Inconceivable about 10 weeks ago when the team stood 1-5 on the season, the Kansas City Chiefs will try to win their eighth straight game Sunday when they head east to face the Baltimore Ravens in M&T Bank Stadium at 12:05 p.m. CST Sunday. The big question for KC will be whether an injury-plagued 4-9 Ravens team that normally is fighting for a division title themselves will be able to get up for a meaningless (for them, at least) non-division game against a hot Chiefs team trying to get into the playoffs?
Because Ravens coach John Harbaugh is one of the most respected coaches in the game and Baltimore has been one of the top franchises in the league since their first Super Bowl win in the 2000 season, many experts believe the Chiefs will have their hands full on Sunday. Your Chiefs Examiner does not necessarily think that is true. Here are my five keys to the Chiefs getting a win in Baltimore whether it’s by one point or twenty:
1. Eliminate the mental mistakes that cost you field position. Everyone seems to be overly concerned that the Chiefs “only” beat San Diego 10-3 last week but if you take just two plays that were called back by stupid unnecessary penalties – Frankie Hammond’s 58-yard punt return that would have given the Chiefs the ball on San Diego’s 26-yard line and Charcandrick West’s 68-yard touchdown catch – you can make a case that the score would have been 24-3. If the Chiefs just don’t make those two mistakes then no one is upset about a close score against a division rival and they aren’t giving the Ravens that much of a chance Sunday.
2. Put the game on Alex Smith’s arm – and legs. No matter what else has happened with the Ravens this year, they have been salty against the run on defense, giving up only six rushing touchdowns in 13 games, the third-best mark in the league. But they haven’t had nearly as much success against the pass, giving up 27 touchdown passes, fifth-worst in the league. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is finally breaking out of his shell when it comes to throwing downfield and this is exactly the defense he should be attacking.
The Ravens pass rush is almost non-existent now with only Elvis Dumervil (6 sacks) showing any ability to get to the quarterback and Smith has shown himself to be dangerous when not running for his life from sack-masters. It might be crazy to say, but Chiefs fans should hope that Smith throws for 275 yards with three touchdowns. If that happens, the Chiefs win in a rout.
3. Get a return touchdown from the defense. 2012 Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco isn’t at quarterback for Baltimore and nobody is sure if Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen will be behind center Sunday. Either way, this is a wonderful opportunity for the Chiefs to get a pick-six touchdown as both quarterbacks are … well … terrible and Schaub throws them often. And by often, I mean like every game he plays lately. Despite the absence of linebacker Justin Houston and safety Husain Abdullah, who were both ruled out of the game Friday, the Chiefs should still be able to generate a solid pass rush and cause more than a couple of hurried throws from the Ravens quarterback, whoever it is.
4. Make the special teams special again. This is the only area where the Ravens have an obvious edge over the Chiefs and that was even before the last two weeks where the Chiefs have made a lot of costly mistakes. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is one of the best in the league and if the game comes down to the Ravens making a field goal, the Chiefs are in trouble.
The Chiefs also need a return to form for punter Dustin Colquitt who needs to get back to burying KC’s opponents deep inside their own 15-yard line. Even before Flacco got hurt, that was a problem for Baltimore this year. With Flacco out, long fields will be fatal for Baltimore’s offense. De’Anthony Thomas was ruled out of the game on Friday, but most Chiefs fans will take a no-fumble game out of punt returner Hammond in place of a 50+-yard return. However, if the Chiefs could get both, that would be OK too.
5. Get up early and watch the Ravens make plans for next week. NFL experts like to point out that despite their 4-9 record, the Ravens have been in every game before last week’s 35-6 loss to Seattle. And while that is technically true, their four wins have come against Cleveland (3-10), San Diego (3-10), and a St. Louis team that is terrible on the road and lost five turnovers, and an early-season game in overtime at Pittsburgh with an ancient and inept Mike Vick at quarterback instead of Ben Roethlisberger. In both of those wins, had the opposing field goal kicker not missed multiple field goals, the Ravens probably lose. So we’re not exactly talking about the 1972 Miami Dolphins playing the Chiefs on Sunday.
Baltimore ends their season with a home game against Pittsburgh next week and a road game against division-leading Cincinnati to close out 2015. The Ravens could salvage their season – mentally, at least – by knocking the Steelers out of the playoffs or beating their other arch-rival, the Bengals. If the Chiefs get up by two or more touchdowns, this game becomes 100% moot to most of the players and they’ll turn their attention to their natural rivals.
Bottom Line: The journalist in me says to say it will be close (like 21-17) but the guy that watches a lot of football says that if the Chiefs eliminate the critical mistakes they’ve made the last two weeks, this is a rout and you can get back to your online holiday shopping during the fourth quarter.
Chiefs – 31, Ravens – 13