A Rematch of Sunday's Game? Don't Expect the Chiefs to Want That
A lot of pundits referred to Sunday's game in Kansas City as one of the best games this season, and there's no doubt plenty of neutrals would love to see the Ravens and Chiefs square off again in the playoffs.
A rematch isn't a difficult scenario to envision. If the current playoff rankings hold, the Chiefs would be the top seed, while Baltimore would be No. 6. All the Ravens would need to do would be to win on Wild Card weekend (a round they're 5-0 in with Head Coach John Harbaugh) to force the two teams to meet again.
For Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, it's something he thinks could happen.
"This team will make a run at it. I'm sure they'll be in the playoffs," Mahomes said of the Ravens during his on-field postgame interview with CBS' Tracy Wolfson. "Maybe we'll get to play them again."
In the previously listed scenario, the Chiefs would have a number of advantages on their side, including getting to play at home and having a bye week.
Even with those advantages, and having already beaten the Ravens, ESPN's Bill Barnwell thinks that's a nightmare scenario for Kansas City. In fact, he named Baltimore as the one team in the AFC the Chiefs should not want to see in the postseason.
"I understand that the Chiefs just beat the Ravens, but Baltimore put a real shock into the Chiefs at home, where Kansas City was 5-0 and outscoring teams by more than 16 points per game," Barnwell wrote.
Barnwell went through and picked the greatest weakness of each team currently in a playoff spot. He then went on to name which other playoff team would pose the most difficult matchup.
For Kansas City, he selected the team's run defense as its kryptonite. As Barnwell noted, "The Chiefs minimize their biggest weakness by rendering it irrelevant… Most weeks, the Chiefs get out to a huge lead and make running the football a waste of time for the opposing team."
So, the last team the Chiefs will want to face is one with a good defense to keep the game close that can also run the ball. Can you think of any team that matches that description?
Since rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson became the starter, the Ravens have rushed for 914 yards, an average of 228.5 yards per game. Baltimore has also run it 63.7 percent of the time, which is far more than any other team in the NFL, with Barnwell noting "only four other teams have run the ball more than half of the time, and none of them has topped a run rate of 55 percent."
Meanwhile, the defense is first in the league in scoring (18.5 points per game) and second in yards allowed per game (293.9).
"The Baltimore defense beat up Mahomes, knocking him down a staggering 15 times," Barnwell wrote. "Jackson and the Baltimore offense ran at will against the Chiefs, and the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback is improving as an NFL passer. There are easier matchups out there for the Chiefs, even if they would come against tougher teams on paper."
If you want to know how tough it is to play the Ravens, look no further than seeing what Kansas City's players said after the game. On Baltimore's offense, Kansas City outside linebacker Dee Ford said, "That offense is going to be a problem. [Jackson is] a great athlete, but he knows how to execute the offense. You really have to be on one page as a defense and if you aren't, they will gas you."
Mahomes came away impressed with the defense.
"They're good, I mean really good," Mahomes said. "You don't know it until you're out there. They're really fast, they're good at every position and they have a great scheme."
No, none of the Chiefs players came out and said "We want nothing to do with Baltimore in the playoffs." There's no doubt the Chiefs would be confident if they faced the Ravens again. But Kansas City definitely came away from Sunday's game impressed with what the Ravens can do in all phases.
It took a truly remarkable play by Mahomes on fourth-and-9 to tip the scales in Kansas City's favor on Sunday. Would he be able to conjure up more magic against the Ravens in the playoffs? A lot of people would love to find out, but don't be surprised if the Chiefs don't have a rematch with the Ravens high on the list of matchups they want in the postseason.
John Harbaugh Makes it Clear Which Quarterback is Starting this Sunday… Right?
Asking Harbaugh about which quarterback he plans to start during his weekly Monday press conference has become commonplace over the past five weeks. This Monday was no different, as Harbaugh fielded multiple questions about Jackson and Joe Flacco.
The difference between this week and other weeks is that Flacco, for the first time since sustaining a hip injury against Pittsburgh in Week 9, is expected to be active this Sunday against Tampa Bay. It sets the stage for Harbaugh to make a big decision.
"The Ravens can no longer say that Flacco isn't healthy enough to play, now that he's gotten full medical clearance. They can no longer say that Flacco hasn't had enough time to prepare as he'll have practiced for 2.5 weeks, assuming he gets through this week unscathed," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "If Flacco doesn't start Sunday against the Buccaneers in a game the 7-6 Ravens essentially have to win to maintain legitimate playoff hopes, there is only one reason: Harbaugh and the team's top decisions makers believe that Jackson gives them a better chance to win than Flacco does,"
When asked about it the first time, Harbaugh responded "It stands to reason that if Joe is ready to go, then he'll be part of the game plan. He's too good of a player not to be." Harbaugh was also asked if that meant Flacco could potentially start, to which he replied "It could entail anything right now."
As the responses were being put on Twitter, the media immediately tried to read between the lines of what Harbaugh was saying. However, the comments were being viewed as indicating two very different outcomes.
