Take a minute to let that sink in. For all that has gone wrong in Kansas City’s 2023 season — the obvious issues at wide receiver, penalties, turnovers and more losses than we’re used to seeing — the team has ended up right where they wanted to be.
And it feels like they are peaking at the right time.
Sunday’s matchup is going to be about the quarterbacks, of course. The Ravens’ Lamar Jackson is likely to be named this season’s MVP — and he presents a rushing threat that could give a stout Chiefs defense some issues. But in this postseason, Patrick Mahomes is playing some of his best football. He’s avoiding turnovers and making plays when it matters most.
At this point, if you’re not bullish on Mahomes, I don’t know what to tell you. He’s got an opportunity to continue building a legacy as one of the all-time greats. If the Chiefs can find a way to get back to the Super Bowl on Sunday, it’s a pretty safe bet that the plays he makes could someday end up on his Hall of Fame resume.
Here are a few other Chiefs who might be trending in Baltimore.
Defensive lineman Chris Jones: He has already become Kansas City’s “closer,” consistently making (and disrupting) plays when the game is on the line. In Week 18, he had a seven-figure bonus to earn — and was absolutely dominant. Now that he’s been named an All-Pro for this season, he’ll earn another $1 million if the Chiefs make the Super Bowl. While the matchup against Jackson is going to be a challenge for the entire defense, Jones has a real shot to be a difference-maker by getting quick pressure up the middle. Even if he’s simply forcing Jackson into the arms of George Karlaftis or Charles Omenihu, Jones will be a key player in keeping Jackson both contained and uncomfortable.
Running back Isiah Pacheco: We say it before every game: the second-year back is one of the offense’s real keys. His ability to inject energy and physicality into every play can spark a rally or change momentum. On Sunday, he needs just 17 yards to become only the sixth player in league history to have at least 400 postseason rushing yards during his first two campaigns. Against the run, the Ravens’ defense is near the league average, so there should be some opportunities available. Watch to see if the Chiefs build on the power running display they showed us against the Buffalo Bills.
Tight end Travis Kelce: “I ain’t thinking about a single one I already accomplished,” Kelce told reporters on Friday. “I’m thinking about this one on Sunday — and I want it more than I ever wanted one in my life.” The postseason is where the best of the best shine — and Kelce looks determined to put a final flourish on what has to be the most satisfying year of his life: a Super Bowl victory, crushing it as a guest host of “Saturday Night Live,” having a high-profile (and apparently fulfilling) romance and presiding over the immensely popular “New Heights” podcast with his brother Jason. Yes... it wasn’t the best statistical season of his career. But if he wins another title, will that matter? Kelce is coming off a 75-yard, two-touchdown performance. Don’t bet against him.
Others trending in the right direction: cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and L’Jarius Sneed, wide receiver Rashee Rice, safety Chamarri Conner and placekicker Harrison Butker.
Defensive linemen Matt Dickerson and Tershawn Wharton: For all the talk about the Ravens’ defense being the NFL’s best, I’m more concerned about the Kansas City defense against a Baltimore team that loves to run the football. It turned in a 42-carry, 229-yard performance to eliminate the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round. Against the Bills, the Chiefs struggled to stop the Buffalo rushing attack — especially when their lighter defensive linemen came into the game. Dickerson and Wharton are often part of that package — and neither is really built to be stout against the run. On Sunday afternoon, I expect that Kansas City will stick closer to its base defense, hoping to force the Ravens into passing situations.
Wide receiver Mecole Hardman: Last Sunday’s game was an absolute disaster for the fifth-year wideout, who fumbled both of his touches. Once again, neither Kadarius Toney or Skyy Moore will be available on Sunday, so Hardman will probably get some snaps. Unfortunately, he might be the weakest link in the receiver room. He’ll be motivated to make plays — showing that last week was a fluke — but the team should be motivated to keep its best players on the field to limit mistakes. So this doesn’t seem like a situation where Hardman will get a lot of work.
Left guard Nick Allegretti: Having depth on the offensive line is critical. Losing one of your best linemen before the AFC title game is brutal. Allegretti will step in for Joe Thuney — and has a chance to prove he can be a starter. But he’s going to be playing against an aggressive, tough (and deep) defensive front that will throw a lot at him. Baltimore might try to single out Allegretti as the “weak link,” sending stunts or other tricks his way. I hope he’s up for the challenge, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have some struggles.
Others trending in the wrong direction: Wide receivers Kadarius Toney and Justin Watson and linebacker Darius Harris.
Value (sleeper) pick: Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire
It might be that people were too quick to write off the former first-round pick. Over the last couple of seasons, Edwards-Helaire has been an afterthought far too often. But now, it feels like he’s found a role; he could be having a moment. Many stories, interviews and other accounts have shown he is a person (and player) who is worth rooting for — and he has the respect of the locker room. Jerick McKinnon was the talk of the town when he became a touchdown-scoring machine during the last two postseason runs. This season, it’s Edwards-Helaire who is complementing Pacheco. When he’s had the chances, he’s quietly made some big plays. Don’t be surprised if he catches a couple of passes (and scores) against the Ravens.