Majority of Pundits Pick Ravens to Beat Chiefs
The game that everyone had circled on their calendar when the NFL schedule was released is nearly upon us.
There won't be fans at M&T Bank Stadium when the Ravens (2-0) host the Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) on Monday Night Football, but all eyes will be on the showdown between the team who had the best record in the regular season last year and the defending Super Bowl champions.
Not only is it a matchup of the top two Super Bowl favorites, but it's also the third chapter in the budding rivalry between the past two league MVPs, Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes.
Jackson is 21-3 as a starter, but he's 0-2 against Mahomes. In Jackson's fourth career start two years ago, the Chiefs prevailed in overtime, 27-24. Last year, the Chiefs edged the Ravens, 33-28. However, both of those games were at raucous Arrowhead Stadium.
Will there be a different outcome this time? The majority of prognosticators we looked at think so, by well over a two-to-one margin. As of this morning, 32 of the 45 pundits predicted a Ravens victory.
That's a stark difference from the Week 3 meeting between the two teams last season, when 56 of 60 pundits picked the Chiefs.
Here's a sample of what pundits are saying about the game:
The Ravens are the better team at this early point in the season.
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal: "Thirty quarterbacks have more completions of 20-plus yards than Mahomes (3), including Jeff Driskel. The Chiefs rank 17th in yards per play (5.7), and their offensive line has looked ordinary. I have no question Kansas City will snap out of it, but it's facing a Ravens team that looks faster on offense (Devin Duvernay! Miles Boykin! J.K. Dobbins!) and tougher on defense (Calais Campbell! Derek Wolfe!). This shapes up as the early-season message from the Ravens that the Chiefs will have to respond to in January, probably back in Baltimore."
The Ravens' running game gives them a significant edge.
NFL Next Gen Stats: "The Ravens add almost a full yard over expectation per run, good for fifth-most in the NFL. Stopping the run is an issue for the Chiefs defense, not only allowing 4.6 yards per carry this year, but only posting a 9.1-percent run-stuff rate, lowest in the NFL. So run, Ravens run, because your super power just so happens to be your opponent's kryptonite."
The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker: "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."
NFL Network's Mike Garafolo: "[The Ravens] will stay committed to the run even if they are down by a significant margin. So I'm sure they're going into this saying, 'We've got a game plan to run the football and we're going to stick with that. We need to have Kansas City show us that they're going to be able to stop that.' So definitely a challenge for [Defensive Coordinator] Steve Spagnuolo's defense knowing they need to shore things up and do it quickly ahead of this game on Monday. Otherwise they are going to have some problems with this Ravens offense, that has now added J.K. Dobbins, by the way, at the running back position. He is impressing early."
Lamar Jackson's improvement as a passer will be the difference.
Pro Football Talk's Chris Simms: "Steve Spagnuolo is smart and he's creative. He'll have things to take away some of those tricky runs and things they do. So I've always thought the Chiefs have the advantage in that matchup. ... I don't think that this year. Not the way right now the Chiefs are playing. They're not clicking on all cylinders; the Ravens are clicking on all cylinders. And where I think the Ravens have jumped the Chiefs in this matchup now is Lamar and his throwing. It's polished. The decision-making. It's great throws. He's got it all. And they got enough receivers there too. OK, Spagnuolo, you want to stop the run game and do creative defenses, you can get burned by Lamar and his right arm."
Do the Chiefs have a shotgun problem?
The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer: "According to a review of early-season film [on the Chiefs], Houston ran 48 offensive plays in Week 1 out of the shotgun formation. It averaged 6.9 yards per play. In Week 2, the Chargers ran 43 plays out of the shotgun or pistol formation, including a handful of zone-read options. They averaged 7.8 yards per play. (Kansas City finished with an interception in both games, but neither came against a shotgun play.) In Baltimore, the Chiefs will face an offense that avoids traditional under-center formations like they're potholes. The Ravens have run 123 offensive plays this season. Only seven weren't out of a shotgun or pistol formation; three were in 1-yard-to-go scenarios, and the rest were kneel-downs. ... On paper, the Ravens are a nightmarish matchup for the Chiefs."
The Ravens' blitzing defense could lead to their downfall.
CBS Sports' Pete Prisco: "Baltimore is aggressive on defense, which plays into what Patrick Mahomes loves to face. The champs will win a fun shootout as Mahomes gets the best of Lamar Jackson."
Fansided's Matt Verderame: "If Baltimore blitzes a ton - and nobody does more percentage-wise - it's going to lose. Kansas City will go crazy with big plays. The hunch here, though, is the Ravens are more conservative and Lamar Jackson does enough with his improved passing game."
The Ravens defense will have to contain rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz: "The Ravens lost just three games last season, and a common theme emerged in those setbacks: Baltimore's run defense allowed opponents to gain big chunks of yardage. In the Chiefs' win over the Ravens last year, three players - Mahomes (11 yards) and running backs Darrell Williams (41) and LeSean McCoy (25) - had at least one carry of more than 10 yards. ... Mahomes is the superstar. But recent history will work against the Ravens if their run defense, which showed improvements in a win over the Texans on Sunday, doesn't contain Edwards-Helaire."
