The Ravens are set to face their toughest matchup of the season in the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Who holds the edge?
RAVENS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Lamar Jackson has completed 38 of 49 passes without an interception in the first two games of the season. Marquise Brown has been his top receiver with 10 catches on 12 targets for 143 yards. Slot receiver Willie Snead IV has caught all six passes thrown his way. Tight end Mark Andrews had an unusually quiet game in Week 2 with one catch on three targets. Jackson has targeted tight end Nick Boyle just four times this season, but Boyle was the team’s leading receiver in a Week 3 loss to the Chiefs last season. The Texans sacked Jackson four times Sunday, a cause for concern given that the Chiefs sacked him three times and held him to 22-for-43 passing in 2019.
CHIEFS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes completed just 27 of 47 passes in a Week 2 overtime victory against the Los Angeles Chargers, but he rallied the Chiefs from a 17-6 deficit. No quarterback is more difficult to keep down than Mahomes, the reigning Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. Tight end Travis Kelce leads the Chiefs with 15 catches (10 for first downs) on 20 targets. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill remains Mahomes' top big-play target with 10 catches for 145 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown against the Chargers. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins has eight catches for 93 yards. Mahomes has taken two sacks in two games. He torched the Ravens in a 33-28 win last season, completing 27 of 37 passes for 374 yards and three touchdowns.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The Ravens struggled to get their ground attack untracked in the first half against Houston but finished the day with 230 yards on 37 attempts. Gus Edwards led the team with 73 yards on 10 carries, while Mark Ingram II scored a 30-yard touchdown off a direct snap. Rookie J.K. Dobbins, who’s seeing action as a third-down back, added a 44-yard run late in the game. Jackson leads the team with 99 yards on 23 carries through two games. The Ravens ran for 203 yards against the Chiefs last season on their way to a single-season NFL record.
CHIEFS RUNNING GAME: Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire gained 38 yards on 10 carries in Week 2 after he reeled off 138 in his debut against the Texans. Mahomes is a dangerous runner when left unattended as he showed by gaining 54 yards on six carries against the Chargers, including a 21-yard scamper on third-and-20 with less than a minute to go in regulation. The Chiefs rank fifth in the league with an average of 5.2 yards per carry after two weeks.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: After an uneven performance in Week 1, the Ravens held Houston to 51 yards on 17 attempts. Rookie middle linebacker Patrick Queen led the team with nine tackles, while defensive end Calais Campbell and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee both had strong games against the run. Safety DeShon Elliott has offered aggressive support from the back end. The Ravens allowed the Chiefs to gain 140 yards on 25 attempts in one of their worst defensive performances of the 2019 season.
CHIEFS RUSH DEFENSE: The Chargers gashed the Kansas City defense for 183 yards, and the Texans also moved efficiently on the ground in their Week 1 loss to the Chiefs with 118 yards on 22 attempts. Inside linebacker Anthony Hitchens leads the team in tackles, but Chiefs linebackers grade poorly across the board on run defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi has played well. The Chiefs ranked 26th in run defense and allowed 4.9 yards per carry last season.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: All-Pro cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters each created a turnover against the Texans, with Humphrey’s punchout on wide receiver Keke Coutee leading directly to a touchdown by linebacker L.J. Fort. The Ravens also sacked Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson four times, though he did complete 25 of 36 passes for 275 yards. Nickel cornerback Tavon Young suffered a season-ending knee injury, thrusting veteran Jimmy Smith and third-year cornerback Anthony Averett into greater roles.
CHIEFS PASS DEFENSE: Kansas City surrendered 311 passing yards to Chargers rookie Justin Herbert after holding Watson to 253 yards on 20-of-32 passing in Week 1. Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed already has two interceptions, and fellow defensive back Tyrann Mathieu still ranks among the league’s most versatile playmakers. Defensive tackle Chris Jones is off to another strong start with four quarterback hits and 1½ sacks through two games. The Chiefs finished last season eighth in pass defense, holding opposing quarterbacks to 5.7 yards per attempt.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Justin Tucker made all four of his field-goal attempts against the Texans and trapped Houston in poor field position with several perfectly placed kickoffs. Sam Koch has punted just five times in two games, continuing a trend from 2019, but has put three of those kicks inside the opponent’s 20-yard-line. Rookies James Proche II and Devin Duvernay have handled return duties cleanly, with Proche averaging 11.3 yards on three punt returns and Duvernay averaging 23.8 yards on five kickoff returns. The Ravens hold a net advantage in both areas through two games.
CHIEFS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Harrison Butker drilled a 58-yard field goal to beat the Chargers, doubly impressive given that he’d already had a pair of successful attempts waved off because of a penalty and a late timeout. Butker made 34 of 38 field-goal attempts last season and has consistently ranked with Tucker among the league’s best. Kansas City has a new punter this year in Tommy Townsend, who’s put three of eight kicks inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Mecole Hardman is a dangerous returner who made the Pro Bowl last season.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens have not trailed this season and will certainly be up for a rematch with the Chiefs, who beat them in Kansas City in both 2019 and 2018. They know they’ll likely have to get through the defending Super Bowl champions to reach their goals this season. They will not benefit from their home crowd, which under non-pandemic circumstances would be frenzied for a prime-time showdown with the best team in football.
CHIEFS INTANGIBLES: Mahomes and the Chiefs have beaten Jackson and the Ravens twice in a row, and they play as if they’re never out of any game. Andy Reid is one of the NFL’s best play-callers and enjoys matching up with Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who worked for him in Philadelphia. The Chiefs went 7-1 on the road last season.
PREDICTION: The Chiefs came out sluggishly in Week 2 and nearly suffered an upset, but the Ravens can’t count on a repeat. No one stops Mahomes for four quarters, so the Ravens will have to score early and often to win this high-profile showdown. Kansas City’s poor run defense will allow them to do just that. Ravens 34, Chiefs 32.