The AFC’S top-seeded Baltimore Ravens may be the hottest team in football, winning eight of their last nine, their lone loss coming in Week 18 while key players rested.
But the Kansas City Chiefs should not feel like an underdog.
Despite being the third seed, this is their sixth consecutive AFC championship game.
Let’s look at what to watch for in this matchup.
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Quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) of the Kansas City Chiefs shakes hands with quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) of the Baltimore Ravens after the Chiefs defeated the Ravens 27-24 in overtime to win at Arrowhead Stadium Dec. 9, 2018, in Kansas City, Mo. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The pressure is on, but not on who you may think
There’s no question the Chiefs have gotten plenty more eyeballs this season thanks to Taylor Swift. And just prior to the postseason, many wondered if their heightened popularity and stardom was affecting their play on the field.
But nobody is facing more pressure than Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Jackson is likely going to be named the NFL MVP for the second time in his career next month, but his main bugaboo has been his lack of success in the playoffs.
Entering this postseason, he was 1-3 in playoff games. This is his first trip to the AFC title game. It’s Patrick Mahomes’ sixth, despite him being just 15 months older than Jackson.
Jackson signed a $260 million contract extension in the offseason after requesting a trade, and it’s off to a nice start. But the main question about him has yet to be answered.
Mahomes has answered plenty of questions.
Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after rushing for a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the fourth quarter of an AFC divisional playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium Jan. 20, 2024, in Baltimore. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
The injury report favors Baltimore
In Week 11, Ravens tight end Mark Andrews reportedly cracked a fibula, and even head coach John Harbaugh thought the injury was “season-ending.”
But the Ravens took him off injured reserve Friday, making him active for Sunday.
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While Isaiah Likely has emerged at tight end and it’s unknown what Andrews’ role and snap count will be, the Ravens aren’t complaining about having two options.
Chiefs’ All-Pro offensive lineman Joe Thuney will be out with a pec strain. We saw what happened when the Chiefs had an injury-compromised offensive line in the 2021 Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now, combine that with question marks about the wide receiving corps.
Speaking of which …
Lamar Jackson (8) of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with Mark Andrews (89) after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium Nov. 20, 2022, in Baltimore. (Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)
Can the Chiefs hold onto the ball?
The Chiefs have hurt themselves with dropped passes all season. They led the NFL in drops, and Mecole Hardman had two fumbles in the divisional round, one of which rolled through the end zone and resulted in a touchback.
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But Travis Kelce is still Travis Kelce, Patrick Mahomes is still Patrick Mahomes and Rashee Rice has filled in nicely.
But all it takes is one costly misplay, and we’ve seen plenty throughout the season.
Yet there is one guy who is doing everything he can so far to bring the Chiefs back to the Super Bowl.
Rashee Rice (4) of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates a third-quarter touchdown catch with Travis Kelce (87) against the Buffalo Bills at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium Dec. 10, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (David Eulitt/Getty Images)
Travis Kelce is getting hot
Kelce had an up-and-down season after setting career highs in every category last year. It was the first time since 2015 he failed to reach 1,000 receiving yards. He was 16 shy while missing two games.
The star tight end had 303 yards receiving weeks 6 and 7 combined but totaled 459 in his final nine games. He had under 50 receiving yards in five of those contests.
So far in the playoffs, though, he’s been vintage Kelce, catching 12 passes for 146 yards and two scores, both of which came last week.
This is par for the course for Kelce, a stud no matter the situation.
Was it Swift that slowed him down? Or maybe he rushed back from that hyperextended knee he suffered two days before the season started? In any case, he’s picking a good time to get hot again.
Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs ahead of a game against the Miami Dolphins at Deutsche Bank Park Nov. 5, 2023, in Frankfurt, Germany. (Ralf Ibing/firo sportphoto/Getty Images)
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