Baltimore Ravens @ Kansas City Chiefs: Is Reid's KC express running out of steam?
The Chiefs had to swallow the loss to the Rams in an epic Monday night clash before making heavy going of the Raiders off their bye. Has Andy Reid's team peaked too soon? Mark Kirwan considers their prospects...
"They were even better in Reid's first season, opening with nine straight wins before collapsing to 11-5, finishing in a Wild Card spot rather than winning the AFC West, and crashing out of the playoffs in an all-time choke by allowing 35 second half points to the Colts as Indy won 45-44 in a comeback for the ages."
Baltimore Ravens @ Kansas City Chiefs
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Though the Chiefs have set the league alight with their blistering strike rate this season, we've seen them put together similar strong runs before under coach Andy Reid only to fall apart when it matters.
Last season they opened the season 5-0, delivering a thrashing to Patriots on opening night and looking like a team any AFC title hopeful would have to go through on their way to the Super Bowl.
They'd close the season 5-6, lose in the Wild Card round at home to an anaemic Titans offence still coached by Mike Mularkey (for God's sake), and would wave goodbye to their QB Alex Smith despite a career year, replacing him with tearaway thrower Pat Mahomes.
They were even better in Reid's first season, opening with nine straight wins before collapsing to 11-5, finishing in a Wild Card spot rather than winning the AFC West, and crashing out of the playoffs in an all-time choke by allowing 35 second half points to the Colts as Indy won 45-44 in a comeback for the ages.
You're hoping this isn't another one of those seasons, as they've been so exciting so far this season to watch. It's tough see a coach so dedicated to the game flop with clockwork predictability when it comes to the crunch.
In almost two decades as a head coach, he's made it to the big show just once, with Philadelphia when they lost to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in 2004, but four NFC title game defeats with that Eagles team show why so many doubt his teams in decisive moments.
There aren't many who'd begrudge him a title at this stage, but clouds are gathering.
Kareem Hunt's dismissal from the team following the release of footage showing him assaulting a woman is a massive loss. It's hard to say how it'll have affected the mood around KC, but the effect on the field was clear for anyone to see, as Spencer Ware struggled to fill the released running back's boots.
While they've made their reputation with huge passing production, defences need to respect your run game to allow those plays to happen. If they don't, they can at least attempt to cover Kelce, Hill, Watkins, Conley, et al more effectively.
Defence was supposed to be the Achilles heel of this team, and still could cost them in the playoffs, but it hasn't anchored their chances like many (me anyway) thought it would.
At least not yet.
Ravens running out of time
Their opponents this week whould be an intriguing test of this unit. They're interesting in their own right because of rookie QB Lamar Jackson's starting role.
He's posted historic numbers for rushing as a quarterback in the weeks he's filled in for Joe Flacco. They weren't gathered against especially good teams, but he could only beat the teams put in front of him, and he has, going 3-0 as a starter.
Those results have rescued the Ravens season from outright failure. They've still more than a shot at the postseason, and thanks to Pittsburgh stuttering, could even win the AFC North if things fall right. They may even save coach John Harbaugh's job when he looked to be a dead man walking weeks ago.
Though whether there's much chance of them repeating the trick against a team that can light up scoreboards by just walking onto a field is the big question.
The reason Jackson's running so much is because he can't throw well enough for the NFL yet. Baltimore don't have receivers who'll help him all that much either.
Jackson's best days are ahead of him though - provided he doesn't take too many hits. Expecting him to perform miracles at this stage of his career isn't fair, but his running gives them an unusual, unique threat in a league racing (or should that be passing?) in the opposite direction.
You get that rotten feeling with Chiefs again that their destined to fall short.
The Raiders are division rivals, so they played them close last week, but I'm not sure that's good enough an excuse for as laboured a performance, especially coming off a bye the week to prepare.
Prior to their break, the Rams game looked like one KC would take away at the death, but those final two drives after a night of non-stop marches to endzone felt so anti-climactic - a word, if ever there was one, for Reid's teams.
Add in the fact the Chiefs have another, tougher division matchup on Thursday against the very dangerous Chargers, and this looks a very awkward game for Reid's team.
I think the Ravens are worth taking +6.5 on the Exchange in this spot. The Chiefs D gives up the second most yards per rush in the league, and the Ravens are all about running. Take Baltimore on the handicap at [2.00].
Logically, if Baltimore are going to run, that'll speed up the game. The total line has come down a little, but, at 51.5, I'd still look at the under on the points market. Even if the Chiefs blow them away, there's not much the Ravens can do in the passing game, so either way, the under looks good.
1pt on Baltimore Ravens on the Handicap market @ [2.00] on the Exchange
1pt on Under 51.5 on the Handicap market @ [1.94] on the Exchange