
Here are my predictions for Sunday’s game:
Lamar Jackson: 21/33, 244 yards, 2 TD; 9 carries, 67 yards TD
Patrick Mahomes: 28/48, 299 yards, 2 TD, INT; 4 carries, 30 yards
Zay Flowers: 5 receptions, 122 yards
Mark Andrews: 3 receptions, 35 yards, TD
Rashee Rice: 6 receptions, 55 yards, TD
Travis Kelce: 8 receptions 70 yards
Ravens 30, Chiefs 17
Born in Baltimore, Mike had long been drawn to sports of all kinds. Growing up watching Cal Ripken play ever day gave him a great example for which to attack every endeavor he undertakes.
When the Ravens came to town, though, that’s when Mike found his passion. Since that time, he’s tried to gain every bit of knowledge he could. Now as a high school coach, Mike is able to take his film study and appreciation of the game to a new level.
To engage with Mike on social media, follow him on Twitter @MikeFastNFL.