Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens – Football & Racing News – Star Sports

As with the NFC Championship Game, these teams have not met since September 2021, so it has been a while and a fair amount has changed since then with the Chiefs 3-1 against Baltimore in the Mahomes-Jackson era.

The Ravens took the game the last time these two met 36-35 and we would settle for another game like that but that’s unlikely to happen as both these two teams are much better defensively this time. The Ravens for instance are the first defence since the 1970 merger to lead the league in points allowed, sacks, and turnovers in the same season.

However, although we have two defences that can dominate it should be remembered that we have two of the NFL’s best and most dynamic quarterbacks facing each other here in Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes. In last week’s win, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson became the first player in NFL history to rush for two touchdowns, record 100 rushing yards, pass for two touchdowns, and compile a passer rating of 100-or-higher in a postseason game. If Mahomes were to win this game it would be 14th postseason win, Mahomes is 13-3 over his first 16 postseason starts (2018-23) with 4,561 passing yards; 38 touchdown passes and a 106.7 passer rating.

The Ravens may be -5.5 favourite at 11-10 with Star Sports but despite being the #1 seed Baltimore will be facing a Kansas City side who are playing in their sixth straight AFC title game. The only streak longer is the eight-game run by New England from the 2011-18 seasons. The only difference for the Chiefs is that this time they are on the road, this game marks the Chiefs first road AFC Championship Game since a 1993 loss at Buffalo.

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This week also marks the first AFC Championship outside Kansas City since New England defeated Jacksonville at Gillette Stadium in the 2017 contest. For the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday’s game marks the first time the franchise has hosted an AFC Championship Game. The last time the city of Baltimore hosted the contest was Jan. 3,1971, when the Baltimore Colts defeated the Oakland Raiders, 27-17, at Memorial Stadium enroute to the Colts’ Super Bowl V championship.

This will also be the first time that a pair of #3 seeds (Chiefs & Lions) have reached the Championship games in 20 years. The last time that happened was 2003, when both the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts were among the league’s final four. The last No. 3 seed to advance to and win a Super Bowl was the 2006 Colts.

Beware though, being the #1 seed does not give you an automatic pass to the Super Bowl, from 2018-22, No. 1 seeds have posted a modest 4-3 (.571) record in Championship Games and they’re only 12-9 (.571) overall in the postseason. And just one No. 1 seed in that span – the 2022 Kansas City Chiefs – won a Super Bowl.

This is a clash of two top class teams, since 2018, when both Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson became full-time starters, the Chiefs and Ravens own the NFL’s best winning percentages, including the postseason. Kansas City during that stretch are 88-27 (.765), No. 1 in the league, while Baltimore are 68-37 (.648), second in the NFL. Also since 2018 and including the postseason, Kansas City leads the league with 28.9 points per game while Baltimore (25.82) rank second. On the other side of the ball, the Ravens lead the NFL in scoring defence during that period, allowing just 18.80 points per contest.

Last week Baltimore took care of their business in the Divisional Round, trouncing Houston 34-10. That win extended the Ravens league lead with 11 wins over teams with a winning record this season. They have a league-best seven wins against 2023 playoff teams. Baltimore have outscored 2023 playoff teams by 13.8 points per game.

There were question marks about the vulnerability of this Kansas City team compared to previous iterations entering the postseason, but once again they are playing in the final AFC Playoff Game before the Super Bowl after edging out their perennial foe the Bills on the road last week 27-24.

Much of the Chiefs success on offence is based on the play of their quarterback Patrick Mahomes who has a first glance an uninspiring and quite daunting matchup here against a Ravens defence that allowed 2023’s fewest points per game (16.5) while leading the league in takeaways (31) and sacks (60). Mahomes will also have to play behind an offensive line that struggle in pass protection especially if LG Joe Thuney misses the game.

