The Ravens might be able to slow Kelce down, though. They only gave up three touchdown catches all year to tight ends, which was tied for the second-lowest number in the NFL.
This game will mark just the second time in Mahomes’ career that he’s started a playoff game on the road. Although he won last week in Buffalo, he’ll now be heading to Baltimore, where things will likely be much crazier and Mahomes KNOWS that. The Chiefs QB recently admitted that Baltimore is one of only two stadiums that he’s played in where the crowd got so loud that he couldn’t communicate with his offensive line.
The Ravens will host the Chiefs next Sunday in the AFC Championship, after KC beats the Bills.— Rocco DiSangro (@RoccoDiSangro) January 22, 2024
M&T Bank Stadium is one of the two places Patrick Mahomes says he’s had to use a silent count before because his offense linemen couldn’t hear him #RavensFlock pic.twitter.com/Syxkh7TqUl
The Kansas City Chiefs taught us … through an elite quarterback, all things are possible.
How?!?! Seriously, how the hell did this Chiefs team get back to the AFC title game? For a sixth consecutive year, Kansas City will be playing for a trip to the Super Bowl, and this time they got there by outlasting the Bills on the road in a 27-24 thriller. We just watched the same group lose to the Raiders at home on Christmas in a game that wasn’t as competitive as the 20-14 score implies. We saw a young Green Bay team outclass them on Sunday Night Football in early December. They managed only nine points against a Broncos squad that had given up 70 a few weeks earlier. This is easily the worst team of the Mahomes-Reid era in Kansas City, and it’s 60 minutes away from playing for another world championship.
Mahomes doesn’t deserve all the credit for this, but he does deserve most of it. While he’s getting help from a defense that ranks just outside the top five in EPA allowed, you have to score points to win games, and he’s received almost no support when it comes to doing that. The personnel deficiencies at wide receiver have been covered extensively this season, and that hasn’t been the offense’s only issue. The run game has been below average, and the same goes for the run defense, which has made it easier for opponents to keep Mahomes on the sideline. Even Travis Kelce is showing signs of slowing down, which makes sense for a 30-something tight end who has a lot of mileage on those legs and has developed his own case of butterfingers this season.
4) Patrick Mahomes is inevitable
It’s truly amazing. This had been a down season for Mahomes, a non-dominant campaign for the Chiefs, especially on offense. And yet, No. 15 has his team in a sixth straight AFC Championship Game — in his sixth season as a starter. That’s beyond remarkable.
I really didn’t take the cheese on Allen vs. Mahomes being “the new Manning vs. Brady.” Frankly, Mahomes is Peyton Manning and Tom Brady: best pure quarterback and biggest winner. You make a mistake, he pounces. One way or another, he finds a way to finish on top. Never EVER take this stretch of special, majestic domination for granted.
“Every time I go up against Josh, I know it’s going to come down to the end, just because of the competitor that he is and the player that he is,” Mahomes said postgame Sunday. “Same when I go against Joe [Burrow], against Lamar [Jackson] — all these guys. You appreciate that stuff. These are the games that I watched growing up: Great quarterbacks going against each other with great football teams, great organizations. That’s what I remember.
“Hopefully, Josh and I — we’re making memories for the kids growing up watching football.”
You’re probably thinking: Scoreboard. Allen has yet to beat Mahomes in the postseason. But that doesn’t make their rivalry any less interesting. Chiefs receiver Rashee Rice saw what everyone else could see after Sunday night’s game. When I informed him that Mahomes had won all three of his playoff games against Allen, Rice put that into simple context.
“What would you think about that? He’s better than Josh,” Rice said.
He added: “In the postseason out of Pat, I’ve seen someone that really don’t know how to lose.”
4 - Kansas City Chiefs
You really have to tip your cap to Kansas City’s defense for stepping up one more time after it had carried this team for stretches this season. Down key members from every level of the unit by game’s end, the Chiefs made two big, fourth-quarter stops and then kept the Bills from getting closer than a 44-yard FG try, and we know how that one went. Early on, it looked like a last-team-with-the-ball-wins type of game — an up-and-down-the-field decathlon — but the Chiefs’ defense had put in more work, with Buffalo running nearly twice as many plays (41 to 21) as Kansas City in the first half. The Chiefs’ offense didn’t slow down much in one of its better games this season, but Mecole Hardman’s fumble though the end zone prevented the defense from having any breathing room. In the end, Kansas City forced Josh Allen to be patient, and Buffalo just couldn’t land its haymakers. The difference in the game might have been the deep shots. Patrick Mahomes was 3-for-3 on passes of 20-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats. Allen was 0-for-4. The Bills averaged about three gains of 20-plus yards per game this season, but the Chiefs wouldn’t allow them more than 15 on any offensive play Sunday. Don’t overlook this defense as the key factor heading into Sunday’s showdown in Baltimore.
3. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Last Week: Chiefs 27, Bills 24
Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs have been the NFL’s measuring stick for more than half a decade. They will head to Baltimore for their sixth straight AFC Championship this Sunday.
Kansas City’s offense struggled throughout the regular season, but it’s averaging 26.5 points in its two playoff games. The offense’s performance in Buffalo last week was more in line with what Mahomes’ offense usually looks like.
No team is more battle-tested than the Chiefs, who are the unlikely underdog against Baltimore.
1. DI CHRIS JONES, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
It’s rare for a player of Jones’ caliber to reach unrestricted free agency, and Kansas City did not give up the right to franchise tag him for a second time when the two sides agreed to a reworked contract this past offseason. A tag for Jones would land north of $33 million, which perhaps helps him test the open market for the first time in his career.
Jones is not only one of the best interior pass rushers in the game right now; he’s one of the best ever. He is also capable of lining up outside of tackles as a five-technique, bending around the edge and getting home.
29. Kansas City Chiefs
Troy Franklin, WR, Oregon
Did you expect me to go with another position? Kansas City’s receivers really struggled this season, outside of rookie second-rounder Rashee Rice, who might already be their top wideout. Chiefs pass-catchers dropped 38 passes during the regular season, ranking last in the league. That’s why I’m giving them a talented playmaker with this pick.
Franklin averaged 17.1 yards per catch in 2023 and had 23 receiving touchdowns over the past two seasons. He is a big, 6-foot-3 target with deceptive speed who can break tackles after the catch. This isn’t the first time I’ve projected Kansas City to land a receiver in Round 1 — I gave them Zay Flowers in my final 2023 mock — but the hole is too large to not fill here. By the way, this makes seven wideouts in Round 1, which would tie the record for most in a single draft (2004).
Around the NFL
This comes less than six weeks after the Raiders beat the Chargers 63-21 at Allegiant Stadium on Dec. 14 and Telesco and coach Brandon Staley paid for the historic loss with their jobs the next day.
Telesco, 51, had been the Chargers’ general manager since 2013 and was the architect of some great rosters that underachieved in the AFC West. He drafted the likes of receiver Keenan Allen, running back Melvin Gordon III, defensive end Joey Bosa, safety Derwin James Jr., quarterback Justin Herbert, linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. and defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu.
Principle among those is figuring out how to reinvigorate Stefon Diggs, who performed far from his signature self over the second half of the season.
“He’s a No. 1 receiver,” general manager Brandon Beane told reporters on Tuesday during his end-of-season news conference. “I firmly believe that. I’m not wavering off of that. … We have to continue to put weapons out there to keep teams from bracketing him or locking him down in different ways. … Stef can still play. I’m sure he would love to have that deep ball again. He’d be the first to tell you. He’s super competitive. He’s going to work his tail off this offseason.
“I know there’s various reasons or questions on this, there’s production and all that, but I still see Stef as a No. 1 receiver.”
Vinovich’s regular-season crews typically average the fewest, or close to the fewest, flags per game. In 2023, his crew averaged 13.4 flags per game, tied for the seventh fewest, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Vinovich also worked Super Bowls XLIX and LIV. His full crew for next month’s game is as follows:
Umpire: Terry Killens
Down judge: Patrick Holt
Line judge: Mark Perlman
Field judge: Tom Hill
Side judge: Allen Baynes
Back judge: Brad Freeman
Replay official: Mike Chase
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
Why did the Chiefs beating the Bills surprise anyone? Sure... this team hasn’t been great of late — but we all knew what version of Patrick Mahomes we were getting after the Wild Card win over the Dolphins. The dude is a fiend who goes from demigod to full-on Zeus as soon as the playoffs start.
Year after year, people look for his equivalent. I’m sorry, people, but that person doesn’t exist. Mahomes is Michael Jordan. He’s Lionel Messi. He’s the Beatles. If the NFL was Disney, Mahomes would be Mickey Mouse. Allen? WALL-E... at best.
The fact of the matter is that regardless of what happens this weekend against the Ravens, the NFL is still very much Patrick Mahomes’ league. This version of the Chiefs making the AFC Championship must terrify their rivals. It also puts a ton of pressure on the Ravens — because they know this may be their only genuine shot at the King for quite some time.
Social media to make you think
The Giants need to reach out to Dave Merritt for DC position. What he has done with the Chiefs secondary and developing young talent is remarkable.— Lawrence Tynes (@lt4kicks) January 24, 2024
Dave and Spags have been together for many years between NY and KC and Dave was with us in NY on both Super Bowl teams. pic.twitter.com/fjvJN1Mg3P