On a Week 3 Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium, the Baltimore Ravens will look to avenge two heart-breaking losses from the past two seasons against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs won 27-24 in 2018 and 33-28 in 2019. This, in addition to the fact that the Chiefs won the Super Bowl last year and defeated the same Tennessee Titans team that manhandled the Ravens would suggest the Chiefs are the better team.
Here’s the thing: that’s not wrong.
The truth is the Chiefs have been the better team and they will be until the Ravens show they can defeat them head-to-head. It doesn’t matter if Lamar Jackson wins the MVP a second year in a row. It doesn’t matter if the Ravens go 15-1 and the Chiefs go 11-5. It doesn’t matter if the Ravens lose on a last second play.
What matters is that the Ravens have another step to take — from upstart dynamo to sustained powerhouse on offense, defense, and special teams.
Whether it happens in week three at M&T Bank or in the playoffs, there’s good reason to believe that the Ravens will take that step this year. The Chiefs are an amazing organization, top-to-bottom, and they will not be easy to dethrone, but if we analyze the breakdown below, the opportunity is knocking now.
Team Maturity, Advantage: Chiefs
The Chiefs are the Ravens big brother and their teams’ maturity is their greatest advantage over the Ravens.
They’ve earned it, as the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens are 0-2 against the Mahomes-led Chiefs. In 2019, the Chiefs endured a mid-season Patrick Mahomes injury. Even more impressive, they showed in the playoffs that they can comeback in any situation and win. They were down 24 points against the Houston Texans. They won 51-31. The next week, they fell behind 10-0 early against the Titans, yet they won handily 35-24. And on the biggest stage of all, Mahomes led three consecutive touchdown drives in just six minutes and 32 seconds to erase a lead that took the San Francisco 49ers over 50 minutes to build in the Super Bowl. Yes, the Chiefs have the talent to come back in the blink of an eye, but more importantly, they have the moxie and the mental toughness to do it in the most intense times. Pressure. Does. Not. Get. To. Them . . . Period.
Pressure has gotten to the Ravens. Having three weeks to rest starters before the Titans was a blessing, and the expectation was that they came out looking more crisp and mentally acute than ever. Not to over-generalize, but they laid an egg on offense and defense. Like the Chiefs lost their star in Mahomes at a time in 2019, the Ravens were forced to play without a healthy Mark Ingram, and they couldn’t recover.
This maturity hurdle is the most abstract variable to measure, but we will get a sense in week three how much the Ravens have grown.
Strategic Continuity, Advantage: Pick ‘em
These are both model organizations that mirror each other in many ways. Something they’ve both been incredibly fortunate to do is maintain the highest levels of their coaching tree after the highest levels of success.
For the Chiefs, they managed to retain their Head Coach Andy Reid, no surprise. But they also somehow managed to also retain the mastermind behind one of the most electric offenses in recent memory, Eric Bieniemy. They also retain Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Their offense ranked fifth in points for and their defense ranked seventh in points against across all NFL teams last year.
Similarly, the Ravens were fortunate that no one scooped up Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman after leading the Ravens offense to a prolific, record-breaking year. The same goes for keeping defensive coordinator “Wink” Martindale, who interviewed elsewhere after turning a lost defense into one the league’s best by year end.
No clear winner here, but both teams are lucky they will not be introducing new packages on either side of the ball, especially in an offseason with such unprecedented disruptions.
Offseason Acquisitions, Advantage: Ravens
This is where the difference is.
It’s hard to argue against the Chiefs off-season strategy: they have the vast majority of a Super Bowl roster returning, which is incredibly rare and something to applaud as a fan. However, where the Chiefs offseason moves maintained a level of excellence, the Ravens offseason moves created a new bar for it, thanks to Eric DeCosta’s aggressively opportunistic approach to improving the Ravens.
On defense, the Ravens welcomed Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe in free agency, and they added high-end linebacker talents, Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison in the draft, both of whom could be impact players from day one. The Chiefs defense, on the other hand, saw CB Kendall Fuller (45% of snaps) head to the Washington Redskins. DE Emmanuel Ogbah (37% of snaps) left for the Miami Dolphins, and LB Reggie Ragland (21% of snaps) moved on to the Detroit Lions. No doubt, Kansas City will expect their 63rd pick, LB Willie Gay, Jr. to contribute immediately. While the Ravens saw some players move on from their defense as well, the moves on Baltimore’s end netted a vastly improved defense.
Offensively speaking, the Ravens lose perennial pro-bowler Marshal Yanda but find J.K. Dobbins, Devin Duvernay, and Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson to compete on the offensive line. DJ Fluker will also be in the mix for filling in the position the Yanda leaves behind. The league’s most explosive offense got arguably more explosive. The Chiefs selected Clyde Edwards-Helaire to bolster their offense, which is scary as they have home-run hitters at every play-making position, and this only makes them more dangerous. However, they do lose depth at offensive line, as reserve LT Cameron Erving (58% of snaps) is now a Dallas Cowboy and reserve G Stefen Wisniewski (20% of snaps) is a Pittsburgh Steeler.
Comparing the drafts of each team, it’s clear the Ravens performed better. Without going more in-depth, by measure of Football Outsiders, Baltimore had the fourth best draft, while Kansas City had just the twenty-first.
Primetime Performance, Advantage: Ravens, slightly
It’s no secret anymore, but Baltimore has been beyond dominant in home primetime games. They are 14-1 in them during John Harbaugh’s tenure.
Albeit a mild advantage, feeling comfortable and confident at home against a tough opponent will be valuable for the Ravens in week three. That said, as observed in the playoffs last year, the Chiefs will care very little about this, making the advantage minimal.
Bonus: “Super Bowl Hangover” and “Hard to beat a team 3 times” Advantage: neither/irrelevant
You’ll probably hear this a lot leading up the Baltimore-KC matchup. I wouldn’t give it much credence. Per Christian D’andrea of SB Nation:
“The Chiefs will be looking to avoid the Super Bowl hangover that ended the Broncos’, Ravens’, and Giants’ title defenses before the playoffs even began. Their stable quarterback situation should give them an excellent head start on the road to a title defense.”
And as you can see below, Super Bowl winner is typically competitive the next year. With the Chiefs retaining so much talent, one would expect nothing less.
The “hard to beat a team three times” argument does not hold much weight either as that typically applies to a team playing another three times in the same season. The Ravens and Chiefs will be playing for a third time in three years. This rule does not apply.
All told, the Ravens are building a team to become unstoppable. The Chiefs, well, they were unstoppable. In my opinion, it’s better to be the car building up to their highest top speed than the one currently maintaining it. The car currently maintaining top speed is bound to get passed.