With the Kansas City Chiefs firmly on top of the NFL, questions arise as to which AFC rivals and players stand in the way. That sentence hurts to the core as a Raiders fan. For the AFC contenders, all roads, unfortunately, pass through the defending champs, Whether we like it or not, the Chiefs’ young nucleus (Patrick Mahomes) and fiscally responsible front office look to pose perennial problems for the conference. While the Super Bowl feels like a decade ago, the process of dethroning the champs never stopped.
Without a doubt, the Baltimore Ravens appear, on paper, to be the odds-on contender to derail the Chiefs. On offense, another year in the rapid ascension of Lamar Jackson gives the Ravens a cornerstone player. With his MVP season, firmly in the rearview, Jackson trains his sights on a deeper playoff run. Jackson improved his completion percentage in 2019. More importantly, he improved his accuracy. While those two subjects appear inextricably linked, there is a subtle difference. Remember Donovan McNabb? He’d complete a pass but would leave the receiver in little room to garner any yards after the catch.
With Jackson, his touch an ball placement looked sharper than most thought it would. Additionally, add in a bigger Hollywood Brown and freakish Miles Boykin on the outside and the Ravens will push the ball vertically. In the backfield, Baltimore added JK Dobbins to the Ingram/Edwards stable. Dobbins brings the ability to take the ball the distance from anywhere.
Front Seven Help
On the other side of the ball, Baltimore added Pro Bowl linemen Calais Campbell to an evolving front. Along with Campbell, veterans Pernell McPhee and Derek Wolfe will anchor upfront. Yet, the most exciting part of this group remains the linebackers. Matt Judon remains a name to know. Over the past two seasons: 16 sacks, 67 pressures, 27 QB hits. Judon gets home, quickly and effectively.
Rookies Malik Harrison and Patrick Queen give this group a different presence. Harrison attacks the run, punishing the ballcarrier. Queen’s speed and ability to cover will allow the Ravens to throw different looks. Considering the team blitzed 54.9% of the time, the added playmakers will help lessen that number. Overall, the Ravens can line up, pound the ball and play keep-away from Patrick Mahomes.
The Pressure on Jon Gruden
The Raiders hired Jon Gruden to reclaim their former glory. However, the Chiefs inhabit the same division. Additionally, his quarterback cannot win in Arrowhead. The Raiders, realistically are the only division rival that can provide any semblance of a problem, on the road. Gruden needs to figure a way to fix his quarterback and right the ship. If not, another decade of misery ensues. Carr needs beat Mahomes in KC.
No Longer A Surprise
Last year, the Tennessee Titans evaded attention to make a deep playoff run. Now, Tennessee knows what the Chiefs can bring to the table. Yet, the Vrabel Approach to beating the Chiefs initially appeared smart. Derrick Henry gains strength with each carry. Picture Eddie George with speed. Despite 321 touches, Henry could batter the Chiefs defense. Now, with the defense probably stacking the box, Ryan Tannehill must continue to play with the aggressive nature.
As we move through these reviews, reality sets in. The Chiefs can make mistakes and still look dominant. Other teams must play flawlessly. The AFC will fight the Chiefs at the LOS