Make no mistake about it, this is exactly the type of speculation that Harbaugh wanted with how he phrased his responses. Harbaugh has loved making this situation a guessing game for opponents, and the media drawing two different conclusions from what he said helps.
He even mentioned Robert Griffin III when asked about the quarterbacks, saying "Griffin has done a great job. When he's gone in, he's played very well. He's been really good at practice. It's a good situation to have."
Don't be surprised if Harbaugh also mentions punter Sam Koch as a potential option at quarterback after he showed off his arm two weeks ago against Atlanta.
All joking aside, Baltimore's quarterback situation is one that can cause a lot of headaches for opposing defensive coordinators. Having only a week to plan for an NFL offense is tough enough. Imagine trying to prepare for two quarterbacks that run entirely different offenses.
It's a distinct competitive advantage, and one that Harbaugh is smart to take advantage of.
Ravens and Chicago Bears Leading Defensive Surge
In the age of high-powered offenses, The Ringer's Robert Mays believes Week 14 was a good one for defenses. Mays listed the Ravens, and Chicago Bears (which limited the Los Angeles Rams to six points on Sunday Night Football) as the two units leading the charge for this defensive surge.
The two defenses have had different strengths this season. As previously mentioned, Baltimore is first in the league in scoring (18.5 points per game) and second in yards allowed per game (293.9). Meanwhile, Chicago ranks first in takeaways (34). Both defenses were at their best on Sunday against two of the NFL's top offenses.
"The Ravens defense showed that top units on that side of the ball have a chance against Kansas City's juggernaut offense," Mays wrote.
As Mays noted, through 58 minutes of football, the Ravens held the high-octane Chiefs to just 17 points. Mahomes and wide receiver Tyreek Hill then combined on a ridiculous play on fourth-and-9, and… well you know the rest.
Still, Mays believes "the defense deserves most of the credit for hanging with the Chiefs." He also came away from the game believing the Ravens could be a force to be reckoned down the line, in large part due to the defense.
"The only place Baltimore lost on Sunday was the scoreboard," Mays wrote. "The team's performance on the road, against arguably the best team in the NFL, bodes well for the Ravens' chances to create some chaos in the AFC playoffs."
Tight Ends are Paving the Way for Rushing Attack
Jackson, the running backs, and the offensive line have all deservedly gotten a lot of credit for the Ravens rushing attack improving since the team's bye in Week 10. Another group that deserves a lot of credit, according to Pro Football Focus? The tight ends, particularly Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle.
"Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle both helped power the Ravens' ground game, earning 92.3 and 88.5 run blocking grades respectively," PFF wrote. "Each ranks in top 10 run blocking tight ends so far this season (Williams 8th, Boyle 10th)."
It's been an up and down year for Williams. He made a tremendous impact in Baltimore's Week 4 victory against Pittsburgh, catching five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. The return of rookie tight end Hayden Hurst from injury lessened Williams' opportunities though, and he was a healthy scratch for three straight games.
Williams has played in the past three games and had a standout performance in Kansas City, taking a pass from Jackson on fourth-and-2 and rumbling forward for a 10-yard score.
Boyle has quietly excelled throughout 2018. His most notable game was when he was among Jackson's favorite targets in the rookie's debut against Cincinnati, hauling in four catches for 36 yards. He has mostly contributed in the trenches though, and Baltimore Beatdown's Kyle Barber struggles to see how the rushing attack would be as strong as it has been without Boyle or Williams.
"It's been a sight to see as Lamar Jackson, [running backs] Gus Edwards Jr. and Kenneth Dixon have literally run the ball full drives for touchdowns now, and it doesn't happen without these two in the fold," Barber wrote.
- Barnwell named Baltimore's biggest kryptonite as great run defense teams, and listed the Houston Texans as the worst matchup for the Ravens in the AFC postseason. "[Houston defensive coordinator] Romeo Crennel's defense is allowing opposing running backs to run for just 3.3 yards per carry. Only the [New Orleans] Saints have been more stifling."
- Football Outsiders' Dan Klassen was particularly impressed with Jackson's performance against Kansas City, writing "This game should serve as a reminder of why Baltimore invested in him. Quick on his feet, generally a good rhythm passer, opens up a new world for the run game. Still waiting for the accuracy to get cleaned up, but he's got time." For those who like film analysis, Klassen tweeted out a few videos of why he was encouraged by Jackson.
- Outside linebacker Matthew Judon was profiled by Pro Football Focus' Austin Gayle. Judon has been excellent in recent weeks, earning a 75.2 overall score and 80.2 pass rushing grade from PFF from Weeks 8 to 14. As Gayle put it, "The game has finally slowed down for the former Grand Valley State product."
- CBS Sports' John Breech gave the Ravens a B for their performance in Kansas City on Sunday. "Baltimore held the Chiefs to just 24 points in regulation, Kansas City's lowest total of the year, but it wasn't enough," Breech wrote.