Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had never played a playoff game in enemy territory before Sunday. Next Sunday, he will head to M&T Bank Stadium to face the AFC’s top seed, the Baltimore Ravens, at 3 p.m.
The Ravens, who advanced after beating the Houston Texans 34-10 in the divisional round, do not care who they host. They’re eager to impose their will on anyone who comes to the Bank. Having beaten the Texans on Saturday, the Ravens will also have an extra day of rest in addition to the lack of travel dust.
The Chiefs earned the trip by beating the second-seeded Buffalo Bills 27-24 on Sunday. They have one week to prepare to head back to the East Coast for the AFC championship, the first one to be played in Baltimore since 1971. The game will be broadcast on CBS and Paramount+.
Here is what you need to know about the Ravens’ next opponent.
Outside linebacker Odafe Oweh said he has fond memories of the last time he faced the Chiefs.
The teams played on Sept. 19 in Oweh’s rookie season, 2021. Oweh’s forced fumble and recovery denied the Chiefs a clinching score and gave the Ravens the chance to come back in a 36-35 victory.
However, over the last five meetings in the last seven years, the Ravens are 1-4. Overall, they are 4-7 against the Chiefs.
In four of those games, the Chiefs and the Ravens had their current quarterbacks at the helm. Mahomes is 3-1 against the Ravens, and Lamar Jackson is 1-3 against the Chiefs. Mahomes went 24-for-31 for 343 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, while Jackson went 18-for-26 for 239 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, in the 2021 meeting.
Like Jackson, Mahomes is the face of the franchise. The team rises and falls with him and, recently, it has risen.
Last season, Mahomes carried the team to the Super Bowl despite struggling with a high-ankle sprain. He helped pull the Chiefs to a last-minute victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Mahomes had a 77.78% completion percentage and went 21-for-27 for 182 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions.
This season, Mahomes has struggled with a weakened receiving corps, but he has a 67.2% completion percentage (higher than last season) and is averaging 261.4 yards per game.
Whether you buy into the narrative that Travis Kelce has been distracted by his new girlfriend, Taylor Swift, or not, Kelce has been a star in recent years. He also had two back-to-back strong playoff performances, catching two touchdown passes, against the Bills. And the Ravens have struggled to defend tight ends.
The Chiefs have been known for their offense in recent years, but their defense has joined it in the spotlight this season. Before Sunday’s game, they were eighth in the league in allowed completion percentage and third, behind the Ravens, in yards allowed per catch. Trent McDuffie was the highest-graded cornerback remaining in the playoffs, according to PFF.
They finished second, also behind the Ravens, in team sacks in the regular season. Chris Jones had 35 quarterback pressures from Week 14 to the start of the game against the Bills. He was the second-highest-rated interior defender remaining as of Sunday, along with the Lions’ Alim McNeill.
And, while the Ravens’ special teams have had some big plays, good and bad, the Chiefs’ unit is ranked fourth in the NFL by PFF.
Mahomes has played 16 postseason games. Three of the four he has played away from Arrowhead Stadium were the three Super Bowls, which were played at neutral sites. But the Ravens earned the top seed in the AFC while the Chiefs came in third in the regular season, so they will head to Baltimore.
While Mahomes dealt with the Bills’ Mafia in the divisional round, the Ravens are leading the league in forced false start penalties at home. The Ravens are attributing that to the fans.
Mahomes is also hindered by his receivers. With one game left in the regular season, the Chiefs were leading the league in drops (Mahomes did not play in the season finale). They dropped 44 of 597 passes for a 6.9% rate. Other than Kelce and Rashee Rice, he doesn’t have reliable people to work with.
While the Chiefs have a good pass defense, the Bills exposed some weaknesses in their run defense, especially with their dual-threat quarterback, Josh Allen, picking up 72 yards. With 182 rushing yards, it was the Bills’ fourth-best performance on the ground.
And the Chiefs’ viral clips this season indicate all might not be well when it comes to team chemistry. Meanwhile, vibes are at an all-time high in the Ravens locker room.
Ravens cornerback Ronald Darby and right tackle Morgan Moses temporarily left the game against the Texans but returned shortly after. Running back Gus Edwards, who was holding his hand, was the only player who didn’t return, but coach John Harbaugh said after the game that Edwards is OK.
The others who dealt with injuries throughout the week, including right guard Kevin Zeitler (knee) and wide receiver Zay Flowers (calf), made it through the entire game.
In addition to maintaining their health, the Ravens could also see the return of some players. Tight end Mark Andrews has been working his way back. He was day to day last week but said he’s feeling good.
The Chiefs weren’t so lucky. Against the Bills, they saw safety Mike Edwards, linebacker Willie Gay Jr., left guard Joe Thuney and McDuffie leave the game at different points. McDuffie, who seemed to suffer a foot or ankle injury, returned. Edwards was ruled out of the game and placed in concussion protocol. Gay left with a neck injury and was ruled questionable but never returned. Thuney was ruled questionable with a chest injury. The All-Pro did not return.