There’s no doubt that Mahomes has had his two best games since Week 12 in these two playoff weeks, especially in the passing game. The question coming off of these two playoff performances for this passing game are they just turning it on at the right time as Mahomes has done before, or has Kansas City exploited two defences that entered these matchups with a litany of defensive injuries? They now run into a Ravens defence that as we have already stated is playing at a very high level.

The fact that Mahomes Is playing behind a depleted offensive line could force him to use his legs more and more and Mahomes has cleared 27 rushing yards in eight of his last 14 playoff games. Mahomes has his rushing line set at +26.5 (10-11) by Star Sports here and the over makes plenty of appeal.

The passing game has been problematic for Mahomes all season with the receivers dropping plenty of passes and that’s seen the Chiefs passing game become more and more condensed and it should also be noted that Mahomes has been more susceptible to pressure this season than in years past.

When pressured, Mahomes has completed 48.8% of his passes (20th in the league) for 6.3 yards per attempt (14th). It’s become a matter of trust with the Chiefs receivers and basically the two that Mahomes trusts and relies on are WR Rashee Rice and his TE Travis Kelce. Rashee Rice and Travis Kelce combined for ten targets on 23 Patrick Mahomes pass attempts in the Divisional Round and 22 targets on 41 Mahomes pass attempts in the Wildcard round. In other words, those two Kansas City pass-catchers have combined to account for 50 percent of the team’s available targets in the postseason and there is no reason to suspect anything different here. Last week, Kelce and Mahomes connected for their 16th career postseason touchdown, breaking Tom Brady, and Rob Gronkowski’s previously held playoff record.

Baltimore led the league in net yards per pass attempt allowed during the regular season at 4.7 and this is a difficult on-paper matchup for the Kansas City passing game.

The Chiefs run game has been working though via their workhorse running back Isiah Pacheco who although he has featured on the injury report this week looks as though he’ll be ready to go here. We saw Isiah Pacheco have a big game last week against the Bills and this “angry” runner could well do the same against the Ravens. Pacheco will face a Ravens defence who allow the 6th most yards before contact. This is great news for Pacheco who ranks Top-12 in broken tackles per game.

Translation: he’s in a great spot to pick up yards before and after contact. The Ravens are a stout defence all around but are most susceptible to allowing production on the ground, considering their elite secondary. Pacheco is averaging over 20 opportunities per game this postseason so going over his rushing yards line at +63.5 (10-11) with Star Sports is an easy decision.

The change that Baltimore made at offensive coordinator prior to the start of the season has resulted in a much more positive and diverse offence and can adapt to a variety of different situations. This team scored 30 points or more in eight of their final ten games of the regular season (removing a meaningless Week 18 game against the Steelers) and then put 34 points on the Texans in the Divisional Round. The Ravens have also played their last seven games without All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews, who appears set to return to the active lineup this week.

This week the Ravens face a Chiefs team that has allowed 4.5 yards per carry (25th) but held opponents to just 4.9 net yards per pass attempt (third). Not only do the Ravens have an effective group at running back but they also have the elusive dual threat quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson has played his best football over this final stretch of the season and looks sure to win his second MVP award shortly.

The Chiefs have a history of trying and being able to contain dual-threat quarterbacks keeping them in the pocket and forcing them to run laterally rather than vertically but behind a formidable offensive and very healthy offensive line the task to contain Jackson could be more difficult. The Chiefs run defence has been a problem all season, in particular against runs off tackle or outside the tackles, where Kansas City rank dead last in expected points added per rush allowed and 31st in success rate allowed. The Ravens lead the NFL in rushing attempts off tackle or outside the tackles. Kansas City’s run defence also struggles against quarterbacks, finishing 26th in EPA per rush allowed and 28th in success rate allowed on zone-read and designed quarterback rushes.

Lamar Jackson’s 5.9 yards per carry on runs off tackle or outside the tackles ranked fourth in the NFL this season among 70 players with at least 25 such attempts. Jackson also led the league in scrambles and forced the most missed tackles on scrambles. That means that Jackson’s rush yards are very much in play for the overs at +64.5 (10-11) with Star Sports.

