The Ravens have been clawing their way into the national consciousness this season and for good reason. Baltimore’s unique combination of run and pass on offense has shown to be mightily effective. Perhaps the biggest factor in the offense’s success is the new and improved Lamar Jackson. Jackson struggled as a passer last year, but in his sophomore season, he has shown massive improvement. Jackson’s seven touchdowns are tied for first amongst all NFL quarterbacks. Tied at the top of the list with Jackson is the reigning league MVP, Patrick Mahomes. The two quarterbacks battled it out in one of the most memorable games of the 2018 season, and this Sunday, all eyes will be on the most anticipated rematch of the year.
The Kansas City Chiefs are 5.5 point favorites in this game, but they can pull off the upset by winning three key battles:
Lamar Jackson vs Patrick Mahomes
Do quarterback matchups actually matter? It depends entirely on who you ask. The Brady-Manning days were filled with great games between the two best passers to ever play, but it is unclear to some whether or not the performance by Brady affected Manning, and vice versa. Quarterbacks play against the defense but in this game, like the Brady-Manning games, all eyes will be on the two quarterbacks, perceived to be the future superstars of the National Football League. Patrick Mahomes, the Farve-like gunslinger is ready to lead his team to victory through the air, while Lamar Jackson is ready to command a balanced attack from the ground and the air. Perhaps Jackson’s multidimensional abilities will give him the advantage in the battle that everyone will be talking about for the rest of the season. Jackson can pull the ball down and escape a bad situation with a great run, Patrick Mahomes can’t do that. The ability to run will also give the Ravens an edge in the time of possession battle. If Baltimore can hold onto the ball throughout most of the game, Kansas City will get fewer chances to score, and mistakes will be amplified.
Ravens and Chiefs vs the Weather
This Sunday is not going to be a great day to spend three or more hours in the stands of Arrowhead stadium. It’s going to be about 75 degrees, but the forecast predicts heavy rainfall, possible thunderstorms, and winds up to 20 miles per hour (slower than Marquise Brown). Needless to say, it’s going to be a mess on the field. So what do the Ravens need to do to accommodate themselves to the muddy and wet conditions? Not much. Baltimore’s offense includes a ground game that is designed to sustain an entire offense throughout an entire game. If the Jackson has a hard time connecting with receivers, the Ravens can easily turn to Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Patrick Ricard (questionable) at fullback, and even Lamar Jackson himself to carry the rock. Baltimore’s rushers all have diverse abilities as well, so the Ravens will be able to get creative with their strategy. The Ravens will have an advantage should the conditions be unbearable to pass in, as Kansas City’s ground and pound department is not as strong.
Believe it or not, special teams will be crucial in this game. There’s a good chance that the Ravens and Chiefs will be locked in a shootout come 3 P.M. on Sunday. Sure, the defense will be able to stop Kansas City on a few drives and force punts here and there, but it is wrong to assume that Baltimore’s defense will be able to contain the Mahomes’ led passing attack. The secondary, without Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young, will especially be at a disadvantage. If the Ravens find themselves tied up in a close game late in the second half, a smart special teams play, or a dumb one by the Chiefs may be the shock play that changes the outcome of the game. Baltimore’s special teams unit is the best in the league, so clearly, the Ravens have the advantage here.
Anthony Averett is going to be tested throughout the game. The former fourth-round pick will need to step into a bigger role in the secondary this Sunday. Averett will be lined up against the third-string wide receivers, but with Patrick Mahomes throwing the ball, he will be tested early and often. Averett has struggled at times in pressure situations, and there has been no higher pressure situation for him than this week’s matchup.
Pernell McPhee must have gotten his hands on the flux capacitor because he’s turned back the clock this season. Did anyone seriously expect McPhee to record two sacks in Baltimore’s first two games? Matthew Judon has done the same, but no one should be surprised by that. McPhee is having a great start in his first season back in a Ravens uniform since 2014. Another high-end performance by McPhee will be critical in this game, he and Judon will need to put pressure on Mahomes to eliminate his excess time in the pocket. If McPhee can get to Mahomes fast, Mahomes will have fewer opportunities to pick apart the Ravens defense.
Gus Edwards has had a disappointing start to the 2019 season. To be clear, I’m not disappointed Edwards is the second string running back behind Mark Ingram. I’m not even disappointed he’s only generated 67 yards on the ground so far. I’m disappointed that he only averages 3.3 yards per rush. Remember, this is the same Gus Edwards that dominated with an average of 5.2 yards per rush last year. If the Ravens need to rely on the rushing attack this game, Edwards will be called into the game with great frequency. He will need to provide the Ravens with the Gus Edwards performances of last year to uphold a strong ground game.
Maybe I’m drinking the kool-aid, but after much thinking and internal deliberation, I think the Ravens are going to win this game. Let me be clear. I am not just saying this because I am a Ravens fan. I wholeheartedly believe that the matchup is more favorable for Baltimore this year than it was last year. Furthermore, with the way Lamar Jackson has been playing, it is going to be very difficult for the Chiefs defense to counter him. Time of possession will be key, and Lamar Jackson is the ultimate clock-burning machine. So with that said, I’m going to bite and pick the Ravens.