Going into the playoffs after their historic 2019 season, the Ravens were ready for a rematch with the Chiefs team that beat them in Week 3, but it wasn't meant to be. Baltimore fell in the AFC Divisional Round and cost itself a chance at a Kansas City rematch.
Fast-forward to the 2020 playoffs after their roller coaster regular season and the Ravens were again ready for a rematch with a Chiefs team that had again beat them in Week 3. Once more, it wasn't meant to be. The Ravens fell in the AFC Divisional Round. There would be no rematch with Kansas City this time, either.
But despite never facing them in the postseason in the Patrick Mahomes-Lamar Jackson era, Baltimore still looks at the Chiefs as the team it must figure out how to get past.
"We haven’t beaten them. They’ve beaten us the last three times we’ve played them. I think they’re a little ahead of us in the timeline," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said to the media on Wednesday. "I mean I don’t want to make this comparison but you look at the way it went with the Celtics and the Pistons, and you have the Pistons and the Bulls, and everybody on the Bulls taking over, they did it twice. That’s a team, we’ve got to beat them. We’ve got to find a way to beat them."
The Bulls, of course, dominated the NBA during the Michael Jordan era, with multiple three-peats for a total of six championships from 1991 to 1998.
There were plenty of other great teams across the NBA during the '90s, but they are remembered in an entirely different light for having been unable to get past Jordan's Bulls to win any rings. Chicago's utter dominance isn't just the primary lasting legacy from the decade - for many fans, it's the only lasting legacy.
In the same way, the Chiefs have the look of a modern NFL dynasty. With Mahomes looking like a future Greatest Quarterback Of All Time candidate and signing a 12-year contract extension last offseason, it sometimes feels like more AFC Championships than not will run through Kansas City in the next decade. And that means beating the Chiefs is priority number one for every AFC contender, the Ravens included.
Harbaugh knows it, and he admits Baltimore's brain trust has already spent months thinking about the Kansas City problem.
"I’m already talking to [defensive coordinator Don] Wink [Martindale], you know, and we’ve been talking all year about it because we made a lot of changes to our defense after that game," Harbaugh said, in reference to the Ravens' Monday Night Football loss to the Chiefs in September. "I thought they did a great job attacking our scheme that game and had a lot of well-executed plays they worked on all through training camp and just sprung on us in that third game that they executed great. And there was stuff that was specific to our defense. That was a good learning experience for us as coaches."
Those conversations have already carried into the offseason for Harbaugh, Martindale and the rest of Baltimore's staff. But while Kansas City remains the biggest obstacle for the Ravens to hurdle, they aren't the only team to present a challenge - as evidenced by Baltimore's back-to-back early postseason exits.
"We already know what we need to add and how we’re going to build it into our defense to just be as diverse as we can. When you’re a good defense, you get attacked other ways. If you’re stuffing they run they aren’t going to just keep running the ball. You saw the Bills on that," Harbaugh said. "So they’re going to try the next thing and the next thing, and you have to have the next answer and the next answer schematically and personnel wise. So I’m going to put the Bills in that category too, aren’t we? And then there’s plenty of other teams in this league, I mean how about the Steelers and the Browns in our division are going to be challenges, and the Bengals have the quarterback so you always look at your division too."
The Steelers and Browns will give the Ravens their own sorts of headaches, along with plenty of other AFC franchises with bright futures. The quarterback talent in the division is ridiculous, and it's only going to get more crowded in the conference. Next season could potentially see Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields added to Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Ryan Tannehill and Cam Newton.
But standing above them all as the consensus best quarterback in football for the foreseeable future, is Mahomes. For as long as they fancy themselves contenders as well, the Ravens will have to keep Kansas City in mind with every move they make.
Despite a few near-misses, Jackson and Mahomes seem destined to meet in January at some point. And when it happens, Baltimore will hope it has cracked a formula that has so far eluded it through three regular season meetings.
If not, then the Ravens may end up as just another team that struggled to take down one of the most prolific champions in NFL history.