The Kansas City Chiefs play their first playoff game since 2006 this week as they host the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC Wildcard game. The Chiefs surprised many by winning the AFC West division, while the Ravens finished 2nd in the AFC North. This week’s matchup will pit the best rushing team in the NFL (KC) against the 5th best rush defense (Balt). Whichever team wins the battle on the ground should move on to the next round of the playoffs. The game kicks off at 1:00 p.m. EST live from Arrowhead Stadium.
At 10-6, Kansas City took huge strides this year in making the playoffs in only year two of G.M Scott Pioli and head coach Todd Hailey’s reign. The season kicked off with a bang as they beat the San Diego Chargers in front of their home crowd on the first Monday Night Football game of the year. They then went into Cleveland and got a win, then returned home for week 3 and beat the San Francisco 49’ers, a team many believed would be near the top of the NFC standings. It was clear early on that the Chiefs were a well coached team who would be prepared every week for their opponent. Matt Cassel finished the season with an impressive 27 TDs and 7 INTs while passing for over 3,000 yards. Similarly, Dwayne Bowe had a monster year with 72 receptions for over 1,100 yards and 15 TDs. But Cassel and Bowe wouldn’t have had such good years if it wasn’t for their running game. KC finished as the best rushing team in the league, averaging over 164 yards on the ground per game. On the defensive side of the ball, CB Javier Arenas showed great promise in his rookie year, while CB Brandon Flowers finished as one of the top shut down corners in the league. The Chiefs exceeded expectations this year, but if we take a look at their schedule, one stat is telling as to how they got here.
In 10 of their wins, only one of them came against a team who finished the year with a winning record, and that game occurred against the Chargers on the first game of the season. In fact, the only teams they played all year that finished with a winning record were the Colts and Chargers, meaning the Chiefs had one of the easiest schedules of any team this year. The Colts were the only playoff team the Chiefs played, and they only got in on the last day of the season thanks to a game winning FG by Adam Vinatieri. KC play the Ravens this week who, at 12-4, have faced a much tougher schedule and won 2 more games than Kansas City in the process.
Baltimore find themselves just on the outskirts as one of the elite teams in the NFL this season. Even though they won 4 of their last 5 games, they sit on the other end of the spectrum to the Chiefs in that they have under achieved this year finishing 2nd in the AFC North. One of their biggest problems is that they often find themselves playing to the level of their opponents. They’ve beaten elite teams such as the Jets, Steelers, and Saints, but they’ve played inconsistently against weaker teams such as the Bengals, Bills and Texans. Baltimore do have the ability to squeak out wins against these lesser teams, but close games are not what you want against teams with nothing to lose, and the Chiefs are exactly that this week. Baltimore’s running game has been average this year, but Ray Rice has shown the ability to go off like he did against the Saints in week 15. Their pass defense hasn’t been that good this year, ranking 22nd, but the Ravens pry themselves on turnovers and with Ed Reid back in the lineup and leading the league with 8 INTs in only 10 games, look for him to make an impact this week against KC. But the key to this game will be in the running game. If KC can get the running game going and allow Cassel to open up and find his receivers, I’m not sure Baltimore can keep up. Arrowhead is always a tough place to play, but Baltimore proved last year they aren’t intimidated by home field advantage as they went into Foxborough and beat the Patriots.
Ravens vs. Chiefs Early Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
Baltimore Ravens -3
@ Kansas City Chiefs +3
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Spread Total: The spread came out early at Baltimore -3, and I don’t expect it to move much leading up to Sunday. It’s not that common for a wildcard team to be favored over their opponent, and due to Baltimore’s schedule and recent trends in the playoffs, I agree with the oddsmakers here. The Ravens have been in the hunt for a few years now. They narrowly lost to the Steelers two seasons ago in the AFC Championship game with a similar team to what they have today. Last year they beat the Patriots in New England as a wild card team, and after that performance you can bet the players believe they can do the same in Arrowhead this weekend. Since 2008, the Ravens are 3-2 in the playoffs, but are 2-0 in opening round matchups under John Harbaugh. KC however are playing in their first playoff game since 2006 when they lost to the Colts, the eventual Super Bowl Champions that year. KC’s strength has been at home this year, going 7-1 at Arrowhead Stadium.
Game Total: KC were one of the highest scoring home teams in the league this year averaging over 24 points per game. Offense Coordinator Charlie Weis runs an aggressive college style offense and the Todd Hailey is hardly a conservative coach. He called plays for one of the best offenses in recent years, Arizona Cardinals, and the Chiefs should come out firing early and often. The number is at 41, probably because defenses usually outplay offenses in the early rounds of the playoffs. The oddsmakers most likely see KC’s inexperience and Baltimore’s experience as a reason to make the number lower than it probably would be if this were a regular season game. The Ravens can shut down the Chiefs but it’ll be hard for them to take the crowd out of the game. If they win, they’ll do it with their defense, and clearly the oddsmakers believe that the Ravens are the better team in this situation.