Could be an early preview of the AFC Championship Game
I don't mind throwing around the cliche that Saturday's matchup between Baltimore and Kansas City could be a preview of the AFC Championship Game should something happen to New England. These two teams played an absolute classic last year with the home team picking up the 27-24 win in overtime. Patrick Mahomes torched the Ravens to the tune of 377 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Baltimore did record three sacks. Meanwhile, Lamar Jackson had 147 passing yards and 67 rushing with two touchdowns. We could see another classic in Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
Kansas City is one of four teams who has not played at home yet this season after starting the year out in Jacksonville and Oakland. The Chiefs hold the NFL record with 20 straight games scoring 26 points or more after putting up 40 on the Jags and 28 on the Raiders. It wasn't the flashiest win last week, but sometimes you have to win some of these lower-scoring games. Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson have replaced the injured Tyreek Hill nicely as well as the rookie Mecole Hardman. The defense has its weaknesses, but early on just has to make some stops to get the ball back to Mahomes.
The Ravens are completely different then the Chiefs as they've run the ball more then they've thrown it and pride themselves on being a ball-control offense. Jackson has run it 19 times to go along with 57 pass attempts. The southpaw has not thrown an interception yet and is making better throws in his second season. He's got Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards supporting him in the backfield. The defense saw a ton of names leave, but the unit has stepped up so far when it needed to in wins over the Dolphins and Cardinals. Yes, the Miami game probably should be thrown out, but a win is a win. This is just an all-around solid squad.
Baltimore at Kansas City
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept 22 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Chiefs -6.5
Three Things to Watch
As always, I like to start my game previews by examining the intangibles and if there are any of them in the matchup. Baltimore is making their second road trip although this atmosphere will be a lot tougher than the one they saw at Hard Rock Stadium. They are pretty healthy outside of the loss of Jimmy Smith in the secondary. Week 4 features the first of two straight division games as they host the Browns next Sunday. As mentioned above, this is Kansas City's first home game so the Chiefs will certainly be fired up. Schedule-wise, they go to Detroit next followed by back-to-back home games against AFC South teams (Indianapolis, Houston). Kansas City is dealing with some injury issues as running back Damien Williams (knee) and left tackle (Eric Fisher) have already been ruled out for Sunday's game. LeSean McCoy also got banged up last week but he should be able to play.
2. Time of possession
The mix of paces will be fascinating for this one. Baltimore and Kansas City are in the top three of a ton of offensive categories, but do it in different ways. The Ravens average 223.5 rushing yards per game while the Chiefs put up only 72. On the other end of the spectrum though, Kansas City leads the NFL at 405.5 passing yards per game. Baltimore is fourth but the gap between them and the Chiefs in this department is nearly 90 yards per game (318.0). The Ravens by far have the best time of possession, holding the ball for nearly 39 minutes per game. Surprisingly, the Chiefs rank ninth in this category at just under 32 minutes. The number of possessions each team has will be vital. The more Kansas City is on offense, the more likely the Chiefs are going to win because few teams will keep them down for long periods of time. It'll be imperative for the Ravens to convert their third and sometimes fourth downs.
3. Special teams
The Ravens have the edge on pretty much everyone at kicker because Justin Tucker is the best in the league. Tucker is 4-for-4 this season and has already connected from 51 yards away. He just doesn't miss kicks and has come up big time and time again, especially in the final two minutes of each half. Harrison Butker is no slouch, as he enters this game an identical 4-for-4 with a long of 46. Butker boasts a field goal success rate of better than 90 percent in his career and can hit from 50 or beyond (six made from that distance) when given the opportunity. Punters Sam Koch and Dustin Colquitt are also pretty good as well. The Chiefs do have an edge in the return game with Mecole Hardman and De'Anthony Thomas both possessing game-breaking speed as the kickoff and punt return specialists. Justice Hill and Cyrus Jones handle those duties for the Ravens, but they don't scare me as much as the other two.
This is going to be a fun game to watch as both teams get their punches in. Patrick Mahomes is going to find his weapons down the field with a vulnerable Baltimore secondary in place. The Ravens are going to be able to move the ball as well if Lamar Jackson continues to make good decisions. I believe in the road team's defense more, but Kansas City is at home and I think the Chiefs get last licks, which will give them the narrow win.
Prediction: Chiefs 31, Ravens 28
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.