Both teams had this game circled on the calendar heading into the year. In each of the last three seasons, Kansas City has beaten Baltimore in the regular season. And in each of the last two seasons, it wasn’t close. But the two teams are on drastically different trajectories heading into the game. Despite a near-perfect game plan and execution by the Browns, the Chiefs capitalized on some late mistakes to win a thriller against an AFC contender despite missing two of their best defensive players, who are set to return. Meanwhile, the Ravens have suffered a debilitating number of injuries to key players and let a game slip away in Week 1 against the Raiders.
Both coaches are very strong in their own way, but Harbaugh has the much tougher task ahead of him. After cutting practice short last week due to back-to-back season-ending injuries, the Ravens played late into the night on Monday battling the Raiders. They travel back home on a short week and have to muster up a plan to beat a team that has simply run them out of the stadium in two consecutive years. They came out of the Monday Night game with more injuries than they started with, and they will need to rally hard to turn the ship around this season. If they can get off to a good start, I think they can negate all the negative momentum, particularly with their home crowd to support them. But if they get behind early, things could spiral.
Given that we only have data from one game this season, I’m using my preseason projections as a baseline. But these projections have not adjusted for the injuries to the Ravens. At full strength, the Chiefs would project to be a small favorite without accounting for the matchups. With the injuries, this would likely edge up to around 4 points.
Baseline: KC by 2.86
The KC Offense
If you want to get burned by Patrick Mahomes, dial up the blitzes. He thrives when defenses try to create pressure with extra men because that inevitably leaves gaps in coverage. He has underrated elusiveness so he rarely goes down on the initial blitz, and buys extra time to find the open man. The Ravens are a blitz-heavy defense, relying on their stud corners to play man coverage. That doesn’t work against Mahomes, particularly with Marcus Peters out and Jimmy Smith questionable. Marlon Humphrey will likely focus on Travis Kelce but if so, they’ll have no answer for Tyreek Hill.
The way to beat the Chiefs is to slow down their offense, forcing them to take small chunks of yards at a time and run the ball. You have to flood the secondary with extra defenders, playing disciplined (usually zone) coverage and closing gaps. Of course, if you don’t get any pressure on Mahomes then he will eventually find someone. So you have to be able to get consistent pressure with the front four (or even three, like the Patriots did last year). Every team that has succeeded against Mahomes has done this. Teams that cannot do this routinely lose.
Last year, on the season, the Bucs blitzed at the NFL’s 5th-highest rate. Yet in the Super Bowl they changed their stripes, drastically cut down their blitzes, and focused on coverage. This succeeded because their impressive front four absolutely obliterated the Chiefs’ depleted offensive line and pressured Mahomes relentlessly. They also have incredible coverage linebackers. But can the Ravens do this? I don’t think so. Not only do they lack the personnel, but the Chiefs’ offensive line is much improved. The Ravens knew this game plan was the only way to succeed going into their matchup last year and it did not help them. I would be shocked if the Ravens stop Kansas City more than once or twice in this game.
Projection: KC offense will outperform.
The BAL Offense
Last week the Chiefs defense got absolutely steamrolled by the Browns. It felt like Nick Chubb was getting 5 or 6 yards and momentum before he was even touched on every play. Baker Mayfield was sharp, and didn’t face much pressure. Without Chubb’s fumble, I’m not sure the Browns would have been stopped once that game. It allowed Kansas City to take the lead, and late in the game with the run possibility off the table the Chiefs capitalized by forcing a punt and a turnover. Game over.
Ideally, a healthy Ravens team would dial up a similar strategy. With a healthy offensive line and Dobbins and Edwards ready to carry the ball, they would have a fairly decent chance at replicating the Browns’ success. But of course, they do not have a healthy offense. And after last week’s dismal performance the Chiefs will be reinvigorated by Tyrann Mathieu and (hopefully) Frank Clark. So it will be a tall task. Essentially, if the Ravens can make no mistakes, they can do it.
But against the Raiders we saw a different Ravens offense than we have seen in prior years with Lamar. He was spending much more time in the pocket and trying to hit receivers on routes. It’s clear he has been working in the offseason to build out this aspect of his game. With much less confidence in the run game, he was forced into this. But on some plays he made “rookie” mistakes, holding the ball too long or being indecisive on a timing route. I think this could end up being a good thing in the long run, particularly when Rashod Bateman is healthy. But in the short term, it means they likely will not be able to run all over the Chiefs. And we have seen time and again that this offense struggles when playing from behind and is forced to pass into a defense expecting it. Even against the Raiders, his success as a passer came with the lead. Assuming they get behind, there is no reason to project a comeback.
Projection: BAL offense will underperform.
The Game Flow
Unless the Ravens get out to an early lead, the way the Browns did in Week 1, it’s tough to see them keeping up. A lot has been made of the Chiefs’ inability to hold big leads last season, but most of that came with a weak offensive line. If the Ravens make one or two mistakes on offense, this will be a double-digit lead for Kansas City and I think they will be focused enough to hold it. Once that lead is set, the Ravens become one-dimensional and that has been the death knell for this team with Jackson at the helm.
The Chiefs and Ravens both come out fairly strong offensively, but somewhere in the first or second quarter, the Ravens make a mistake. It could be a third down drop, or a sack, or a failed fourth down conversion. When this happens the Chiefs capitalize and take a double-digit lead into halftime.
The Chiefs continue the barrage early in the 3rd quarter and build a comfortable lead. The Ravens struggle in obvious passing situations and the 4th quarter goes by without many scores. Kansas City wins, 38-20.
Official: KC ML (-112) 2 Units, KC -1 (-110) 1 Unit
If you missed it: Alternate Line KC -8 (+180) (DK)
This look-ahead line was mis-priced all season. I got the moneyline bet during the off-season and doubled down on KC -1 last Thursday. SharpClarke Members got both alerts and we end up with excellent closing line value. If you missed the look-ahead line, I think playing the alternate spread of KC -8 (+180) (DK) is a smart play. The range of outcomes involves a lot of KC double-digit wins, but also a fair number of KC wins by 3 points. Any KC win by 3 or BAL win would cause a spread bet of KC -3.5 to lose. Therefore, the KC -3.5 line is not the best value available, given the projected game script. You get a lot of the spread cover outcomes by going to KC -8 while risking half the money for the same payout.
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