It wouldn’t be a great surprise to see both quarterbacks being able to score a TD and with both of these sides having potent running attacks and the same could be said in the Lions/49ers game the Star Sports Special on all four teams to score a Rushing TD at 3-1 is well worth more than a second look.

The Ravens backfield has been a revolving door all season long but it was very noticeable that they were keen to get Justice Hill more and more involved against the Texans and that’s a trait that could well continue this Sunday. Hill led the backfield in snaps & carries last week. Gus Edwards left late with a hand injury. Before leaving, the backfield was split evenly between the 2. Hill now gets a Chiefs team that ranks bottom-5 at defending shotgun runs and the Ravens use shotgun runs at a Top-5 rate. Hill averages over 5 yards per touch this year, it’s a strong spot for him. Given all of those words Hill’s rushing yards line is too low at +35.5 (10-11) with Star Sports and it’s one we would be keen to take the over on against a Chiefs team you can run on. As an aside Hill should also see usage in the passing game.

Jackson will be glad to have TE Mark Andrews back after it was thought that Andrews, so often Jackosn’s favourite target was gone for the season. Now fully healthy the Ravens have a dual threat at tight end with Isaiah Likely who has being filling in for Andrews proving himself more than capable of holding down a starting role. Andrews does look back to full power though and he’s often Jackson’s main target in the end zone with the 7-4 on Andrews to score a TD looking of interest with Star Sports.

The receiving corps having regained Andrews looks one where rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers is the only one that is likely to be used in an every down role. Behind him Isaiah Likely, Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor, and Odell Beckham could all fill various situational roles.

The Ravens don’t use WR Nelson Agholor a lot but there are certain factors which mean he may see a little more game time here. Agholor will take on the Chiefs secondary that plays man coverage at a Top-5 rate. Agholor is actually the Ravens best pass-catcher against man coverage this season, averaging 51% more yards than Mark Andrews.

In the Divisional Round, Agholor played ahead of Odell Beckham from start to finish. He’s now played on 72% of the passing plays since Week 16. We don’t have a receiving yards line to look at for Agholor but he’s 6-1 to score a TD and 28-1 to score the first TD with Star Sports and those two outcomes may well be worth a couple of small plays.

In essence, this is a contest between two of the best defences in the league and two offences that can when they are at their best move the ball as well and as quickly as any teams in the NFL and the contest as whole has a wide range of outcomes and game flow possibilities. Special teams and the kicking game could have an influence also with both sides having more than competent kickers in Harrison Butker and Justin Tucker – putting points on the board in both Championship Games could be key, so expect field goals to play a part in both contests making the Evens in the Star Sports Special market for all four teams to score a FG worth looking at.

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Like last week with Chiefs-Bills, it should not come as a surprise if the Chiefs pull this off and go back to another Super Bowl. It also should not be a surprise if the Ravens continue on their path and knock off the champs. The Chiefs already overcame a lot of adversity last year to win the Super Bowl and doing it again this year would rank as an even better achievement.

Normally, you would pick the Ravens with confidence as No. 1 defences usually show up well at home in playoff games like this. But the Chiefs are not your typical No. 3 seed nor are they a typical underdog. Their defence is also very good, they may be able to run some with Pacheco, and they have a quarterback who is 9-1-1 ATS as an underdog and 13-3 as a starter in the playoffs with two losses in overtime. This is a tough one to call and the only thought running through our heads is that the Chiefs and Mahomes in particular have shown they can win this type of game and the Ravens have got to show that they can. In a game where the margins are likely to be small ones it’s the Ravens who can just come out on top and deny the Chiefs fans seeing Taylor Swift in Las Vegas for the Super Bowl.

ANDY RICHMOND

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Author: Eugene Morris