The top-seeded Ravens will face the third-seeded Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game at 3 p.m. Sunday in Baltimore. Here are predictions from The Baltimore Banner’s sports staff.
Kyle Goon, columnist
Bravo to the Chiefs after winning a heralded (over-heralded?) quarterback duel against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. Here’s the thing: The Ravens’ defense is better than the Bills’ defense. And Lamar Jackson is better than Josh Allen.
There are a few things about this matchup I can’t get over. The Ravens are the NFL’s best running team, and the Chiefs are not good against the run. The Ravens have one of the NFL’s best secondaries, and the Chiefs’ receivers are not nearly as good as they’ve been in the past. The Chiefs proved they can win on the road last game, but Baltimore has been largely incredible at home, blowing out the Lions and the Dolphins in lopsided affairs that were billed as playoff-caliber matchups. The crowd, at the very least, will make it difficult for Patrick Mahomes to have his normal cadence at the line, and though he eludes pass rushers, the Ravens have the No. 1 sack team in the NFL.
Mahomes, Andy Reid, Travis Kelce and Chris Jones are experienced competitors who should not be counted out. If this is a one-score game in the fourth quarter, the Ravens should be extremely nervous that the Chiefs can come raging back, because they seemingly always have. But, frankly, the Ravens are No. 1 for a reason. They’ve been better just about all season. And I believe they’ll be better on Sunday when it comes down to the biggest home game in Ravens history.
Ravens 34, Chiefs 23
Jonas Shaffer, reporter
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.
Ravens 28, Chiefs 20
Giana Han, reporter
Patrick Mahomes is scary. He’s a really, really good quarterback who has found a way in the biggest games. But the people around him? I find the Ravens’ assortment of offensive weapons more threatening than a not-at-his-best Travis Kelce, Rashee Rice and Isiah Pacheco. Especially when you pit an inconsistent Chiefs offense against a Ravens defense that’s had very few performances that were less than great. This defense loves a challenge, and Mahomes and coach Andy Reid might be the biggest test of them all. Which means I expect the best defensive showing yet.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs also have a good defense that could slow the Ravens. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ravens stumble at first, but the past few months have given me faith they know how to adjust. The biggest advantage here, other than Lamar Jackson, is that the Chiefs have a good pass defense but aren’t as known for their run defense — while the Ravens have had a consistent run game all year.
The final factor leading into my decision is vibes. And the Ravens are vibing this week. They’ve continued to show their unique ability to stay loose while also staying focused. And they’re also champing at the bit to prove themselves against the one-and-only Mahomes.
Ravens 33, Chiefs 28
Chris Korman, editor
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.
Like I said, this is a foolish prediction. I should play it safe and hedge, say it’s going to be close and protect myself either way. Coin-flip games are coin-flip games. ANY GIVEN SUNDAY! So on and so forth. The Chiefs have a distinct advantage, having played many of these high-pressure games in recent years, but the Ravens are at home.
I’m sorry, Taylor. It ends here, probably more anticlimactically than most would want.
Ravens 35, Chiefs 23
Brandon Weigel, editor
I’ll go out a limb nobody else will. This game will be a defensive struggle. Wait, what did you think I was going to say?
The Ravens and Chiefs ranked first and second in points allowed per game (16.5 and 17.3) and total sacks (60 and 57) during the regular season. There’s no clear advantage where the teams are weak on defense, stopping the run, with both units surrendering 4.5 yards per carry.
Lamar vs. Mahomes? How about Justin Madubuike vs. Chris Jones, Roquan Smith vs. Nick Bolton or Trent McDuffie vs. Kyle Hamilton. Or, regrettably for fans, the real battle might be punters Jordan Stout vs. Tommy Townsend, especially with the forecast calling for light rain throughout the afternoon.
But, yes, the Ravens will prevail. Quarterback Lamar Jackson put on a vintage performance against the Houston Texans in the divisional round, recording his first 100-yard rushing game since Week 3. He totaled four touchdowns. The Baltimore defense shut down everything Houston tried to do.
Although the Chiefs will almost certainly present a tougher test, the Ravens are a more well-rounded squad and can do enough on the ground to sustain long drives — or long enough drives, anyway — to keep the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands.
Ravens 21, Chiefs 17