When the Kansas City Chiefs host the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14, two of the NFL’s youngest and most exciting quarterbacks will go head-to-head for what could be the first of many important AFC matchups. And even if hindsight proves this isn’t an historic meeting, it should still be fun in the moment.
Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (23 years, 83 days) and Ravens QB Lamar Jackson (21 years, 326 days) have a combined age (45 years, 44 days) that is younger than the NFL’s oldest player (Adam Vinatieri, who turns 46 on Dec. 28). But their ages belie their achievements.
In his second NFL season and first year as a starter, Mahomes has Kansas City sitting pretty with a 10–2 record and the AFC’s top seed in the playoffs. As a rookie, Jackson — the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner — has posted a 3–0 record as a starter and has Baltimore in the playoff hunt, with a 7–5 record and the AFC’s second wild-card spot, trailing the Pittsburgh Steelers (7–4–1) by a half-game in the AFC North standings.
The Chiefs and Ravens are tied 4–4 all-time in a series that dates back to 1999. In an odd split stat, Kansas City is 0–3 against Baltimore at home in the usually friendly and crazy confines of Arrowhead Stadium, including an AFC Wild Card loss following the 2010 season. The last time these two teams played, the Chiefs snapped a four-game losing streak against the Ravens, with a 34–14 win at Baltimore in 2015.
Baltimore at Kansas City
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 9, at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Chiefs -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Made-for-TV QBs
Mahomes has thrown for more TD passes in 12 games (41) this season than the Ravens have had in their last 32 games (39). The namesake of an MLB pitcher, Mahomes is on pace to join Peyton Manning (55) and Tom Brady (50) as the only QBs to throw 50 TDs in a single season. And while there is a sentimental surge for New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees to win MVP, the numbers point to Mahomes, who would become the youngest league MVP since a 23-year-old Dan Marino took home the hardware in 1984.
While Mahomes sat for a full season behind Alex Smith last year, Baltimore has been forced to throw Jackson into the fire following a hip injury to Joe Flacco. Since taking over a 4–5 Ravens team following their Week 10 bye, the rookie has posted wins against Cincinnati (24–21), Oakland (34–17) and at Atlanta (26–16). At 7–5, the Jackson-led Ravens are very much back in the playoff hunt.
In three games as a starter, Jackson has struggled through the air, completing 39-of-65 passes (60 percent) for 453 yards, a TD and three INTs, while taking six sacks for 26 lost yards. But on the ground, Action Jackson has been dynamic, with 54 rushes for 265 yards (4.9 ypc) and two TDs. He does have five fumbles; however, he has lost only one.
2. Top scoring offense vs. top scoring defense
In a rare regular-season occurrence, the NFL’s highest scoring offense will clash against the league’s stingiest defense. The Chiefs average 37 points per game; the Ravens allow only 17.8 points. The Chiefs average 437.2 yards per game; the Ravens allow only 281.7 yards. The Chiefs convert 47 percent of third downs; the Ravens allow only a 34 percent success rate. Something’s gotta give on Sunday.
Last week, Baltimore’s defense was especially vicious. In a 26–16 win at Atlanta, the Ravens held 2016 MVP Matt Ryan to a career-low 131 passing yards, while stuffing the Falcons' run game for just 34 yards on 15 carries (2.3 ypc). Atlanta’s lone TD came in garbage time late in the fourth quarter when the game had all but been decided. Baltimore also scored a defensive TD for the second straight week, although forcing turnovers has been an issue — the Ravens have only nine forced turnovers this year, ranking 30th leaguewide.
3. Running game
In a shocking move, Kansas City cut ties with 2017 NFL rushing champ Kareem Hunt, following an accumulation of off-field events punctuated by the release of a TMZ video showing Hunt assault a young woman in February. Without Hunt for the first time this season, the Chiefs had 174 rushing yards against the lowly Raiders. KC shared the load between Mahomes (52 yards), Spencer Ware (47, TD), Damien Williams (38) and Tyreek Hill (37). It will be interesting to see how Chiefs head coach Andy Reid adjusts this week against a superior Ravens defense.
Meanwhile, Baltimore has been running roughshod since Jackson took over. In three games with the dynamic dual-threat QB, the Ravens have 716 rushing yards — the most over a three-game span since the Seattle Seahawks were in Beast Mode back in 2012. Over that same three-game stretch, Baltimore has averaged 37:20 time of possession. In the second half last week, the Falcons only had the ball for a total of 13 plays and 5:55 off the clock.
The Chiefs have the No. 22-ranked run defense (122 ypg) and the best way to stop Mahomes is to make him a spectator on the sidelines, so expect Ravens head coach John Harbaugh to play a game of keep-away, if possible. The bad news for Baltimore? Mahomes and Co. are a quick-strike offense that ranks No. 26 in time of possession (29:21). It’s the quality, not quantity, of Kansas City’s possessions that is so impressive.
Both teams will be tested in ways they have not been to date. Kansas City will see just how potent its offense is without Kareem Hunt against a top-flight defense (sorry, Raiders), while Lamar Jackson will have his first test against a truly rabid fan base on the road (sorry, Atlanta). This could be the start of a new QB rivalry in the AFC. Either way, Patrick Mahomes and Jackson should put on a show worthy of Sunday Ticket, with explosive plays and playoff implications abound.