Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Which Defense Holds the NFL Wild Card?

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Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Which Defense Holds the NFL Wild Card?
Larry French/Getty Images
January 2, 2011: Ray Lewis gets hyped in Baltimore. He will have his squad fired up in K.C.

When was the last time the Kansas City Chiefs hosted an NFL playoff battle?  It was 2004.  That was an AFC Divisional Playoff Game loss against Indianapolis.

Marty Schottenheimer retired in 1999.  Nine-time Prow Bowl linebacker Derrick Thomas died a year later from injuries suffered in a car accident.  The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since. 

Their regular season record was 70-90 from 2000-09 and they went 0-2 in the playoffs.  This weekend, though, Arrowhead Stadium should be electric with energized Chiefs fans.  Back on top of the AFC West, it’ll be the legendary franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2007.

On Sunday, the Ravens and Chiefs battle at 1 p.m. on CBS.  The winner goes with Godspeed to Foxboro, Mass., to face the New England Patriots at 4:30 p.m. ET on January 16.

K.C.'s youth and speed could easily overwhelm the long-in-the-tooth Ravens early.  Dexter McCluster and Jamaal Charles are probably the two fastest athletes on the field.  Put in position to make plays, they could pull a Ray Rice and go for 80 yards on the first play.

Charles has gone out of his mind when it comes to running the ball swiftly past strong safeties for touchdowns.  He leads all playoff running backs in both rushing yards and average yards per carry.  With 1,467 yards and a 6.4 yards per carry average, he finished second to Arian Foster for the rushing title. 

Tim Umphrey/Getty Images
January 2, 2011: Jamaal Charles gets loose in K.C. The Ravens will try to stop him from going off there this Sunday.

For a lot of the season, he wasn’t even the starting tailback—veteran Thomas Jones was.  Foster meanwhile started the season by gashing the Indianapolis Colts.  He ran for the most yards on opening day since O.J. Simpson against them. 

Fostering a Pro Bowl season, K.C.’s wideout Dwayne Bowe led the NFL in touchdown receptions.  Rounding out the Chiefs' youth movement is strong safety Eric Berry, guard Jon Asamoah and cornerback Javier Arenas.

Heading into the playoffs, Kansas City’s defensive lineman Tamba Hali leads all pass rushers in sacks.  He could feel very much at home in the Baltimore Ravens backfield.

The Chiefs—this version—are back but brand new to the Super Bowl playoffs.  On the other hand, the Baltimore Ravens (12-4) will be making their third straight playoff appearance. 

Team leaders Mike Vrabel and Thomas Jones, however, have playoff experience on the Chiefs side of the ball.  K.C. has the advantage in the number of Super Bowl champions (2-1).

Compared to K.C., however, Baltimore has twice the number of players with playoff experience (42 to 21).  They have three times the amount of players who have Super Bowl experience (6-2). 

Finishing second to Pittsburgh in the AFC North, Baltimore is more battle-tested than K.C.  The Chiefs are a young team and reportedly losing their offensive coordinator. 

Larry French/Getty Images
January 2, 2011: Ray Rice scores against the Bengals in Baltimore. He performed well in the playoffs last year.

Although they are professional ball players, I have to wonder how much faith they have in Charlie Weiss.  His game plan could be hard to sell.

Some experts argue that the Chiefs (10-6) strength of schedule is a hard sell—the numbers tell an interesting story.  K.C. played only three teams with winning or .500 records.  Kansas City is 1-1 against teams in the playoffs.  They lost to Indianapolis and beat Seattle. 

The Ravens are 3-3 against this year’s playoff teams.  They beat Pittsburgh, the New York Jets and New Orleans.  They lost to Pittsburgh at home and to New England (by three in overtime) and Atlanta on the road.

K.C. was 43-37 at Arrowhead—a .538 winning percentage—since 2000 coming into this year.  They were 7-1 at home this season, but the Ravens will be undeterred. 

The Chiefs are facing one of the hottest teams in the NFL and the fourth best team against the rush.  In the last game of the season, they forced the Bengals into four fumbles. Ray Lewis recovered two.  They’ve won four games in a row.

Baltimore’s defense is good enough to win it all, and they have balance on offense.  Establishing consistency in the passing game could greatly increase their Super Bowl chances. 

Anquan Boldin was brought in as a missing piece, but he and Joe Flacco had mediocre seasons. 

Larry French/Getty Images
Nov. 7, 2010: John Harbaugh (middle) stalks Baltimore's sidelines at home. His defense will stalk the Chiefs.

Baltimore has the blueprint, however, for making it to Cowboys Stadium on February 6 at 6:30 p.m. ET on FOX.  They’ve won three road playoff games in the last two seasons.

They won the Super Bowl from the wild card slot in 2001.  Leading one of the NFL’s best-ever defenses, Lewis won the MVP—becoming the first winning linebacker to do it.

Going into those playoffs, Baltimore’s record was also (12-4).  Déjà vu?  Time will tell.  They could very well pull the wild card championship trick on the NFL this year. 

In NFL history, five other teams were wild card Super Bowl champions:

1. The Raiders (1980) 2. The Broncos (1997) 3. The Steelers (2005) 4. The Giants (2007).

The Chiefs did it in 1969, but the term “wild card” wasn’t in use.  The franchise is, though, recognized by the NFL for being the first non-division winning Super Bowl champions.

According to the 2010 NFL Record & Fact Book, the Chiefs have 15 playoff appearances in franchise history.  Baltimore has six.

Speaking of six, which team will score more touchdowns than the other one and win this game? Here’s how I think it will go.


Prediction 

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Nov. 7, 2010: Chiefs coach Todd Haley exhorts his team in Oakland. He'll need them exhorted against the Ravens.

The playoff experience of the Ravens will force Matt Cassel to play a one-dimensional game, and the Chiefs will struggle to find their offensive rhythm.  The K.C. youngsters will get frustrated and begin to lose focus.

Ray Rice, on the other hand, could pull a Ray Rice.  Along with Boldin, he'll step up.  Look for a slow start from the Chiefs.  Rice owns the second longest run from scrimmage in NFL playoff history (83 yards, set in 2009 against the Patriots) and did it on the first play of the game.

With the Cardinals, Boldin was a play maker with eight receptions for 84 yards against the Steelers in the Super Bowl.  He could go at rookie Eric Berry deep. 

T.J. Houshmandzadeh had only 30 catches this season—three for touchdowns—including the game-winner with 32 seconds left at Pittsburgh in October.  He will be out to quiet Chiefs fans.

Over 76,400 of them will be crammed into Arrowhead, and the building will be rocking.  Flacco will roll enough to connect on a couple touchdown passes at least.  His last game against the Chiefs, he threw three touchdowns and had over 300 yards with one interception. 

Speaking of turnovers, Charles is known for coughing up a fumble or two.  Ray Lewis is capable of breaking a big running back's bones with a clean tackle.  What is he going to do to little Charles and Dexter McCluster if he gets a clean shot?  And he will.  I hope nothing too serious happens, yet I expect the Ravens to fly even faster than normal to the ball and force at least one fumble. 

I learned from Brian Billick not to pick against the Ravens when they’re playing a team unfamiliar to them.  The last time the Chiefs faced Baltimore was the first game of last season.  Baltimore won it, 38-24.  The Chiefs will be surprised by the speed and physicality of the Ravens defense.

I’m picking Baltimore, therefore, to leave Kansas City with yet another road playoff victory.

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