The Ravens are one win away from reaching the Super Bowl. All that stands in their way are the defending champions.
The Kansas City Chiefs will head to Baltimore for Sunday’s AFC championship game after defeating the Buffalo Bills, 27-24, in the divisional round. It’s the first home AFC title game for the Ravens and the first in Baltimore since 1971, when the Colts beat the Oakland Raiders.
To get ready for the rematch, here are five things to know about the Chiefs:
They also have an MVP quarterback
While Jackson is on his way to earning a second NFL Most Valuable Player Award, he’s going up against a quarterback unanimously considered the best in the league.
Patrick Mahomes is not only a two-time MVP winner, but a two-time Super Bowl champion, leading Kansas City to the title in the 2018 and 2022 seasons. Drafted in the first round one year before Jackson in 2017, the 28-year-old Mahomes has already put together one of the most impressive careers in league history. And, like Jackson, he’s reshaped how the position is played with dazzling arm angles, no-look throws and a brilliant ability to scramble.
But while Jackson just earned his second career postseason victory in Saturday’s 34-10 rout of the Houston Texans, Mahomes is tied for fourth in NFL history with 13 playoff wins. Only Tom Brady (35-13), Joe Montana (16-7), Terry Bradshaw (14-5), John Elway (14-7) and Peyton Manning (14-13) have more, though Mahomes has a much higher winning percentage (.812) at 13-3.
Sunday’s game in Baltimore, however, will be just the second road game of Mahomes’ postseason career. He’s 3-1 in the regular season against the Ravens, with his lone loss coming in the last meeting in 2021, but he has deep respect for Baltimore fans. Earlier this year, he said that M&T Bank Stadium is one of just two venues across the NFL that he needed to use a silent count to communicate with his teammates because the crowd noise was so loud.
Their receivers are among the league’s worst
By his lofty standards, Mahomes’ regular-season statistics — 4,183 yards, 27 touchdown passes, 14 interceptions, 92.6 passer rating — are way down this season. His receivers are a big reason why.
Kansas City dropped a league-leading 44 passes during the regular season, a rate of 6.9%. For comparison, the Ravens had 27 drops with a rate of 5.5%, while the San Francisco 49ers had the league’s most reliable hands with just nine drops.
After trading star Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins before the 2021 season, the Chiefs have struggled to find a reliable target outside of tight end Travis Kelce, though it hasn’t stopped Mahomes and coach Andy Reid from continuing their playoff success.
But even Kelce has not been as effective this season, finishing the regular season with fewer than 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2016. Rookie wideout Rashee Rice, a second-round draft pick, has stepped up with 79 catches for 938 yards, but there is a big drop-off behind those two.
Running back Isiah Pacheco (44 catches for 244 yards) and No. 2 tight end Noah Gray (28 for 305) are the top targets behind Kelce and Rice, with Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and midseason pickup Mecole Hardman — who nearly cost the Chiefs the victory Sunday with a fumble at the goal line that gave the ball back to the Bills in the fourth quarter — all struggling to both hold onto the ball and develop a connection with Mahomes.
Their defense is elite
No defense has been better than the Ravens’ this season, but the Chiefs’ comes pretty close.
When Mahomes and the offense struggled early in the season, it was often the defense that bailed them out. Only Baltimore allowed fewer points per game than Kansas City (17.3), which also ranked second behind the Cleveland Browns in total defense, allowing 289.8 yards per game. The Chiefs ranked second behind the Ravens in sacks (57), had the second-highest quarterback pressure rate (27.8%) and missed just 71 tackles, the fourth-lowest mark in the league.
While Kansas City has been vulnerable against the run — allowing 182 rushing yards against Buffalo — it has been extremely effective against the pass thanks to a pair of budding stars at cornerback. Trent McDuffie, a 2021 first-round pick, earned first-team All-Pro honors this season, while L’Jarius Sneed was considered All-Pro caliber.
Linebackers Nick Bolton and Leo Chenal have also graded well, with Bolton emerging as one of the league’s best middle linebackers. Five-time Pro Bowl selection Chris Jones (10 1/2 sacks) is an elite defensive lineman, while 2022 first-round pick George Karlaftis (10 1/2 sacks) has taken a big leap forward. Fellow defensive end Charles Omenihu recorded seven sacks following a six-game suspension. Injuries could be a concern, however, as safety Mike Edwards (concussion protocol) and linebacker Willie Gay Jr. (neck) exited the win over Buffalo.
On top of all of that talent, Steve Spagnuolo remains one of the best defensive coordinators in the league. The 64-year-old — perhaps best known for leading the 2007 New York Giants defense that toppled Tom Brady and the previously undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl — is renowned for his unique game plans and ability to confuse opposing quarterbacks and has a history of stopping elite offenses in the postseason.
Their coach was John Harbaugh’s mentor
Back in 1999, the Philadelphia Eagles fired coach Ray Rhodes and hired Andy Reid, then the Green Bay Packers’ quarterbacks coach. Reid, a first-time head coach, chose to retain some of the members of Rhodes’ staff. One of them was John Harbaugh.
“Andy did not have to give me a chance coming in at the time,” Harbaugh said in 2018. “I’m sure he had a lot of people he knew, but he decided to take a chance on me, and like I said, I’ll be forever grateful for that.”
Harbaugh remained on Reid’s staff as special teams coordinator for nine seasons before becoming defensive backs coach in 2007. It helped gain the attention of the Ravens, who hired Harbaugh as coach over Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now in his 16th season in Baltimore, the 61-year-old Harbaugh has become one of the most respected coaches in league history and is currently the second-longest-tenured. Postseason success has been elusive since he led the Ravens to the Super Bowl title after the 2012 season, with Baltimore failing to advance past the divisional round until this year’s breakthrough.
But that’s not the only record Harbaugh will be seeking to improve when the Chiefs come to town: He’s 2-5 against Reid.
Their star tight end has a very famous girlfriend
You might have heard about Taylor Swift and Kelce. If not, allow us to explain.
Swift, the world-famous singer, songwriter, musician and producer, started dating the Chiefs tight end earlier this season, bringing a flood of attention to Kelce, his family, the team and the NFL.
Swift, a 12-time Grammy Award winner who captivated audiences with her global “Eras Tour,” has been spotted at Chiefs games around the country this year sitting in luxury suites next to Kelce’s mom Donna, Mahomes’ wife Brittany, actress Cara Delevingne and other stars. She attended Sunday night’s playoff game at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, and was shown on CBS’ television broadcast along with a shirtless Jason Kelce, Travis’ older brother who is expected to retire after a standout career as the Eagles’ center.
Of course, that means Baltimore is on “Swift Watch” for Sunday’s game. Keep your eyes peeled.
AFC championship game
Chiefs at Ravens
Sunday, 3 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 2 1/2