Ravens-Chiefs winner may matter a lot more in January than it does now originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Both squads are 2-0. Besides maybe Seattle, Baltimore and Kansas City are clearly the two best teams in the league, too. The NFL's past two MVP winners, Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, square off for just the second time in their respective careers.
Monday has all the makings for an unforgettable matchup, one that many expected to be the AFC Championship game last season, had Baltimore not been upset by Tennessee in the divisional round the week prior.
However, since Ravens-Chiefs is happening in September rather than December, the ramifications from the game may not seem as big as a hyped-up, late regular-season matchup. The difference between 3-0 versus 2-1 shouldn't be that big of a deal, right? Especially with the amount of talent both teams have?
Well, if you look at the data since the 12-team playoff format was instituted in 1990, there's a significant difference between starting 2-1 or 3-0 in terms of playoff seeding down the line.
The numbers speak for themselves.
In all likelihood, Baltimore and Kansas City will both be vying for the No. 1 seed in the AFC come September. If both teams have the same record after Week 17, the team who wins this Week 3 matchup will be granted the top slot in the conference.
Last season, the Ravens earned the top overall seed in the AFC following a 14-2 record. Kansas City was the No. 2 seed with a 12-4 record. Baltimore's unexpected divisional-round exit gave the Chiefs home-field advantage in the conference championship last season, one that played to Kansas City's advantage and helped them overcome an early deficit to the Titans.
Of course, the 2020 season is different than all that have preceded it.
For obvious starters, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has prevented fans from attending most games thus far this fall (ironically, the Chiefs are one of a handful of teams that have had fans attend). Any home-field edge in 2020 has been minimalized, as playing in front of an empty stadium has become the norm this year.
Monday's matchup in Baltimore won't have fans, but there is hope that by playoff time, M&T Bank Stadium can at least allow some spectators. Sure, it won't be the same as playing in front of 71,000 raucous fans, but it's better than a fanless stadium nonetheless.
Still, there's no question both of these clubs want the top overall seed come playoff time. There are other benefits to playing in your home stadium than just having your own fans in the stands.
The NFL has moved from a six-team to a seven-team per conference playoff format, meaning only the No. 1 seed earns a first-round bye. In years past, both the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds got to take the first week of playoff football off.
That alone should be enough of a reason as to why Baltimore-Kansas City will likely have a playoff feel to it. The comfort of sleeping in your own bed, getting ready in your own locker room and not having to deal with everything else that comes with going on the road makes a big difference, too.
While it may technically not be a must-win game for either team, the result of Monday's matchup may go a lot further than just early-season bragging rights.