Sunday, January 28th, 2024

Can MVPs overcome defensive might in AFC title game?


Can MVPs overcome defensive might in AFC title game?

Gridiron NFL

Sunday’s AFC championship showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore will pit former MVP quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson against two of the toughest defenses, not just in their conference but the NFL as a whole.

It will mark the fifth Conference Championship Game in NFL history with two former MVPs under center — but the first since Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers squared off for Tampa Bay and Green Bay respectively in the 2020 NFC title game. It is the first time, however, that both such quarterbacks are under the age of 30, with Mahomes having earned the MVP crown in 2018 and 2022 and Jackson in 2019. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tom Brady featured in three of the previous four all-MVP games, also taking on Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos twice, while Steve Young (San Francisco 49ers) and Brett Favre (Packers) faced off in the first such meeting, back in the 1997 season.

Both Mahomes and Jackson will be facing one of the top defenses in the league, with Baltimore leading the NFL in scoring defense during the regular season, allowing 16.5 points per game, and in sacks, with 60. Kansas City ranked second in each category, allowing 17.3 points per game with 57 sacks. It will be the sixth Conference Championship Game to feature the top-two scoring defenses from the regular season, but the first since the 2004 season, when New England took on Pittsburgh for the AFC crown.

Sunday’s contest will also be the third Championship Game all-time to feature the two teams with the most regular-season sacks, joining the 2004 NFC and 2015 AFC showdowns.

Incredibly, the Chiefs are appearing in their sixth consecutive AFC Championship Game, the second-longest streak in NFL history. With a victory on Sunday, KC will also become the third team to advance to four Super Bowls in a five-year span, joining the Buffalo Bills (1990-93) and New England Patriots (2014, 2016-18).

Head coach Andy Reid has led the Chiefs to each of their last three Super Bowls and also brought the Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX following the 2004 season. With a win on Sunday, he will become the fourth head coach in NFL history to advance to five or more Super Bowls, joining Bill Belichick (nine) and Pro Football Hall of Famers Don Shula (six) and Tom Landry (five).

Reid’s protégé, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, has compiled a 13-3 record in his first 16 career postseason starts, totalling 38 touchdown passes and 4,561 passing yards with a 106.7 passer rating. With a victory in Baltimore, Mahomes will break a tie with Favre and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and join Pro Football Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw, John Alway and Peyton Manning (all 14 postseason wins) for the third-most by a starting quarterback in NFL history. Only Brady (35) and Joe Montana (16) have more.
Three of Mahomes’ 13 postseason wins have come in the AFC Championship. With a win this week, Mahomes – who will be 28 years and 133 days old on Sunday – will become the youngest quarterback ever to win four Championship Games, surpassing Brady, who was 30 years and 170 days old when he won his fourth such game.

With two touchdown passes on Sunday, Mahomes will also tie Manning on 40 for the fifth-most in the postseason, leaving the pair behind only Brady (88), Rodgers and Montana (both 45), and Favre (44).

Since the beginning of last year’s postseason, Mahomes has totaled 10 touchdown passes with no interceptions in his past five playoff games and, with another clean outing this Sunday, can become the first quarterback in NFL history without an interception in six consecutive postseason games (provided he makes a minimum of 20 passing attempts to qualify for the statistic).

Mahomes’ favourite target, KC tight end Travis Kelce, enters Sunday with 145 receptions, 1,694 receiving yards and 18 touchdown receptions in his postseason career, trailing only Hall of Famer Jerry Rice in each category. With seven receptions at Baltimore, Kelce can surpass the former Super Bowl winner’s 151 receptions for the most in NFL history.

Last week, in the AFC divisional round, Kelce totalled five receptions for 75 yards and two touchdowns, his 12th consecutive postseason game with at least five receptions. With another five catches at Baltimore, he will tie Julian Edelman’s record of 13. With another multiple touchdown showing, Kelce will join Rice as the only players to do so in five postseason games.

The Ravens, meanwhile, are seeking their third Super Bowl appearance in franchise history and a first since winning Super Bowl XLVII following the 2012 season.

Baltimore boasted the league’s top rushing attack in the regular season, averaging 156.5 yards per game. With a victory against Kansas City on Sunday, the Ravens will become the fourth team since 1990 — and first since Seattle in 2014 — to lead the league in rushing and make the Super Bowl in the same season. Buffalo previously achieved the feat on two occasions.

In the divisional round, Jackson became the first player ever with two touchdown passes, two rushing touchdowns, 100 rushing yards and a passer rating of 100-or-higher in a game. He has also recorded at least 100 rushing yards in three of his five career postseason games. On Sunday, the Ravens QB can become the fifth player in NFL history with at least 100 rushing yards in four of his first six career postseason contests, behind only Terrell Davis and John Riggins on five, by drawing level with Emmitt Smith and Marshawn Lynch.

Jackson has 467 career postseason rushing yards and can become the fifth quarterback in NFL history with 500, joining Young, Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick above the hallowed number.