The Kansas City Chiefs will take on the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday with a trip to Super Bowl LVIII on the line.
Here are five things to keep in mind heading into game day.
1. Here's a look at the final injury report for both teams.
The Chiefs will be without left guard Joe Thuney (pectoral strain) and defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (tricep) on Sunday due to injury. The absence of Thuney will almost certainly mean that veteran Nick Allegretti will slide in at left guard. Fortunately, Allegretti has 14 career starts at left guard during his career, including nine-straight starts at that spot during the 2020 season.
Kansas City also listed safety Mike Edwards (concussion protocol), running back Isiah Pacheco (ankle/toe), linebacker Willie Gay (neck) and wide receiver Kadarius Toney (hip) as "Questionable" for Sunday.
Update: Toney was downgraded to "Out" on Saturday morning.
As for the Ravens, it appears that All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews will make his return to the field after missing the last seven games due to an ankle injury. A name to watch will be cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who is listed as "Questionable" with a calf injury. Humphrey is a former All-Pro who started 10 games for the Ravens this year.
2. This matchup will be a clash between the top two scoring defenses in the NFL.
The Ravens (261) and Chiefs (271) ranked first and second, respectively, in terms of fewest offensive points allowed this season among all teams. The two teams also occupied the top two spots in terms of sacks, as the Ravens led the NFL with 60 while Kansas City checked in as a close second with 57.
Baltimore, specifically, held the opposition under 20 points in 11 of its 17 regular-season games this season, matching San Francisco for the most such performances in the league. Kansas City, meanwhile, was the only team in the league this year to not allow 30 points to an opponent. In fact, the Chiefs are the first team – including the playoffs – to hold the opposition under 25 points in 18 or more games since the 2013 Seattle Seahawks.
What's interesting about the Ravens is that they rank sixth in total defense at 301.4 yards-allowed-per-game (while the Chiefs rank second), but they made up for it with their league-leading sack total, an NFL-most 31 takeaways and the league's No. 2 red zone defense in terms of touchdowns allowed.
It's all to say that ball security and red zone efficiency will be key for the Chiefs on Sunday in addition to their ability to run the football. As dominant as the Ravens have been defensively this year, Baltimore allowed the eighth-highest rushing average (4.48 yards-per-carry) of any team during the regular season. The Texans struggled to run the ball against Baltimore last week, but Kansas City is coming off a performance in which it racked up 146 yards on the ground. A similar outing on Sunday could prove be the difference in the end.
Lastly, one statistic that stands out among the rest when reviewing the Chiefs' defense is their collective performance in the second halves of games. Kansas City allowed the fewest second-half points of any team in the NFL during the regular season (126), and now through two playoff games – against the league's No. 1 and No. 4 total offenses, no less – the Chiefs have allowed a grand total of seven second-half points.
3. Baltimore led the league in both rushing attempts and rushing yards this season.
The Ravens' offense, which ranked fourth in the league in points-per-game this season (28.4 points-per-game), was powered by the top rushing attack in the NFL. Baltimore led the league in rushing attempts (541) and rushing yards (2,661) this year, averaging a league-best 156.5 rushing yards-per-game.
That production was primarily split between tailback Gus Edwards (810 rushing yards) and quarterback Lamar Jackson, whose 841 rushing yards led all quarterbacks. In fact, Jackson broke off 29 runs of double-digit yardage this season – the sixth-most among all players, regardless of position – and recorded five such runs last week against Houston.
The Chiefs' ability to stop both the Ravens' downhill, designed runs and Jackson's dynamic scrambling ability will be paramount on Sunday. For what it's worth, Kansas City held Chicago – the league's second-ranked rushing offense – to its fifth-lowest output of the season back in Week 3. Additionally, while the Chiefs yielded 124 rushing yards in the first half to Buffalo last week, the defense rallied to hold the Bills to just 58 rushing yards in the second half.
Buffalo also recorded a grand total of zero plays of 20+ yards against Kansas City last week, continuing a trend for a Chiefs' defense that allowed the fewest such plays of any team in the NFL this season (46).
4. The Chiefs' offense hit on a number of big plays vs. Buffalo.
Kansas City's offense was remarkably efficient last week, racking up 361 total yards and 27 points on just 47 offensive plays, averaging 7.7 yards-per-snap. For context, Buffalo tallied 368 yards and 24 points on 78 plays – a whopping 31 more than Kansas City.
The Chiefs achieved that feat by showing tremendous balance between the run (24 plays) and the pass (23 plays) while connecting on big plays throughout the contest. In fact, Kansas City connected on eight plays of 20+ yards, marking a season-best. Those big plays each occurred on either first or second down, too, limiting the Chiefs to only five third-down attempts in the contest.
Baltimore allowed 56 plays of 20+ yards this season, which ranked in the middle of the pack among all teams. Conversely, the Ravens' 22 sacks on first down this year led the NFL. The Chiefs' ability to create big plays, remain ahead of the chains and avoid third down – which they did quite effectively against Buffalo – will play a major role in determining how effective Baltimore's pass-rush can be during Sunday's game.
5. Kansas City is back in the AFC Championship Game for a sixth-straight year.
The Chiefs are headed to the AFC Championship Game for a sixth-straight season, which marks the second-longest stretch of consecutive appearances in either conference title game in league history. Only the New England Patriots, who went to eight-straight AFC Championship Games between 2011-18, tallied a longer stretch.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been the man at the wheel for each of those runs, and despite checking in at just 28 years old, Mahomes already has the sixth-most postseason victories (13) of any quarterback in league history. Only Tom Brady (35), Joe Montana (16), Terry Bradshaw (14), John Elway (14) and Peyton Manning (14) have more, and with a win on Sunday, Mahomes would move into a tie for third on that list.
It's all to say that the Chiefs are currently in the midst of one of the greatest runs of sustained success in NFL history, and with a spot in Super Bowl LVIII up for grabs on Sunday, Kansas City will aim to add to that legacy this weekend.