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce versus the Ravens defense is a key matchup.
Ebony Bird's Ian Schultz: "Kelce has tallied 14 catches for 166 yards and one touchdown in the last two meetings. The Ravens have some different options for covering Kelce than in the past in Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, L.J. Fort, and DeShon Elliott, but the group has struggled with tight ends this season. This might be the top matchup to watch this Monday night. If the Ravens contain Kelce, they should emerge victorious."
Jackson and Mahomes Have Dramatically Changed How QBs Are Evaluated
When Jackson and Mahomes take center stage Monday night, a number of talent evaluators around the league undoubtedly will be wondering what might have been.
Nearly a third of the teams in the league passed on Mahomes in 2017 before the Chiefs traded up to take him with the 10th-overall pick, eight spots after the Chicago Bears selected Mitch Trubisky. Just about every team passed on Jackson before the Ravens landed him with the final pick of the first round in 2018.
Former Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles executive Joe Banner said Jackson and Mahomes have dramatically changed how quarterback prospects are evaluated.
"It doesn't mean [teams are] going to pick that guy; it just means their minds are now open to picking that guy," Banner said on "The MMQB NFL Podcast." "Can we picture Kyler Murray being the first pick in the draft even five years ago? ... I think [Jackson and Mahomes have] opened people's minds to the fact that the boxes that used to be checked are slightly different and expanded.
"There were many years when African-American quarterbacks even at the college level were not getting the chance to prove they can be what we now see they are. I can't imagine there's anybody in the league that's holding on to any of that stuff. They're not afraid of athletic quarterbacks. They're not afraid of quarterbacks that are going to run. They're less afraid of them getting hurt. And they now see all the advantages that can come with that."
Banner credited Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh and Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid for thinking outside the box in regard to investing in Jackson and Mahomes. Banner worked in the Eagles front office when Reid was the head coach and Harbaugh was special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach.
"In this way they're very similar," Banner said. "If you took the whole package, John and Andy have a number of differences. The things they have in common are their leadership skills, their likability and their willingness to not accept narratives as fact and to think deeper and challenge conventional wisdom in a way that I think is really healthy."
MMQB's Albert Breer recounted a story he heard about Harbaugh going to Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, Assistant Head Coach Greg Roman and Quarterbacks Coach James Urban before the 2018 draft and asking them to come up with a plan if the Ravens selected Jackson.
"My reaction is that's a really well-run team," Banner said. "The fact that they would have that level of collaboration and communication, that they recognize that picking him without a plan could lead to failure when there was an opportunity for success, that's just so smart. There aren't that many teams in the league that actually think that way. They're not that proactive, that thorough, that detail-oriented.
"It also feels totally natural for how I know John. John is not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants guy. He wants a plan, he wants every detail, he wants it really thought-through, he wants it debated. He doesn't want to just jump into something and we'll figure it out when we get there."
Charley Casserly: Ravens Should Promote Dobbins to RB1
It hasn't taken long for Dobbins to make an impact. The second-round pick ran for two touchdowns in his first game and broke off a 44-yard run in his second. NFL.com analyst Charley Casserly believes it's already time to promote Dobbins to RB1.
"In his limited body of pro work so far, the rookie has proven to be the most explosive running back in the Ravens' loaded backfield," Casserly wrote. "Right now, he sits third on the current depth chart behind Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, with Dobbins logging nine attempts to Ingram's 19 and Edwards' 14. But Dobbins' fresh legs and excellent acceleration both through the hole and getting outside should warrant more carries, if not a promotion to RB1.
"He hasn't been all that involved in the pass game yet (one catch on one target for 13 yards), but he has the ability to be effective as a runner after the catch. Once he's given the chance, he will show he is the most dangerous running back the Ravens have. It's time to unleash the youngster as a key player in Greg Roman's system."
Trent Dilfer Picks Ravens to Win Super Bowl
The quarterback who helped the Ravens win their first Super Bowl 20 years ago believes the franchise will capture its third Lombardi Trophy this season.
"I'm jumping on the bandwagon," Trent Dilfer told Fox News. "I never do this stuff and make predictions, but yeah, the Ravens are going to the Super Bowl. They have the right mentality. They didn't go bury their heads in the sand after they got upset. They went to work. ... It's not a talent thing with the Ravens, they just need to develop that championship DNA as a team. And they are doing it through trust and togetherness. The team that's going to win the Super Bowl is the team that's going to come together the best. And I think that's the Ravens."
One of the main reasons for Dilfer's faith in the Ravens is Jackson, and he's been impressed by more than Jackson's phenomenal skill set.
"I listened to something Lamar Jackson said the other day, and I was so impressed with his maturity level," Dilfer said. "He was talking about chemistry and connection. High-level, interpersonal relationship stuff from a young kid. And I'm like, 'Ah, he gets it.'"