Written by David Gold
Graphic by Liban Rizvi
In what many considered to be a “down year” for Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, they have found their way into the AFC championship game for the 6th consecutive year against the winningest team of the 2023 regular season, the Baltimore Ravens.
In the 2023-24 season, despite winning the AFC West and finishing 11-6, Kansas City has had the lowest scoring season in the Mahomes era, only averaging 21.8 points per game. That is over 6 less than any other season with Mahomes under center.
Visualization by David Gold, Data from espn.com
Kansas City Chiefs: Keys to Success
The Chiefs defensive woes have been exposed time after time this season. They are not the pure juggernaut they once were. They allowed 182 rushing yards to the Buffalo Bills in their previous matchup including 72 to Josh Allen. They have also allowed 4.5 yards per carry over the course of the 2023 season – 7th highest in the league. These stats do not bode well with the fact that they are matching up with arguably the greatest running quarterback of all time, who is averaging 51.3 rushing yards per game. Not to mention the Ravens lead the league in rushing attempts and scored 26 rushing touchdowns, placing fourth in the league. The Ravens will look to expose the Chiefs and establish the run game early.
In the 2023 season, the Ravens were tied for third in interceptions with 18 and tied for second in fumble recoveries with 13. Coming off a season where Patrick Mahomes has posted a career high in interceptions with 14, it is crucial that the Chiefs minimize turnovers.
Key players: Rashee Rice and Isaiah Pacheco
Despite his decline in production this year, Travis Kelce has been Mahomes’ favourite target throughout his entire tenure as the Chiefs starting quarterback. The Ravens will make it incredibly difficult for Mahomes to do so. This season, they have allowed only 5.9 passing yards/attempt, second best in the league. Against tight ends, they have only allowed 3 receiving touchdowns (tied for 2nd best) and 804 yards (12th best). In the wild card game, despite the Dolphins’ elite secondary, Mahomes found Rashee Rice 8 times for 130 yards. Moreover, despite allowing the least rushing touchdowns this season, the Ravens defense ranked 7th worst in yards per carry. Isaiah Pacheco and Rashee Rice will be crucial in the Chiefs’ offensive production in this matchup.
The Baltimore Ravens are currently looking stronger than ever. Coming off an offensive and defensive explosion in a 34-10 win with 229 rushing yards against the Houston Texans, the current MVP favourite Lamar Jackson will be seeking his third career playoff win as he plays his first ever conference championship game and the Baltimore Ravens’ first AFC championship since they won the super bowl in 2013.
Visualization by David Gold, Data from nfl.com
Solely from a yardage efficiency standpoint, the Ravens’ defense in the regular season surprisingly ranks similarly to the Chiefs’. While these defensive stats do not nearly tell the whole tale, especially considering they do not consider scoring or turnovers (Ravens outscored Chiefs by 6.6 points per game), they are still noteworthy in terms of efficiency. The Ravens offense however, dominates the Chiefs.
Baltimore Ravens: Keys to Success
Keep Patrick Mahomes off the field
The comparably poor Chiefs offense in the regular season does not change the fact that they possess the best quarterback in the NFL. Whenever he is on the field, he is a threat. In 2022 he proved that all he needs to get into field goal range is 13 seconds. Patrick Mahomes has proven time and time again that he can and will perform against elite defenses. The Ravens should look to capitalize on the Chiefs below-average rushing defense to drag out their drives. When their offense is on the field, they have control of the game. When Patrick Mahomes is on the field, he has control of the game.
Key player: Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson has had some disappointing playoff performances in years past. Prior to this season, in four playoff games, Lamar completed 76 out of 136 passes for 55.9% completion. For reference, in the 2023 season, the quarterback with the worst completion percentage was Will Levis with 58.4% and Lamar’s was 67.4%. This year’s matchup with the Texans was the first time Lamar achieved a passer rating higher than 80 in the playoffs, with a passer rating of 121.8. If Lamar is unable to continue his elite production from last week and instead performs the way he has in previous years, the Ravens will have difficulty keeping up with the Chiefs.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo
Lamar finally steps up on the big stage and has a great performance, while the Ravens dominate the run game, allowing the Ravens to reach the finals.