AFC Conference Championship Preview & Prediction

By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter/X: @FBGarbageTime

Don’t forget to check out this week’s podcast to get a full breakdown of the Conference Championship games from Ryan Whitfield and me!

Kansas City Chiefs (11-6) @ Baltimore Ravens (13-4)

Sunday, January 28, 2024 – 3 PM ET

  • Spread: Baltimore by 3.5
  • Over/Under: 44.5
Kansas City Chiefs Stats

Offense per Game

  • Passing – 6th (246.4)
  • Rushing – 19th (104.9)
  • Points – 15th (21.8)

Defense per Game Allowed

  • Passing – 4th (176.5)
  • Rushing – Tied 17th (113.2)
  • Points – 2nd (17.3)
  • Turnover Differential – (-11) (Tied 4th Worst)
Baltimore Ravens Stats

Offense per Game

  • Passing – 21st (213.8)
  • Rushing – 1st (156.5)
  • Points – 4th (28.4)

Defense per Game Allowed

  • Passing – 6th (191.9)
  • Rushing – 14th (109.4)
  • Points – 1st (16.5)
  • Turnover Differential – (+12) (Tied for Best)

Preview & Prediction

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have returned to form in the postseason, having the most yards per game of any team left in the playoffs (385.0).  And the development of Isiah Pacheco into a true bell cow back has made the Chiefs more multidimensional than they ever had been in the past, taking significant pressure off Mahomes.  Unfortunately for Mahomes, the only QB with a higher QBR in the postseason is the guy on the other side, Lamar Jackson.  In addition, the Ravens defense will be the toughest postseason test Mahomes has faced so far.

The Ravens defense has allowed the least points per game to opposing teams this season, primarily on the back of simulated pressure.  The Ravens have threatened to blitz more than almost any team in the NFL, yet have only blitzed 28.1% of the time, and typically to great effect limiting opposing QBs to the lowest passer rating against the blitz in the NFL.  Ravens also have the best turnover differential in the league, so they don’t make mistakes on offense and have been opportunistic on defense.

And the Ravens offense has been impressive beyond that, much of which is due to Jackson, who is making a case for a 2nd MVP.  Jackson is absolutely thriving in his first ever pass-first spread offense with the Ravens, which has has allowed him to increase involvement of his playmakers, including Zay Flowers, Mark Andrews (or his clone, Isiah Likely) and even OBJ, while keeping opposing defenses from continually stacking the box, which in turn has led to the Ravens having the number one run offense and scoring the 4th most points per game in the league this season.

The Chiefs have the best defense they’ve ever had in the last six AFC Championship games they’ve been in and much of that is due to all-pro defensive tackle Chris Jones bringing an imposing inside pass-rush up front.  But Jackson had no issues facing a career-high blitz rate of 75% in the Divisional Round and went 13 of 18 for 120 yards and two touchdowns against the blitz, much of which was in the second half after he sped up his release from an average of 3.51 seconds to an average of 2.25 seconds in the second half.  In fact, Jackson is the first quarterback since at least 1948 with at least 2 touchdown passes, 2 TD runs, 100 yards rushing, and a 100 passer rating in the same game.

Statistically, the Chiefs have lagged compared to previous years, but they’re veterans in the post-season and it appears that Rashee Rice has stepped up to be a real WR1 in the Wild Card game with 130 yards and TD on a team that led the league in drops.  Perhaps most dangerous is the reemergence of Travis Kelce, who had a quiet end to the regular season, but has stepped it up in the playoffs where he’s averaging 6 receptions on 8 targets for 73 yards and a TD per game.  And the Chiefs defense, which finished the season second in sacks (57), was absolutely dominant against the league-leading Dolphins offense in the Wild Card, and came through limiting Josh Allen to his lowest yards per attempt of the season and his second lowest passer rating in his last 6 games.  The Chiefs however do have an issue with ball security, having a turnover differential of -11, good for 4th worst in the league this season, and have continued that into the post season with a -1 turnover differential, worst among the remaining 4 teams.

The key for the Chiefs will be Pacheco and whether he can take advantage of the Ravens slight vulnerability against the run enough to open up opportunities for Mahomes to find his receivers, which might be particularly challenging with Pacheco limited with ankle and toe injuries and all-pro left guard Joe Thuney ruled out.  And of course, Mahomes will need support players like Justin Watson and Marques Valdes-Scantling to step and catch passes to keep the ball moving as Rice and Kelce are likely to get plenty of attention from the Ravens secondary.  For the Ravens, it should be business as usual.  Spread out the offense, hit your play makers, particularly with Mark Andrews returning, or take what the defense gives you on the ground.  Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they have only the 17th ranked defense against the run, so a heavy dose of Jackson with Gus Edwards and Justice Hill will certainly win time of possession.  At the end of the day, the only person I think that can beat the Ravens is Jackson himself.  In the 3 games that the Ravens lost this season, Jackson was sacked a whopping 11 total times.  If Jackson gets indecisive, it could be a long day for the Ravens.

That being said, I think the Ravens take care of business in a close one, where the Ravens defense ends up being the difference maker.

Ravens Win