How to watch Ravens vs. Chiefs: Time, TV, live stream, key matchups, and AFC Championship predictions.

How to watch Ravens vs. Chiefs: Time, TV, live stream, key matchups, and AFC Championship predictions.

Conference championship weekend has finally here. In the first of two Sunday games, the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs will face the Baltimore Ravens, as two of the NFL’s top teams compete for the title of AFC champions.

The Ravens ended the regular season with the best record in the NFL, and probable league MVP Lamar Jackson will face Patrick Mahomes and company. Baltimore is seeking its first AFC championship of the Jackson era, as well as its first as a franchise, since the 2012 season, when John Harbaugh’s team upset his brother Jim’s 49ers in the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, Kansas City hopes to return to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in Mahomes’ six seasons as quarterback, as well as win its first AFC championship game on the road. The Chiefs have hosted the conference championship in each of the previous five years, and this will be a fresh test for them a week after their first road trip in the playoffs.

Which of the following clubs will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl? We’ll find out soon enough. Before we get into the battle, let’s look at how you may watch it.

How to Watch

Date: Sunday, January 28 | Time: 3 p.m. ET

Location: M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

TV: CBS | Paramount+

Follow the CBS Sports App.

Odds: Ravens -3.5, over/under 44.5 (based on Sportsline consensus odds)

When the Chiefs get the ball

Following two of their finest offensive performances of the season, the Chiefs will now face the most formidable defense they have encountered all season. Baltimore concluded the regular season rated #1 in FTN’s DVOA, with the league’s seventh-best run defense and top pass defense.

Mike Macdonald’s team limited C.J. Stroud and the dynamic Houston Texans offense, who had recently destroyed the Browns, to 213 total yards, 10 first downs, and three offensive points the week before. Obviously, doing that against a rookie quarterback in his first road playoff game while missing his Nos. 2 and 3 wide receivers (Tank Dell and Noah Brown) is a far different task than doing it against Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, and this Chiefs offense — even if that offense did not perform up to expectations this season.

The single most significant component of this game will be how Kansas City’s offensive line performs against Macdonald’s numerous pressure looks. The Ravens don’t blitz very much (23.4% of opponent dropbacks during the regular season, according to Tru Media, the NFL’s seventh-lowest blitz rate), but Macdonald uses simulated pressures extensively to keep opponents guessing where the rushers are coming from.

The Chiefs have been excellent up front in recent seasons, but their signings of Jawaan Taylor and Donovan Smith to man the tackle spots have not performed as well as their other tackles have in recent years, leaving them far more vulnerable up front than at any time since their Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers a few years ago. Mahomes can minimize and escape pressure like the best of them because to his ability to produce on the fly as a thrower and runner, but he was also more impacted by pressure this season than at any other time in his career. If the Ravens can go at him early and frequently, preventing him from passing in rhythm, this year’s Chiefs might be taken off guard. We have seen it happen.

Kansas City has mostly avoided that problem in recent weeks. Even if they can accomplish it again, the Chiefs’ secondary will encounter more difficult matchups than they did against the Dolphins or the Bills.

Travis Kelce will see plenty of Roquan Smith in the center of the field, as well as Marcus Williams up top. If he goes to the slot, Kyle Hamilton will be ready for him. Rashee Rice often lines up in the slot, where he will face Hamilton. If and when he goes outside, he may see Marlon Humphrey, who returned to practice this week, as well as Brandon Stephens and cloud coverage to his side. (I wouldn’t be shocked if Rice is in motion often to obtain free releases on downfield routes.) Judicious utilization of screens will be critical against this Baltimore defense, as you want to be able to exploit the Ravens’ aggression while also not being too passive when attacking them downfield.

Given the relative weakness of the rest of the pass-catching group, it is not surprising that Macdonald would focus extra attention on both of those players and try to force Mahomes to beat him by throwing to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justin Watson, Mecole Hardman, Richie James, and Noah Gray. That’s easier said than done with Reid scheming, but there haven’t been many more difficult things in the NFL this season than throwing the ball against the Ravens defense.

