WILD CARD AT KANSAS CITY
Ravens run offense vs. Chiefs run defense: Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron recently talked to Hue Jackson, the offensive coordinator for the Raiders whose rushing attack gained 209 yards and 5.6 yards per carry against Kansas City. The Chiefs struggled against Oakland's unbalanced line and three-tackle alignments, something that the Ravens often utilize. But that was the worst performance by the Chiefs' run defense this season. Kansas City held its own against the likes of Arian Foster (71 yards), Maurice Jones-Drew (47), Chris Johnson (58), Frank Gore (43) and Steven Jackson (67). The Ravens have re-committed themselves to the run for the past three games, but they haven't been satisfied with their efficiency the past two weeks. Ray Rice's rushing totals have declined the past three games: 153, 92 and 77 yards. Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson leads the Chiefs with 107 tackles.
Ravens pass offense vs. Chiefs pass defense: Joe Flacco's only appearance against Kansas City came in the 2009 season opener, when he threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns. In his past 14 games this season, Flacco has thrown 24 touchdowns and five interceptions. The Ravens' experienced wide receiver trio of Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh has an advantage over a Chiefs secondary that has one starter with over three years of experience. Mason has scored six touchdowns in his past nine games. Tight end Todd Heap returned last Sunday after missing three games and led the Ravens with three catches for 53 yards. The Ravens' biggest concern is Tamba Hali, who led the AFC with 14 ½ sacks. It will be a big challenge for left tackle Michael Oher especially with a right knee injury. Rookie first-round pick Eric Berry leads Kansas City with four interceptions.
Chiefs run offense vs. Ravens run defense: With Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, the Chiefs have the NFL's top-ranked running game. It's even better at home, where Kansas City has averaged a league-best 182.9 yards rushing. The Ravens have the fifth-ranked run defense, but their weakness has been giving up big plays. Charles has averaged an NFL-leading 6.0 yards per carry. The Ravens' run defense has buckled down lately, holding three of the past four teams to less than 3 yards a carry. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (thigh) missed two days of practice but is expected to start. Stopping the run has become a long-standing tradition for the Ravens, who haven't allowed a running back to crack 100 yards against them in 13 postseason games.
Chiefs pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: This is not only Matt Cassel's first playoff game, but it's his first game against Ed Reed. The Pro Bowl safety has picked off four passes in two games and has a way of causing trouble in first meetings because of his unpredictable style. Reed has seven interceptions in the playoffs (which is tied for best among active players). Cassel isn't at the top of his game either. In his last four games (three of which have come at home), he has completed a pedestrian 52.8 percent of his passes, throwing five touchdowns and three interceptions. The Ravens' focus will be on wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who led the NFL with 15 touchdown catches. Tony Moeaki's 47 catches were second among rookie tight ends. Reed (ribs), cornerback Josh Wilson (head) and linebacker Terrell Suggs (knee) are listed as questionable but all are expected to start. Suggs will line up against Kansas City left tackle Branden Albert (Glen Burnie), who has given up 17 sacks in his past 29 games (including eight in 15 starts this season).
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Ravens have two of the best specialists in the NFL. Kicker Billy Cundiff tied an NFL record with 40 touchbacks and has converted 23 of his past 24 field-goal attempts. Sam Koch has placed 149 punts inside the 20-yard line since 2006. That's the second-most in the NFL behind Kansas City's Dustin Colquitt (151). In his second season, the Chiefs' Ryan Succop has made 20 of 26 field goals. Ravens rookie David Reed, who has been dealing with a wrist injury, leads the NFL with a 29.3-yard average on kickoff returns. The Chiefs' return teams both rank in the bottom half of the NFL.
INTANGIBLES: The Chiefs were 7-1 at Arrowhead Stadium, holding teams to 14.7 points per game at home. The Ravens are very confident in this situation, winning three playoff games on the road the past two seasons. The healthier team is Kansas City, which only has two players on the injury report (both with illness) while the Ravens have 12. But the Ravens have 42 players with playoff experience, which is two times more than the Chiefs (21). Kansas City has the AFC's worst red-zone defense, giving up 26 touchdowns on 37 possessions inside its 20-yard line (70.3 percent failure rate).
Prediction: The Ravens are the more talented team. They are the more playoff-tested team. But it's a team that has taken the tough road all season and it won't change in the playoffs. Prepare for another nail-biter.