Three Key Matchups: Ravens vs. Chiefs

Arrowhead Stadium
Arrowhead Stadium, Home of The Kansas City Chiefs. Photo Credit: mtfrazier - Under Creative Commons License

In the aftermath of the Kareem Hunt video saga, Kansas City was happy to walk away with a 40-33 victory last Sunday in Oakland. Still, an a surprisingly competitive AFC there’s no time to rest.

The Chiefs welcome Baltimore (7-5) into Arrowhead this week with a short-week looming. Not just any short-week, either. Andy Reid‘s squad will have to keep from looking ahead to that Thursday night AFC West showdown with Los Angeles (9-3).

Kansas City only has two losses, but the Chargers, Texans (9-3) and Patriots (9-3) are all poised to capitalize if the Chiefs stumble. Patrick Mahomes‘ 41 touchdowns have been exhilarating but once the playoffs start, having home-field advantage will trump any gaudy regular season stats.

What does KC need to keep the AFC’s top spot and damage Baltimore’s playoff chances? These three key matchups will tell the tale.

Chiefs’ Explosive Offense vs. Ravens’ Stingy Defense

Normally, we zero in on a few specific players here. It’s not every week, though, that you get No. 1 vs. No. 1.

The Mahomes-led Kansas City attack is leading the NFL in scoring with 37 points per game. Besides all of the scoring strikes, the quarterback is carrying a passer rating of 118.1 and has thrown for 3,923 yards, both good for second in the league.

Tyreek Hill is fifth in the NFL with 1,119 receiving yards. Tight-end Travis Kelce is ninth with 1,082 yards. The duo have combined for 20 touchdowns. Losing Hunt hurts a little, but Spencer Ware is capable enough to keep things rolling.

Meanwhile, Baltimore is giving up an NFL-low 17.8 points and 281.7 yards per game. The Ravens defense has given up just 40 explosive plays (more than 20-yards) over 12 games, which is second fewest in the league.

Defensive coordinator Don Martindale’s charges are also surrendering under 200 passing yards per game. Last week, they held Atlanta and Matt Ryan to just 97 net passing yards. Even though Terrell Suggs is still on hand, Baltimore’s defense is more about the collective than individual stars.

Despite the rankings, Ravens’ fans haven’t always been impressed. Then again, Baltimore fans have different standards when it comes to great defenses.

It’s hard to imagine Mahomes & company being held in check for an entire game, especially at Arrowhead, but the Ravens present the stiffest challenge yet.

Lamar Jackson vs. Joe Flacco

OK, yes, the two Baltimore quarterbacks are not technically facing each other. Ravens coach John Harbaugh potentially having both available, however, does complicate life for Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.

Flacco suffered a hip injury on November 4 against Pittsburgh and hasn’t played since. He began practicing again this week and is officially listed as “questionable.”

In his absence, Jackson has led Baltimore to three straight wins. The former Heisman Trophy-winner hasn’t been much of a threat during the air, but on the ground, he’s been extremely dangerous.

Jackson has run for 265 yards since taking over as the starter, and the Ravens have averaged more than 200 yards rushing during the win streak.

Jackson and Flacco could not be any more dissimilar. The veteran can only beat a team with his arm. The rookie, for now, can only do it with his legs.

Despite ranking near the bottom of the league in a number of defensive categories, Kansas City’s defense hasn’t always played terribly. Their pass rush, with Dee Ford, Chris Jones and Justin Houston, has been getting stronger as the season goes on.

The Chiefs are surrendering 122 rushing yards, which ranks 22nd in the league. Through the air, they’re allowing 295 yards, worst in the NFL.

Sutton will have to spend some time paying attention to Flacco, just in case. Kansas City, though, might actually be better off facing the more dynamic Jackson.

Kelvin Benjamin vs. The Playbook

Normally, signing a former first-rounder like Benjamin late in the season is just a nice low-risk insurance policy. The Chiefs, even with Hunt gone, have plenty of offensive weapons.

Starting wide receiver Sammy Watkins was hurt in practice during the week and is most likely down until the playoffs.

Like Benjamin, Watkins was a 2014 first-round pick, going 24 spots before his new teammate, who disappointed in other stops. In Kansas City, he’s been a valuable complement to Hill and Kelce, with 40 catches.

Chris Conley and Demarcus Robinson will get the majority of the extra work with Watkins out, but there’s a reason people keep giving Benjamin chances. The Florida State product, at 6’5″ and 243 lbs., is almost the same size as Kelce.

The new Chiefs wide receiver probably can’t get acclimated enough to play this week, although never underestimate Reid when it comes to offensive ingenuity. Mahomes doesn’t need Benjamin to do much, but he’s big enough that even if he can just stand and catch that’s probably good enough.