Isiah Pacheco has ran well since his return from injury, but Kansas City’s run game was spotty at best throughout the regular season. The Chiefs will need the mauler version of their offensive line to show up on Sunday, regardless of whether Joe Thuney (who has yet to practice due to a pectoral ailment) can play. And if he is out, what has been an okay-ish unit will become much weaker, putting Kansas City deeper behind the eight ball against this fearsome Baltimore squad.

When the Ravens get the ball

Unlike prior seasons, Kansas City’s defense is capable of tangling with a top-tier attack and emerging victorious. The Chiefs concluded the season ranked seventh in DVOA, 27th against the run and fifth against the pass.

The former number is clearly alarming against a Ravens squad lead by Lamar Jackson. According to Tru Media, the Chiefs allowed the 10th-most running yards to quarterbacks during the regular season, but they also kept QBs to a low proportion of explosive runs (6.6% compared to a league average of 9.7%), mainly to their superior second-level tackling skills. If Kansas City can restrict Jackson’s runs to short-to-medium gains and keep him from making major plays on the ground, the matchup might shift in their favor.

According to Tru Media, the Ravens averaged the sixth-most yards before contact per carry among running backs this season, and while the Gus Edwards/Justice Hill combination lacks the explosiveness of J.K. Dobbins and/or Keaton Mitchell, they each have their strengths as ball carriers. Both guys typically simply receive what is blocked for them and don’t break many tackles, but Hill, in particular, looked fairly impressive against the Texans last week — and this was a club that ended the season ranked second in run defense DVOA.

How effectively Baltimore’s offensive line can handle the matchup up the middle, and if the Ravens can capitalize on the fact that Chris Jones, a genuine game-changer in the pass game, has not been as successful against the run this year as he has been for much of his career, will also be critical. The Ravens’ pass game also relies heavily on the center of the pocket. Jones is by far the greatest pass rusher on Kansas City’s defensive line, and he’ll have to contend with a formidable inside quartet of John Simpson, Tyler Linderbaum, and Kevin Zeitler. Jackson is most vulnerable to pressure up the middle because to the way he navigates the pocket, so preventing Jones from pushing that interior back into his lap will be critical.

Last week against Houston, DeMeco Ryans unleashed an avalanche of blitzes that stifled Baltimore’s passing game. The Texans seldom blitzed throughout the regular season, but did so on an astonishing 72.2% of Jackson’s pre-halftime dropbacks a week ago. Steve Spagnuolo blitzed 38.4% of opponent dropbacks during the regular season, ranking seventh in the league, according to Tru Media. It wouldn’t be unexpected if Spags attempted to heat up Lamar as much as possible in this game, forcing him to show that he can beat the blitz in the same manner he did after halftime last week. (He finished 8 of 9 for 79 yards and a score.)

Mark Andrews might return for this game, and his combination with Isiah Likely could give the Ravens an edge in the middle of the field. It will be fascinating to watch whether the Chiefs elect to shadow Zay Flowers with L’Jarius Sneed, or if they are comfortable with any of Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams, or Jaylen Watson catching up to him at any moment. Odell Beckham Jr. did not get the much-anticipated increased playing time last week, instead falling behind Rashod Bateman and Nelson Agholor in the pecking order. How that group plays out, and if they can replicate their success from earlier in the season against a very stingy secondary, will certainly influence how much success Jackson can find via the air.

Prediction: Chiefs 20, Ravens 17.

The majority of the metrics and matchup information point to the Ravens. They’re at home, they were the superior team in the regular season, and they have the presumptive league MVP… yet I can’t get myself to choose against Patrick Mahomes and/or Andy Reid. I’m going to stick with these men until they’re eliminated.

More in Sports:
Photo Credits: