The waiting is over. The biggest game on the NFL calendar is finally here, and fans around the country are understandably hyped up.
The Ravens and Chiefs will take the field Monday night under the lights for what promises to be one of the most exciting games of the season. The matchup has everything you could possibly ask for: elite young MVP-winning quarterbacks, Super Bowl-winning head coaches, thrilling playmakers, future Hall of Famers, history between the franchises, and more.
It even features the two most accurate kickers in NFL history. It's an embarrassment of riches for the two best teams in the NFL.
So, what do we expect will happen during the game of the year? Let's run through some bold predictions.
Who will play well?
Let's leave out Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, who are too obvious. For the Chiefs, we'll say Mecole Hardman has a standout game, leading the Chiefs in receiving yards.
The Ravens are excellent at keying in on opponents' top targets, so expect a lot of attention to be paid to Tyreek Hill (who missed last season's game) and Travis Kelce. But without injured corner Tavon Young, the Ravens might struggle with the Chiefs' depth of speedy weapons. So Hardman has a chance to breakout.
For the Ravens, JK Dobbins scored two touchdowns in Week 1 while getting very little work in Week 2. He's flashed when getting the ball in his hands, though, and the Chiefs are susceptible to the run. Mark Ingram scored three touchdowns in this matchup last season, but it will be Dobbins who breaks out with 100-plus total yards in this one.
Who will struggle?
Can we say nobody? No? Okay, well if we're forced to pick somebody, let's look at both the offensive lines.
Longtime standout Mitchell Schwartz has surprisingly struggled in the first two weeks of the season, and while he should be fine in the long run, he could run into trouble against the Ravens' rebuilt defensive front. This is the exact type of game the Ravens had in mind when they added Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe to their front seven, and they will give the Chiefs' offensive line all they can handle.
For the Ravens, the offensive line has been a small concern to start the year. Matt Skura is still working himself into top playing shape, while Orlando Brown Jr. and Tyre Phillips have struggled on the right side without Marshal Yanda. The Chiefs' defense isn't elite, but they do have a couple studs on the defensive line that the Ravens will have to contend with. Our prediction is they struggle once more.
Let's look at the defense here. For the Ravens, Anthony Averett will be called upon to fill the void left by Tavon Young, and he'll be doing it against the most prolific passing game in the NFL. Marlon Humphrey is a star and will hold his own wherever he lines up, but the Ravens will be forced to rely on their depth more than ever before. A surprising performance from Averett could put Baltimore over the top.
For the Chiefs, the biggest X-factor is Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The rookie running back out of LSU shined in his debut game in Week 1, but was quiet in Week 2. The Ravens' primary focus in the offseason was revamping their run defense, and they'll be put to the test on Monday night.
Edwards-Helaire gives the Chiefs a dimension they've never had before, but the Ravens have a history of clamping down on running backs. A big game from him coupled with Mahomes' typical brilliance will be very, very difficult for the Ravens to overcome
Obviously, the most important question is who wins the game. Not only would a win for the Ravens establish themselves as true threats, and perhaps even heavy favorites, to come out of the AFC in the postseason, but it would also give Lamar Jackson his first win against the only team to truly give him fits.
The winner of this game will essentially have a one-game lead and the tiebreaker in the race for the top seed in the AFC, an extra crucial distinction this year with just one postseason bye up for grabs. So, who comes away with the win?
Patrick Mahomes has had the Ravens' number, and his stellar numbers against the blitz match up perfectly against the Ravens' aggressive scheme. Still, it feels like the Ravens have been waiting an eternity for a statement game of this magnitude, and they also have home field advantage - for whatever that's worth without fans.
The Ravens score 36 points per game in prime time with Lamar Jackson, while the Chiefs score 31 with Mahomes. So our prediction is the Ravens winning an epic clash, 36-31.