When these teams met in Week 4 last year — a narrow 33-28 K.C. win — Lamar Jackson was still building his MVP case and then-reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes had yet to sign the largest contract in the history of mankind.
Fast forward to Monday night and the highly anticipated matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs will feature the NFL’s first head-to-head matchup between former MVPs age 25 or younger. Between all the extra dollar signs and hardware, it literally doesn’t get much better than this.
Here are five storylines to watch for when the Chiefs and Ravens lock up on Monday Night Football(8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN):
Ravens prepared to run it back but can the Chiefs D keep up?
Whether or not the Ravens will top their historic 2019 run remains to be seen but all signs point to them again finishing with one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks. Through two games, Jackson, Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and rookie J.K. Dobbins have combined to average the fourth-most rushing yards per game (170.5); in Week 2, the foursome torched the Texans for 230 yards. The Chiefs’ rush defense finished middle-of-the-pack last season but, so far, has looked ghastly, allowing the fifth-most rush yards (150.5). Against the Chargers’ versatile backs, K.C. was gashed for 183 yards, thanks in part to several missed tackles. That simply won’t do against the Ravens’ smashmouth style. The Chiefs possess the type of players that could challenge them (Frank Clark, Chris Jones, Tyrann Mathieu) but there’s a great chance the question “But will they?” could persist until the final whistle.
Will “Big Money” Mahomes lead another double-digit comeback?
Four of Kansas City’s last five victories — and yes, that includes Super Bowl LIV — have required a double-digit comeback. At the center of these triumphs has been Mahomes, who led the Chiefs to four straight scoring drives (3 FGs, TD) in their OT win over L.A in Week 2. There’s something about having his back against the wall that brings out an even higher level of play from Mahomes, and there’s a possibility the challenge of facing an already formidable Ravens D on the road could set the stage for another such comeback. Baltimore’s best hope to stave off a Mahomes surge would be to hurry him up with their elite blitzing ability which now involves Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe. But, given his 63 percent completion rate and 20-1 TD-INT ratio against the blitz (h/t Next Gen Stats), it’s possible that even that wouldn’t be enough in crunch time.
Will Lamar Jackson trust his arm more against vulnerable Chiefs secondary?
In last year’s meeting, Jackson logged his second-lowest completion rate (51.2) and third-lowest QB rating (70.6) of the season. Outside of Mathieu and Juan Thornhill, the group that’ll take the field on MNF is a still-gelling secondary that, apart from standout rookie L'Jarius Sneed (and his two INTs), has struggled a bit out the gate. Combine that with this game’s barnburner potential and Jackson could opt to do more in the passing game. His 75 percent comp. rate on throws of 10-plus yards (NGS) and 77.5 percent comp. rate overall suggests he’d be comfortable in doing that. His comfort will also hinge on the O-line doing a better job of containing the blitz (read: Clark, Jones) after allowing four sacks (the most since Week 5, 2019) to Houston last week.
How will Marcus Peters, Ravens secondary handle Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill?
Hill, who missed the 2019 meeting with a shoulder injury, figures to pose a unique challenge for Peters, Marlon Humphrey and a secondary that has thrived since Peters’ arrival. Baltimore has allowed 11 PPG (the fewest in the NFL) in 2020; on the flip side, Hill and Kelce are just two of four players who had five-plus catches and at least one TD through two games. Something’s got to give and, considering Hill’s blazing speed and Kelce’s successful history against Baltimore (79.7 rec. YPG), it’s going to take a collective effort to slow down Mahomes’ top targets. Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who leads all rookies with 176 rush yards and can catch passes out of the backfield, will be an X factor to watch here, as well.
A dominant present setting the stage for an even more dominant future?
Jackson’s record as a starter is 21-3. The Chiefs are responsible for two of those L’s. While earning his first win over K.C. while preserving his 4-0 prime-time record would be great, a victory on MNF would mean more for Jackson in his quest to reach the Super Bowl after a premature playoff exit. Meanwhile, Mahomes and the Chiefs are seeking to get back to the big game for a second straight year and forge their path for a dynasty. The two teams figure to be the future of the AFC and how they perform head-to-head will go a long way in staking their claims for the conference crown. The opportunity for a statement-making victory should serve as added motivation for both, though there’s already plenty of that to go around.
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