Majority of Pundits Are Picking Ravens to Conquer Chiefs
When the Ravens take the field Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium in the AFC Championship against the Kansas City Chiefs, it will be a game 53 years in the making.
The last time the city of Baltimore hosted the conference final was January 1971, when the Colts faced the Oakland Raiders at Memorial Stadium in the inaugural AFC Championship.
Baltimore won that game, and most of pundits we looked at (29 of 43) are predicting the Ravens to knock off the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs and advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since winning it 11 years ago.
The game features the marquee matchup of two-time MVP Patrick Mahomes against Lamar Jackson, who is expected to win his second MVP this season. Mahomes has led Kansas City to six consecutive AFC Championship Games, but this will be the first one not played at Arrowhead Stadium.
The contest also has the top two scoring defenses — the Ravens allowed 16.5 points per game in the regular season, while the Chiefs allowed 17.3.
Here's what pundits are saying about the game:
The Chiefs' championship game experience will not be enough to beat the Ravens.
The Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer: "The Chiefs' biggest advantage in this matchup — maybe their only clear advantage — is that they've been here, done that. Patrick Mahomes is 13-3 in the playoffs. He hasn't thrown an interception in five straight postseason games. He's backed up by a defense with Super Bowl-winning veterans and championship-level execution. But confidence can take a team only so far. These Ravens are two wins from celebrating a championship season that could be remembered as one of the most impressive in recent NFL history. Kansas City has faced daunting postseason tests before in this golden era, but never in a road conference championship game. Sunday's game should be competitive; blowing out the Chiefs is nearly impossible. But the Ravens' advantages are clear. They can run the ball on offense, limit big plays on defense and fluster Kansas City before the snap with a wall of sound. That should be enough to send Lamar Jackson, Roquan Smith and a special Ravens team to the Super Bowl."
**USA Today’s Tyler Dragon:** "The Chiefs have advanced to six straight AFC championship games and have won two of the last four Super Bowls. But Lamar Jackson and the Ravens have a squad talented enough to topple Kansas City's budding dynasty. Jackson's playmaking and uncanny ability to beat teams with his arm and legs are going to cause the Chiefs defense a lot of problems. Plus, the Ravens are the best defense that Patrick Mahomes faced all year. Enjoy this AFC title bout. Mahomes and Jackson are the two best quarterbacks in the NFL."
The Ravens win a close one.
**ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt:** "The fear for Kansas City must be that after facing Miami and Buffalo, whose defense were absolutely devastated by injury, they face a Baltimore team that has the best defense in the NFL and looked the part last week in suffocating Houston. Kansas City doesn't get blown out with Patrick Mahomes at QB — just doesn't happen. So, while I believe the Ravens win, I think it is close."
The Ravens win convincingly.
The Baltimore Banner's Chris Korman: "I'm going to do it. I'm going to do the dumb thing. I'm going to tell you that a team quarterbacked by Patrick Mahomes and coached by Andy Reid with a defense coordinated by Steve Spagnuolo is not going to offer the Ravens much trouble. This is dumb and bad. I am not making a wise decision. But, having watched the Chiefs a bit and the Ravens a lot, I can't see this going any other way. I'm not sure I completely understand how this Ravens team is as good as it is — best guess: John Harbaugh is a masterful leader who hires and empowers smart people, Lamar Jackson is uniquely unstoppable and Mike Macdonald has stayed ahead of every play caller — but they've given us very little reason to doubt them. It feels like this team should be undefeated. It feels, honestly, jarring. The NFL has so much parity, and yet the 2023 Ravens seem to be a few steps ahead of everyone else. The league has been designed to avoid this outcome. Yet here we are. … I'm sorry, Taylor. It ends here, probably more anticlimactically than most would want."
The Athletic's Vic Tafur: "The Ravens have a much more complete team than the Chiefs, and they are at home. You may not realize how complete they are — these Ravens and the 2007 New England Patriots are the only teams in NFL history with a plus-100 point differential versus playoff teams. Jackson threw two touchdowns and ran for two last week, and the Chiefs had a hard time dealing with Josh Allen out of the pocket in the divisional round."
The Ravens will win by being the more physical team.
**The 33rd Team’s Jay Gruden:** "I don't like to pick against the Andy Reid-Patrick Mahomes combination but this time I think I am. Defensively, they'll do enough to stop Isiah Pacheco and make Patrick throw, and they'll get enough pressure on him and create enough havoc where they'll get some stops. … At the end of the day, the physicality the Baltimore Ravens play with, they'll get it done."
The Chiefs win a close one.
**Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio:** "Mahomes is very aware of his legacy, and of his competition with Tom Brady for career championships. While the Ravens are good enough to win, the Chiefs have a knack for keeping games like this close — and ultimately stealing them. Besides, I picked the Chiefs to make the Super Bowl before the season started. I can't bail on them now."
**The Baltimore Sun’s Brian Wacker:** "The Ravens are the better team, but Kansas City has what Baltimore does not: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes. As good as Lamar Jackson has been for the Ravens — he should be the NFL Most Valuable Player — this is new territory for him and old hat for Mahomes, who is playing in his sixth straight AFC Championship Game. The Ravens' defense has also been vulnerable against strong running backs, which Isiah Pacheco certainly qualifies as, and can struggle at times defending passes over the middle. The key for Baltimore will be getting Mahomes off his first read, muddying the picture in the secondary and applying pressure up the middle and/or on the edge without losing containment. Those are all things the Ravens do well, expect Mahomes to stay patient and make a play when he has to. This one will come down to the end."
Mahomes and the Chiefs will be up to the challenge against the Ravens' dominant defense.
**CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco:** "Mahomes, he will be facing a defense that throws a lot of looks at a quarterback. But he's seen them all — and had success against them all. I think he will be patient here as the Chiefs run it and he takes his shots off the run. The Chiefs did a nice job in protection last week, and that will carry over, thanks to the run game."
Mahomes' scrambling ability is an X-factor.
**ESPN’s Seth Walder:** "The Chiefs have had a rough time in the passing game all season long, and it's only going to get tougher against Baltimore, which allowed the second-lowest open score to opposing receivers (ESPN's receiver tracking metrics) and recorded the most sacks in the league (60). Mahomes is a very effective scrambler and will have to generate production with his legs on Sunday."
The Ravens have the edge in intangibles.
**Sporting News’ Vinny Iyer:** "Did you see John Harbaugh do a crazy dance in the locker room? Did you see him quote inspirational biblical verses in his press conference? There's something about this Ravens team that was missing from 2019 and, really, any previous iteration of Jackson-led playoff teams. This team is looser as the favorites, with vibes similar to the 2012 group under Harbaugh that won it all as the No. 4 seed. Mahomes, Reid, and Travis Kelce have some narratives that stack up well, but the Ravens have a little extra off-field oomph."
Playing at home gives the Ravens the advantage.
**CBS Sports’ John Breech:** "This game will mark just the second time in Mahomes' career that he's started a playoff game on the road. Although he won last week in Buffalo, he'll now be heading to Baltimore, where things will likely be much crazier and Mahomes KNOWS that. The Chiefs QB recently admitted that Baltimore is one of only two stadiums that he's played in where the crowd got so loud that he couldn't communicate with his offensive line. It feels like crowd noise could actually be a factor, which isn't something that Mahomes usually has to deal with."
|6 of 9 panelists pick Ravens
|3 of 4 panelists pick Ravens
|“The Ravens have been better than the Chiefs this year. They have more ways to win and in Lamar Jackson, a superstar who seems ready to come into his own as a true rival to Patrick Mahomes. No one blows out the Chiefs, however, and no lead will ever feel safe against Mahomes. The quarterbacks will headline, but this game could just as easily come down to the defenses. Kansas City will pressure Jackson and make it difficult for him to move the ball in chunks. But the Ravens were just as stingy against big plays and much better at creating takeaways. They will disturb Mahomes just enough to pull out a tense win.” — Childs Walker
|4 of 4 panelists pick Ravens
|4 of 5 panelists pick Ravens
|“This game will be dictated by these two all-world quarterbacks, but the defense that makes the most plays — and wins the turnover battle — will have earned a trip to The Strip. Based on what I've seen from Baltimore's D over the last month-plus, I can't not lean the Ravens' way.” — Brooke Cersosimo
|7 of 10 panelists pick Ravens
|Chiefs 30, Ravens 27
|“The Ravens will play well. The Chiefs will play well. This will be a classic duel between Mahomes and Jackson, much like we've seen with Mahomes vs. Tom Brady, Joe Burrow, and Josh Allen. The quarterbacks, offenses, defenses, special teams, and coaches all are positioned to lead either team to victory. In the end, the Chiefs are still alive in the playoffs because of Mahomes, and it's difficult to go against him in any such monumental matchup.” — Vinnie Iyer
|1 of 2 panelists pick Ravens
|“Look for both quarterbacks to play well, but I think the postseason experience for Mahomes will shine through. Look for the Chiefs to advance to another Super Bowl as Mahomes has some late-game magic to win it.” — Pete Prisco
|Pro Football Talk
|1 of 2 panelists pick Ravens
|“I think the Ravens [have been on a] mission all year, one of the best teams we’ve seen all year. I think they’re the one team that can stop this Chiefs magic.” — Chris Simms
|3 of 6 panelists pick Ravens
Torrey Smith on Zay Flowers: 'The Kid Just Has It'
Among the reasons the Ravens are one win away from reaching the Super Bowl is an improved passing game. And one of the main reasons for the improved passing game is rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said Flowers is the receiver the Ravens have long craved.
"When Flowers wasn't breaking opponent's ankles this season, he was breaking franchise rookie receiving records," Zrebiec wrote. "When he wasn't breaking free from defenders, he was breaking a narrative that has dogged the Ravens' decision-makers for years. You've all heard it: The Ravens, one of the NFL's gold standards when it comes to identifying and cultivating talent, can't draft and develop wide receivers. In Flowers' rookie season, Baltimore finally has a counterargument."
Flowers, the 22nd-overall pick, set rookie franchise records in catches (77) and receiving yards (858). He scored five touchdowns, four of which came over the final five games of the season.
The records Flowers broke had been held by Torrey Smith, who played for the Ravens from 2011-2014. Smith has been impressed by Flowers on and off the field.
"He has things that you just can't teach," Smith told Zrebiec. "The way he's grounded and how humble he is and how he works hard, he just does everything the right way. Super mature. Knows what he wants. He's competitive. He has fun. I'm not surprised at all by his success. This kid just has it."
Macdonald Wins Pro Football Writers of America Assistant Coach of the Year Award
Mike Macdonald was named Assistant Coach of the Year by Pro Football Writers of America.
In his second season as Baltimore's defensive coordinator, Macdonald oversaw a unit that led the NFL in scoring defense, sacks, and takeaways. It's the first time in NFL history that a defense was No. 1 in all three categories.
The Ravens defense also led the NFL in touchdowns allowed (26), yards allowed per play (4.6; tied with Cleveland and the New York Jets), opponent passer rating (74.6) and opponent net yards per pass (5.1).
Macdonald is the fourth Ravens assistant to receive the PFWA award established in 1993, joining Marvin Lewis (2000), Rex Ryan (2006) and Greg Roman (2019).
Macdonald also has been named as a finalist for the Associated Press Assistant Coach of the Year, as has Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken.