Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens: Top 3 storylines for AFC Championship Game

Kansas City Chiefs
Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s taken 11 years for the Baltimore Ravens to return to the AFC Championship Game. For the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s become an annual destination.

The defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs (13-6) are back in the AFC Championship Game for the sixth straight season after holding off the Buffalo Bills, 24-21, in their divisional matchup Sunday night.

The Baltimore Ravens (14-4), who had the NFL’s best record this season, moved onto their first AFC title game since the 2012 season with a 34-10 rout Saturday of the Houston Texans.

Even though this will be the Ravens’ fifth-ever appearance in the AFC Championship Game, next Sunday (3 p.m. ET) will be the first time they’ve ever hosted the game.

The game will feature a titanic battle at quarterback between two of the game’s best in Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, who’ve combined for three NFL Most Valuable Player awards.

Here are the top three storylines for the AFC Championship Game, with the Baltimore Ravens already installed as three-point favorites.

Is the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense really back?

The Kansas City Chiefs’ offense declined this season statistically, going from the No. 1 scoring offense last season to 15th in scoring this year.

Most of the issues were attributed to low-quality performances at the wide receiver position. The Chiefs led the NFL during the regular season in dropped passes, and as a whole the Kansas City receivers were having difficulty getting separation and being open for Mahomes to deliver the football.

While rookie Rashee Rice has emerged as a go-to option for Mahomes, he wasn’t as involved in the Chiefs’ offense Sunday night, despite catching four passes for 47 yards. Tight end Travis Kelce remained Mahomes’ primary target, as he is most of the time, hauling in two TD passes.

The Ravens have the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL, with star-quality personnel at each level. They will be laser-focused on removing Kelce as an option in the passing game. That means the Chiefs will need more consistency and big plays out of their receivers.

Related: NFL offense rankings

Will Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews play?

Andrews is likely to play for the first time since he suffered a significant ankle injury two months ago in a game against Cincinnati.

The Pro Bowl tight end, who caught 45 passes for 544 yards and six touchdowns before the injury, was questionable to return last week, but the Ravens didn’t activate him for the divisional game against Houston. Nevertheless, he fully participated in team workouts at the end of the week, and the Ravens were encouraged his progress.

Andrews’ return will be a huge boost to a Ravens’ offense that saw the emergence of Isaiah Likely, Andrews’ backup, as a weapon. With Andrews out, Likely caught 30 passes for 411 yards and five scores, and last week he had a TD reception in the Ravens’ victory.

With both Andrews and Likely as options to go with rookie Zay Flowers and veteran Odell Beckham Jr. on the outside, the Ravens have a multitude of quality targets for Lamar Jackson.

Related: NFL defense rankings

Lamar Jackson’s pursuit of his first Super Bowl

Even though Lamar Jackson will win his second NFL Most Valuable Player award, the fact he’s never been to a Super Bowl will keep him from being considered the game’s best quarterback.

Historically, playoff success is the biggest factor in terms of assessing a quarterback’s greatness. And even though Jackson won his first playoff game in four years last week, getting to the Super Bowl will go a long way toward cementing his status.

Beating Patrick Mahomes will make it even more meaningful. Mahomes is still considered the NFL’s standard at quarterback. When you win two Super Bowls, two Super Bowl MVP awards to go with two regular-season MVPs, you’ve earned that distinction.

If Mahomes is on the pedestal, Lamar Jackson has an opportunity to knock him off it with a signature performance next Sunday.

Related: NFL MVP odds 2023-24: Lamar Jackson emerges as clear frontrunner

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