BALTIMORE -- When the Baltimore Ravens play host to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football, it will mark a showdown of the two hottest teams in football, a matchup of the last two NFL MVPs and a battle for the inside track for home-field advantage in the AFC.
And, if you ask long-time sports personalities in Baltimore, it rises above any other home game in the Ravens’ 25-year history in this city.
"This is the game where people all around the country will either have Patrick Mahomes' or Lamar Jackson's jersey on when they’re watching,” said Gerry Sandusky, the Ravens’ play-by-play announcer on radio who has been a sports broadcaster in Baltimore for 32 years. "I think that makes this the biggest game we’ve ever seen the Ravens play at home in the regular season.”
The Ravens have taken the field for 193 games in Baltimore, and none have matched the national hype and attention as the one being played Monday night. This was considered the NFL’s game of the year when the schedules came out three months ago, and both teams are exactly what everyone thought of them through two weeks.
Here is the tale of the tape in this NFL heavyweight bout:
This marks the first matchup in NFL history between former NFL MVPs who are 25 or younger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Their average age (24.4) is four years younger than any other MVP QB matchup in NFL history.
This features the unique battle between the two teams who hold the longest active win streaks in the league. The Ravens have won 14 straight regular-season games, and the Chiefs have won eight consecutive games, including the playoffs. The last two teams to meet on eight-plus-game win streaks was in 1969, when the Rams (winners of 11 straight) played host to the Vikings (10 straight), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
For just the fifth time in NFL history, there’s a quarterback matchup that showcases the reigning NFL MVP and the Super Bowl MVP. It's the third time this has occurred on Monday Night Football.
"Let’s say this was a midseason game and they were both 7-5, football fans would want to see it for the quarterbacks, if nothing else,” said Scott Garceau, the Ravens’ original play-by-play radio announcer who has been in Baltimore for 40 years and is a Hall of Fame voter. "You take the best two teams on paper in the AFC, and likely the two best teams in the NFL, you’ve got a special game. I don’t think it’s overhyping by saying it’s the biggest home game in Ravens history."
Other Ravens’ home games have been heightened due to history. The Ravens’ inaugural game at Memorial Stadium in 1996 was long-awaited because it announced Baltimore’s return to the NFL after a 12-year absence. The Ravens’ 1998 game against Indianapolis was memorable because it was the Colts’ first game in Baltimore since their bitter relocation. Still, few outside of Maryland carried a vested interest in these games.
There have been games in Baltimore where playoff implications raised the stakes. In 2008, the Ravens needed to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in order to have a shot at winning the AFC North. In 2017, Baltimore had the opportunity to clinch a playoff berth by beating the Cincinnati Bengals. A year later, the Ravens faced a scenario where they had to defeat the Cleveland Browns to capture the AFC North.
"You could make a case that [2018 game against the Browns] was the biggest game because of the stakes. But there wasn’t nearly the national interest in that game as it is in this game,” Sandusky said. "That game only had one potential playoff team. This one has two potential Super Bowl teams. Everybody has the belief right now that the winner of this game has the upper hand in home-field advantage.”
The Ravens and Chiefs are the favorites to win the Super Bowl with 4-to-1 odds, according to Caesars SportsBook. The path to the Lombardi Trophy will get easier for whomever wins this game, especially with only the top seed getting a first-round bye in the playoffs.
If Baltimore wins, its chances to get the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the postseason increases to 73% and Kansas City’s chances drop to 9%, according to ESPN Analytics.
If the Chiefs win, their chances go up to 43% and the Ravens’ chances fall to 35%.
For a September game, it doesn't get much bigger.
“I don’t think you can ignore it," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of his approach this week. "The guys understand that. You can’t sit there and pretend. Every game is important. But who wouldn’t get excited for a game like this? It’s not something that we downplay. We don’t ignore it. We try to embrace it and make the most of it, really.”
This represents one of the biggest regular-season games in recent NFL history. There’s only one game in the past six years that had a higher pregame matchup quality from ESPN Analytics, and that was Chiefs-Patriots in 2019.
That’s why this is also the most disappointing game in Ravens history. The franchise has hosted just two home Monday Night Football games since Harbaugh became coach in 2008, the fewest of any team over that span.
Now, the Ravens host the defending Super Bowl champions and fans won’t be allowed to attend because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The irony of it is pretty unbelievable in terms of how few Monday night home games we’ve had in the past 13 years. We get one against the Chiefs, and it’s kind of a big game, and fans are not going to be there," Harbaugh said. "I don’t even know what to say about that. 2020, man -- it’s that kind of a crazy year, I guess. But we’ll be excited to play still. And all that being said, it’ll still be a great environment. It’ll still be a lot of fun. We’ll be ready. They’ll be ready. It’ll be a great night for football.”
Some would say the greatest night for football in the Ravens’ existence in Baltimore.