BALTIMORE (AP) — In the middle of October, the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens were both 1-5 and seemingly doomed to a losing season.
The Chiefs have since peeled off seven straight victories, rallying behind a stout defense and the unerring play of quarterback Alex Smith to move into playoff contention.
It's an accomplishment the Ravens can truly envy, because they never recovered from their dismal start.
"They're finding ways to win," Baltimore linebacker C.J. Mosley said, "and we didn't."
With a victory over the skidding Ravens (4-9) today, Kansas City (8-5) will become the first team in NFL history to follow a five-game losing streak with eight successive wins in the same season.
"I think (we're) finally finishing some games, playing four quarters, putting in complete games," Smith said. "That's really kind of been our deal these last seven weeks."
With Smith leading the way, the Chiefs have been averaging 29.1 points per game during their win streak. Smith threw 312 consecutive passes without being intercepted until last week, one reason why Kansas City owns a plus-12 turnover differential — second-best in the NFL.
"That's what really propelled their season to 7-0, or seven straight like that," Baltimore cornerback Jimmy Smith said.
The Ravens in contrast, own a dismal minus-12 turnover differential. Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub and Jimmy Clausen have combined for 17 interceptions, and the Baltimore defense has picked off only four passes in 13 games.
Kansas City found a way to overcome a season-ending injury to star running back Jamaal Charles. The Ravens couldn't compensate for the loss of Flacco (knee), wide receiver Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) and running back Justin Forsett (broken arm).
"We've stayed — knock on wood — relatively healthy," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.
Some things to know about the Chiefs-Ravens matchup:
WEST AND WARE EXCEL: After Charles tore an ACL on Oct. 11, the tandem of Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware took over. West has run for 462 yards, caught 16 passes for 208 yards and scored four touchdowns. Ware has 312 yards rushing and five TDs.
"There's only one Jamaal and we know that," Reid said. "But the actual schemes really haven't changed much at all."
Jimmy Smith said: "Jamaal Charles was a huge difference-maker for their offense, but the guys they've put in, they're pretty good."
QB QUANDRY: Ravens coach John Harbaugh might wait until Sunday to announce his starting quarterback.
Schaub was inactive last week with a chest injury and was a limited participant in practice this week. He will start if able, but Clausen has been working with the starters for two weeks running.
"We'll see how it goes," Harbaugh said.
Clausen threw for a career-high 274 yards last week against Seattle but could not produce a touchdown in a 35-6 defeat.
REID AND REID: Before taking over as Baltimore's head coach in 2008, Harbaugh worked under Reid in Philadelphia, coaching special teams and the secondary.
Though this will be Harbaugh's first losing season as a head coach, Reid is well aware that the Ravens reached the playoffs in six of the last seven years.
"I think he has done a phenomenal job," Reid said of Harbaugh.
While Reid and Harbaugh have special ties, the game also marks the return of Jah Reid, who now starts at right tackle for Kansas City after a four-year run with the Ravens.
"Jah has been a good pickup for us," Andy Reid said. "We were able to get a guy that was well-coached and wanted an opportunity."
PLAY FOR PRIDE: With the playoffs out of reach and a losing season assured, the Ravens know the coaching staff is already thinking about next year.
"They're going to look to see who's going to try to quit at this point, and you don't ever want to be that guy," Jimmy Smith said. "These games are important for the simple fact that we want to win. We have pride, and nobody wants to go out this way."
MACLIN ON A ROLL: Over the past three games, Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin has 24 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns. His five scores overall are tied with Ware for most on the team.
Facing a revamped Baltimore secondary, there's a good chance he can get the 65 yards receiving necessary to reach 1,000 for the season.