15 months ago, the Baltimore Ravens came to Arrowhead Stadium for an AFC Wild Card playoff game. Despite the blistering cold, 72,000 fans packing heavy duty lungs made Arrowhead deafening, reinforcing its reputation as one of the toughest venues in the NFL. Unfortunately, this didn't faze the Ravens, who proceeded to smash the Chiefs, 30-7, clearly demonstrating that the Chiefs were more pretender than contender and casting pallor over our entire season.
So what happened the next year? Well the Chiefs suffered a slew of injuries to key players and ended up firing their head coach mid-season, yet still almost won the AFC West and were the only team to beat the defending Super Bowl champion Packers in the regular season. Meanwhile, the Ravens followed up their disappointing playoffs loss by making it to the AFC title game, where they lost a nail biter to the Patriots.
Their year over year consistency is why the Ravens are among the best teams in the NFL, and arguably the best team the Chiefs play*. They experienced very low turnover this past season (losing OG Ben Grubbs could be an issue). They're well-coached and possibly better GM-ed. They have a potent mix of savvy veterans (including multiple Hall of Famers) and talented young players. They're tough as nails and have swagger to spare.
In contrast, the Chiefs are a younger team with a lot to learn and a lot to prove. We've been on a steady upward trajectory since Pioli arrived in 2009. Even last year, you could easily argue the team improved, as the defense started playing like a cohesive unit and the team remained in contention despite numerous injuries and a significantly harder schedule. Just imagine how poorly the 2009 or even the 2010 Chiefs would have done without four key players. (Or don't; it's horrifying.)
Beating the Ravens, even at home, would clearly demonstrate that the Chiefs have arrived. Even if it's by a single point, it would indicate a 24 point shift in the disparity between the two teams in two short years. Winning would vindicate last year's win over the Packers, particularly to the NFL and the media.
Perhaps most importantly, it could be a milestone for both the players and the administration. For the players, a victory would be concrete proof that they've improved individually and as a unit. It would have a similar effect on HC Romeo Crennel, signaling that he can compete with the league's best coaches and that his time with the Browns wasn't reflective of his true ability. It would also provide early-season validation for GM Scott Pioli's work improving the team over the last two years. The collective confidence around the team would be raised, which could be just the sea change the Chiefs need to become legitimate contenders.
That's why this year's "Most Important Game" is October 7 against the Baltimore Ravens.
*The Saints are going to be in disarray; even their interim head coach will be suspended when we play them. The Falcons can't win a playoff game. We don't know if Denver will be good. We almost beat the Steelers last year with Palko turning the ball over three times. The Chargers are fading.