Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) at Baltimore Ravens (2-0)
This is arguably the biggest game of the early season so far. Not only could it be an AFC Championship preview, but it could also decide the #1 seed in the AFC, as the winner would have a one game lead and the tiebreaker. That #1 seed is especially important under the new playoff format because, not only would the #1 seed host that eventual AFC Championship as usual, but also they would avoid playing on wild card weekend, which #2 seeds now have to do. In addition to the present implications of this game, this is also the third installment in what looks like it could be a long-time rivalry between the two best young quarterbacks in the game in Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, who have won the last two MVP awards respectively.
The Chiefs are defending Super Bowl champions and won the previous two matchups between Mahomes and Jackson in 2018 and 2019, but despite that they are 3.5-point underdogs in Baltimore, where the Ravens won’t even have the benefit of normal homefield advantage. This line might not seem huge, but about 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less and this is the most points Patrick Mahomes has been given as an underdog since his 3rd career start back in week 2 of 2018 (Mahomes is 4-0-2 ATS all-time as an underdog).
That being said, I actually like the Ravens in this one. These two teams haven’t met since week 3 of last season and the Ravens are a much more complete team now than they were in either of their previous two matchups, primarily due to Lamar Jackson’s continued emergence as a passer and the addition of top cornerback Marcus Peters on defense. The Ravens have won their last 10 meaningful regular season games by an average of 22.2 points per game and, while their home playoff loss to the Titans is a black mark on their recent record, that game largely swung on an highly uncharacteristic -3 turnover margin and 0 for 4 on 4th down by the Ravens. Even including that game, the Ravens have a ridiculous +12.39% first down rate differential in their last 11 meaningful games.
The Chiefs are on a strong run of their own, winning their last 11 games, including three playoff games, with a +7.90%% first down rate differential over that stretch, but that number is still significantly behind the Ravens’ recent run, even if strength of schedule is factored in. The Ravens also have the obvious edge in this early season, with a +11.09%% first down rate differential, compared to +2.19% for the Chiefs.
My roster rankings also give the Ravens a 3-point edge, suggesting they should be favored by 4.5 or 5 points, even with the diminished homefield advantage. The Chiefs have some question marks on their offensive line and defense, while the Ravens are a more complete team overall. I wouldn’t recommend betting on this if only because it’s silly to ever bet against Mahomes as underdogs of this many points, but the Ravens have the edge on paper and it wouldn’t surprise me if they ended up winning more easily than most people expect.
Baltimore Ravens 34 Kansas City Chiefs 27
Pick against the spread: Baltimore -3.5