2024 AFC Championship Pick & Preview

 

By Chip Bayless (click Howie for more Chip)

 

 

 

Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens

In a game with two of the top-3 most talented quarterbacks in the NFL on opposing sides who both are capable of creating pure magic with their legs and ability to buy second looks, both offenses should be able to move the ball and put up at least 25 points each like they did last week, in spite of the dominant defenses they each face this week.

Consequently, this matchup should come down to basically who has the ball last, much like last week for the Chiefs.

With that in mind, the Ravens are barely more likely to come up with that turnover or final possession than the Chiefs.

Baltimore’s defense has occasionally dominated some of the most elite defenses the NFL has to offer – like when they blew out the 49ers.

The Ravens are also coming off a game where they ended up stomping the upstart Texans (who had the most public money on them last weekend of all teams according to Vegas), while the Chiefs are coming off a game in which they barely squeaked by a Bills team that one could argue gave the game away at several points with some key drops, misses, and penalties.



It’s helpful that the Ravens’ hulking offensive line is the most solid and dependable unit in the league, and while Lamar accounts for some of this stat, there’s a reason the Ravens led the NFL in both rushing yards and rushing yards before contact with 1806 (no other team even cracked 1600, per Pro Football Reference) due to massive running lanes.

Plus, Lamar Jackson, who is the fastest and most athletic quarterback we’ve seen since Michael Vick, is playing possibly the best of his life as both a rusher and a thrower.

Jackson does have one of the strongest MVP cases this season, and for everyone who says he’s still not an NFL QB as a passer, here’s how some of Jackson’s numbers ranked against the rest of 2o23’s QBs:

On the opposing sideline, the 2023-24 Chiefs are no laughing stock anymore. They’ve rebounded from their early to midseason struggles (courtesy of Matt Nagy, the guy who made the Bears offense and Justin Fields look so good, remember?) and record-setting drop numbers (some databases list 35-45 total drops for Kansas City in 2023).



Mahomes looks back to his old self, confidently smacking moving targets with the football and avoiding defensive lineman with ease.

Rashee Rice’s insane development over just one season, which is also his first in the NFL, is one of the most impressive single-year progressions I’ve ever seen at the WR position.

Rice’s vision and awareness as a runner using angles is possibly the best the WR position has to offer, and he turns up the field after the catch as quickly as any WR. He was second to only Deebo Samuel in YAC per reception during the regular season..

Given all the firepower on the Chiefs side from Mahomes, to Kelce, to Rashee Rice, to Pacheco, neither will win this in a blowout or cakewalk their way to a victory.

Speaking of Kelce, a key element to a Chiefs win will have to be him playing like he did in the Divisional round. Throughout the regular season, Kelce struggled occasionally with routine catches and didn’t seem to have his usual YAC skills or numbers

It doesn’t help that Kelce knows he’ll have a best-selling album written about him if his current relationship ends. That’s too much pressure for any man (as history has shown).

Each elite QB faces an even tougher defense than they faced last week, while each top-5 defense battles against the most dangerous offense they’ve seen all season (given how both offenses are playing right now, the Chiefs were not a top-5 offense during the regular season).

 

Key Ravens stats

  • Ravens had the most rush YPG during the regular season (per ESPN)
  • Ravens ranked 5th in 2023 PPG (per ESPN)
  • Ravens had the 6th-highest 1st down rush % (per NFL.com)
  • Ravens defense allowed the 2nd-lowest red zone conversion % in 2023 (per Pro Football Reference)
  • Ravens were 2nd in QBR off of play action with 83

Key Chiefs stats

  • Chiefs had the 5th-worst turnover differential in the regular season (per ESPN)
  • Chiefs allowed the 2nd-lowest sack % in 2023 (per Pro Football Reference)
  • Chiefs allowed the 2nd-fewest PPG during the regular season (per ESPN)
  • Chiefs ran the ball on 1st down the 8th-most in 2023 (per NFL.com)
  • Chiefs missed the 3rd-fewest tackles in 2023 (per Pro Football Reference)
  • Mahomes is 3-1 and has thrown for at least 300 yards in every game vs Jackson

Defensively, the Chiefs are as talented as any unit in the league. But to call out a few key elements, L’Jarius Sneed showed two weeks ago his lockdown ability enables all-around defensive creativity when he put the clamps on Tyreek Hill, and he and the rest of the Chiefs DBs wrote a similar script when they frustrated Stefon Diggs and Josh Allen last week.

Moreover, Chris Jones throws lineman around, and Nick Bolton might be the most underrated middle linebacker in the NFL in terms of his strength/speed combination. Willie Gay and Drue Tranquill are top-20 for their respective positions too, and the Chiefs have devised unique blitzes and do a phenomenal job of winning one-on-one matchups as pass-rushers when they get them.



The Chiefs had the 2nd-most QB hits (per Pro Football Reference) during the 2023 regular season – trailing only the Dolphins who they blew out in their first playoff game.

This game will likely come down to one possession, but also likely a Ravens win thanks to Matt Nagy’s Enron-like management style, drops, and offensive holds (courtesy of Juwan Taylor) on crucial big Chiefs play downfield (per usual).

The Chiefs league-leading drop % might finally bite them in the ass, and the reason they have made it this far and Mahomes still managed to drag this team into the top-10 in point differential was mostly due to him breaking tackles and buying an extra look when nobody was open.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid also said to reporters on Wednesday that starting left guard Joe Thuney’s prognosis is likely a negative one, and Adam Shefter reported that Thuney is unlikely to play in the AFC Championship.

The guards have been carrying the Chiefs from an offensive line perspective, as their tackles, especially Juwan Taylor, have struggled mightily, making Thuney’s absence a detrimental blow to the Chiefs’ hopes of beating the Ravens.

Mahomes was sacked at the 2nd-lowest rate in 2023, and the Chiefs ended the season tied for 3rd in yards per scramble (per Pro Football Reference), so this game will stay close until the end.

Prediction: Ravens win

Leave a Reply