Rookie Lamar Jackson has the Baltimore Ravens in playoff position after guiding the club to three consecutive victories in his first three NFL starts.
Yet while Jackson continues to show he can be the franchise's quarterback of the future, he will get a firsthand glimpse of the new standard bearer at his position when the Ravens visit Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon.
The Chiefs (10-2) own the best record in the AFC and hold the inside track for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs thanks to second-year quarterback Mahomes, who has a chance to join some lofty company when he faces the resurgent Ravens.
Mahomes needs 77 passing yards Sunday to become the third first- or second-year quarterback to throw for at least 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in a season. The others to accomplish the feat were Pro Football Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Kurt Warner.
Kansas City is averaging a league-high 37 points and its only losses have been a pair of three-point defeats on the road against a pair of division leaders in the New England Patriots (43-40) and the Los Angeles Rams (54-51).
Baltimore (7-5), meanwhile, features the NFL's top-ranked defense, allowing league lows in points (17.7) and total yards (281.7). The Ravens are holding down the sixth and final seed in the AFC, but four teams are one game back so the players cannot afford to get caught up in the statistical matchup against the Chiefs.
"We're just trying to give our team the best chance to win and play great defense," Baltimore safety Eric Weddle said. "We just have to be fundamentally sound, play great technique, communicate, play our rules and don't get enamored with the formations, with the shifts, with the different plays that they may do. Just play our game, do what we do best, and let the chips fall where they be."
Enter Jackson. Although Joe Flacco continues to show progress from a hip injury that has sidelined him for the past three games, the Ravens are expected to stick with Jackson, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Louisville who provides an added dimension to the offense by rushing for 265 yards and two touchdowns in his three starts.
"He's as fast as a wide receiver, can run like a running back and can throw like a quarterback," Chiefs head coach Any Reid said. "You have to make sure you cover those areas. That's hard to replicate out at practice, but you do the best you can and go with it. He's unique."
The Ravens' running game has also thrived with Jackson starting, averaging 239 yards per game. Baltimore has dominated time of possession, which has kept opposing offenses off the field and its own defense fresh. That will be vital against Mahomes and Kansas City's quick-strike offense.
"It'd be very helpful if we could do that, obviously," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "They can score in a variety of ways very quickly, so time of possession would be very helpful for us."
Although Jackson earned his first road win last week in Atlanta, the combined record of the three teams (Cincinnati, Oakland and the Falcons) is 11-25. Trying to keep up with Mahomes and Kansas City at one of the league's most raucous venues presents a more daunting challenge.
"Those guys might have to read my lips sometimes," said Jackson of the expected difficulty of calling plays. "I heard Kansas City will be very loud. I'm going to have to do my job, probably try to speak up as much as I could to those guys. (It'll be a) team effort in the huddle."
Kansas City will be playing its second game since the stunning departure of star running back Kareem Hunt, who was released prior to last week's 40-33 win at Oakland after a video surfaced that showed him shoving and kicking a woman during an altercation in a hotel last February.
Mahomes threw for 295 yards and four touchdowns -- two to tight end Travis Kelce -- while running back Spencer Ware rushed for 47 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries in place of Hunt. Ware, who started for Kansas City in 2016, expects to be better with a full week of practice.
"Nothing's changed," said Ware. "Make big plays and score touchdowns. Win games. Win games. Second effort goes a long way. Just fight for one another."