AFC Championship Preview

Written by: William Petersen

Player Updates

AFC Championship on CBS

For the fifth time in both of their careers, the Baltimore Ravens and defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs will be facing off in the AFC Championship for the first time. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is 3-1 in his four previous meetings with soon to be two-time MVP Lamar Jackson who has amassed an impressive season in what he is hoping will end in his first career Super Bowl berth. Baltimore has been waiting a long 53 years, when they were the Colts, to host a AFC Championship game. The Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is the reason why the city of Baltimore is hosting their first AFC Championship since 1971 after throwing for 3,678 yards, 24 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and carried the ball 148 times for 821 yards and 5 rushing touchdowns in the regular season. Jackson was the catalyst for their big 34-10 win over the Houston Texans in the divisional round after he went 16/22 for 152 yards and two passing touchdowns as well as 11 carries for 100 yards and two more rushing touchdowns. Jackson looks like he is on a mission from God this season as the Ravens have been an absolute wagon all season after finishing 1st in the AFC at 13-4 and are now 13-6 against the spread this season. This game should be an absolute barn burner as the other quarterback is a two time Super Bowl Champion in Patrick Mahomes who only knows winning when it comes to the postseason. The Chiefs come into this AFC Championship facing a lot of doubt due to their questionable receiving core but still managed to grind a win out in a hostile Buffalo, New York as Mahomes finds himself with another chance to get back to the big game. Mahomes finished the regular season with 4,183 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, and a career high 14 interceptions. Although Mahomes turned the ball over more than ever this season, he still has found the fire at the right time with a team that has rallied around their otherworldly quarterback and top five defense to potentially have the opportunity to defend their title from a year prior.

The Kansas City Chiefs have found unorthodox ways to win this season as they have led the NFL in dropped passes with 44. In years prior the Chiefs have had one of the top receiving corps in the NFL with Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Travis Kelce to give Mahomes the downfield targets that the gunslinger thrives on. This season has been different with the only veteran face being Kelce who finally managed to find the endzone twice in the divisional round, setting the all-time postseason record for touchdown catches between a QB and receiver with 16. Kelce will continue to be Mahomes favorite target when they travel to the Bank and Kelce will need to be the safety valve in a hostile environment if the Chiefs are going to have success on offense. One factor that has helped pick up for the lack of receiving talent on this Chiefs offense is the workhorse ability from Isaiah Pacheco. Pacheco in the playoffs this year has 39 carries for 186 yards and two touchdowns. This may not seem like a ridiculous stat line but Pacheco is the heartbeat of the Chiefs offense when they struggle to move the ball through the air. The Ravens have a solid front five and I am curious to see how productive Pacheco can be in between the tackles if Mahomes cannot find a passing rhythm early. Mahomes is still Mahomes and no matter what the occasion rarely does this gamer not show up, especially in the playoffs. It will ultimately come down to if the Chiefs can match an explosive Ravens offense especially if they can keep Lamar Jackson off the field.

Lamar Jackson has been the clear cut MVP since they dismantled the San Francisco 49ers on Christmas night, 33-19. This Ravens team has relied on Jackson to be their driving force but the Ravens defense has been a sneaky dominant factor for this Baltimore squad all season. Baltimore’s defense ranks 8th in EPA/play but are adept at forcing turnovers off of a gritty pass rush from Jadaveon Clowney and Justin Madubuike who finished with 13 sacks in the regular season. If the Ravens are to have success and reach their first Super Bowl since 2012, they will have to make sure they can limit Patrick Mahomes ability to curate long drives and keep their soon to be two time MVP on the sideline. This Ravens front five should have success against the Chiefs offensive line who allowed 28 sacks in the regular season. A major piece will be ready to play for the Ravens in Mark Andrews who many had thought suffered a season ending injury back in November but was confirmed to be active for the game on Sunday by John Harbaugh on Friday afternoon. The Ravens have seemed like a team of destiny all season and it is only right that they must take down the defending champion Chiefs to try and reach NFL immortality. I expect this game to come down to the last possession but I still find it hard to not take the Ravens on the points even though Mahomes thrives as a playoff underdog. I am going to take the Ravens at home in a game that is a legacy defining one for both quarterbacks but this game could make or break whether Lamar Jackson can deliver his draft day promise he made back in 2018.

Prediction: Ravens -4.5