Roquan Smith and Isiah Pacheco are on a collision course.
The Ravens' All-Pro linebacker and the Chiefs' physical running back will face each other for the first time in Sunday's AFC Championship. Smith has never faced a player he wasn't willing to tackle, and Pacheco doesn't believe in avoiding contact.
Get ready to hear pads pop when they meet.
"I'm excited for the matchup," Smith said. "I have to tip my hat off to anybody that runs the ball hard. He brings it every single game, every single play. I love that.
"But at the end of the day, one's going to have to break. I don't plan on being on that breaking end."
Smith led the Ravens with 158 tackles, the sixth most in the league, and finished with at least 100 tackles for the sixth straight season.
Pacheco is only in his second year but ran for nearly 1,000 yards (935) as the Chiefs relied on him more heavily down the stretch. In Sunday's divisional round victory over the Bills, Pacheco ran for 97 yards on 15 carries and rarely went down on initial contact.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said keeping Pacheco under control will be a top priority.
"No. 10 Pacheco, man, that guy is coming downhill," Harbaugh said. "He's hitting it that way, all out. He's 225 pounds. His knees are up high. He's rolling, and it's going to be a big challenge for us to deal with him, because he's as physical as a runner as there is in the league.
"He's as determined as there is, and we're going to have to be a physical, determined defense to tackle him. I like our guys. I like our guys' chances. Our guys will be up for it, and we're going to have to be, because he's a good runner."
Kyle Hamilton-Travis Kelce Matchup in Slot Could Be Key
Kyle Hamilton and Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce figure to see plenty of each other Sunday whenever Kelce lines up in the slot, as he does often.
Hamilton's 6-foot-4 size build and athleticism gives the Ravens a weapon to defend Kelce that many teams don't possess. The second-year All-Pro safety is looking forward to facing Kelce for the first time.
Kelce's stats dipped this year, as he fell below 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2015. He went from a career-high 1,338 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns last year to 984 yards and five touchdowns this season. However, he's still Mahomes' top target and he has always shown up in the biggest games. Kelce had 75 yards and two touchdowns in the Chiefs' playoff win in Buffalo last week.
Hamilton is an up-and-coming second-year player who has made a name for himself as a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler this year.
"He's a great player in our league and has been a great player for as long as I can remember," Hamilton said. "He's earned every ounce of respect that he's gotten to this point and it's going to be a challenge.
"I'm part of the plan to hopefully take him away, but it's a team effort at the same time. We've got to have guys up front rushing the quarterback making it unclear on (Patrick) Mahomes. Then in the back end, we've got to have guys in the right spots, guys attached to him."
Both Kickers in AFC Championship Are Used to Playoff Pressure
The AFC Championship could be decided by a field goal, and both teams have supreme confidence in their kickers.
Justin Tucker is the NFL's all-time field goal percentage leader (90.2), while Harrison Butker of the Chiefs ranks second (89.1).
While Tucker and Butker have specialized in making clutch kicks throughout their careers, the postseason can be cruel for kickers. Bills kicker Tyler Bass missed a 44-yard field goal Sunday late in the fourth quarter of their loss against Kansas City that could have sent the game into overtime.
Tucker says he has reached out to the 26-year-old kicker, and that the fraternity of NFL kickers tries to support each other, especially during the playoffs.
"My heart goes out to those guys," Tucker said. "If you play long enough, you will undoubtedly have one of them that gets away from you. You would do anything in the world to get it back, but you just can't.
"Tyler, for what it's worth, he's a great kicker. I know without a doubt in my mind that he's going to make a lot more big kicks than he's ever going to miss. He and I texted back-and-forth and he seems to be in a good place. You have no other choice but to pick up the pieces and move on."
Justin Tucker on Crowd Noise, Stavvy, and Taylor Swift
Tucker, the only player who was on the roster the last time they reached the AFC Championship in 2012, held court in front of his locker Wednesday and talked about a variety of subjects.
He expects M&T Bank Stadium to be louder than he's ever heard it on Sunday.
"This last weekend in the divisional round, I don't think I've ever experienced "The Bank" 'The Bank' being quite as electric," Tucker said. "That was awesome, the place was rocking. I know our fans our going to kick it up another notch."
Tucker was asked if he's a bigger fan of Baltimore comedian “Stavvy” Halkias, who he met in an elevator before last week's game, or superstar recording artist Taylor Swift, who is dating Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.
"I'm not going to go down that road," Tucker said. "I don't want all the Swifties coming after me. … I do believe she is the songbird of our generation. She's a talented singer, she's a true artist, she writes all of her own stuff and she seems really cool."
Tucker is one of the biggest "Swifties" in the Ravens locker room. He said his favorite songs right now are probably "Lavendar Haze" and "I Can See You."
"I've had those on a running playlist over the last several months," said Tucker, who added that he unfortunately has not gotten to see her in concert.
Harbaugh also said Monday that he has some Swift songs on his playlists.