The Baltimore Ravens are in an interesting situation in Week 17. They grabbed home-field advantage through the NFL playoffs with a win last Sunday over the Cleveland Browns. The win extended their franchise-high winning streak to 11 games and improved their overall record to 13-2.
Baltimore will play their final game of the season Sunday against their biggest rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. But they have very little to play for. Aside from a pure wins perspective, their final game of the regular season means nothing. The Ravens hold the playoff seeding tie-breaker over the second-seeded New England Patriots and have secured a first-round bye the first week of the playoffs. New England is essentially a full two games back of Baltimore with just one game remaining.
However, this doesn’t mean Sunday’s game should be a write-off for Baltimore. The Ravens-Steelers rivalry is maybe the best in the current-day NFL and means a lot to both teams no matter the circumstance. With several players resting, the Ravens reserves will have a large task ahead of them. The Steelers are playing for far more than the Ravens. But the Baltimore players would likely love to end their playoff dreams rather than just sit back and wait for January.
How The Baltimore Ravens Should Approach Week 17
Sit The Irreplaceable Starters
With the division title and home-field throughout the playoffs secured, it was expected that several key starters would sit out the game. Most notably, the soon to be 2019 MVP, Lamar Jackson. Jackson has shown elite form in almost every game he’s played this season. And keeping a player who plays such a fast-paced game healthy for the future is only logical. Watching each Mark Ingram, Mark Andrews and Jimmy Smith all go down at various points against the Browns should only further the Ravens caution.
Along with Jackson, Adam Schefter reported several other players that will not see the field in Sunday’s matchup.
Ravens will not play Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, Earl Thomas, Marshal Yanda and Brandon Williams against the Steelers on Sunday. Time to get ready for Divisional Round.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 23, 2019
Of the players listed by Schefter, only one – Brandon Williams – was not selected to the Pro Bowl. Williams made his first Pro Bowl appearance last season. Expect several other players to only see limited time as well.
Ravens injury report for Thursday
DID NOT PRACTICE
TE Mark Andrews (ankle)
RB Mark Ingram (calf)
S Earl Thomas (knee/hand)
DT Brandon Williams (not injury related)
DT Chris Wormley (NIR)
CB Marcus Peters (chest)
CB Jimmy Smith (groin)
— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) December 26, 2019
Smith has not been ruled out of Sunday’s contest yet but considering the corner’s history of injuries, he should see limited action against the Steelers. He’s already missed six games in 2019 after an injury Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins kept him out until after the Ravens Week 8 bye. His briefly going down against the Browns last week should lead the Ravens staff to be cautious as well. Baltimore’s secondary has looked far stronger when both he and Marcus Peters have been in the lineup at the same time. Since the two came together for the first time Week 9, the Ravens have given up the least passing yards in the NFL.
Ronnie Stanley is another player who could rest for most of Sunday’s game. The left tackle has played at an elite level in 2019. His presence would be irreplaceable if he were to go down with an injury.
Give Young Players an Opportunity
Sitting the starters against the Steelers will undoubtedly hurt the Ravens chances of winning. But it gives a platform to several other players to step up. The roster Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta and his predecessor Ozzie Newsome have assembled over the past two off-seasons is very young and a lot of players should benefit from the added regular season playing time. A couple of examples of players set to see increased snap counts include third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson and fourth-round rookie Justice Hill. Each rookie has seen a decent amount of action up to this point in the season but could see far larger roles come Sunday.
Ferguson has played the higher percentage of snaps of the two and could see a new season-high if Matt Judon subs out early. He has played over 65 percent of snaps each game since Week 10 and registered seven quarterback hits and 1.5 sacks over the last three. Now the matchup with Pittsburgh, one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, could be a great primer for Ferguson.
Hill also seems likely to get a large increase in snaps. Though he hasn’t been heavily featured in the Ravens offense this season, he adds a very different dynamic than Ingram or Gus Edwards. He has blazing speed and had his best game of the year against the Browns a week prior. Hill both carried and caught the ball three times, resulting in 51 yards from scrimmage and a score. His 18-yard touchdown run 3:39 remaining in the fourth quarter essentially iced the game for the Ravens. With Ingram sitting out their season finale, Hill could easily top his season-high of nine touches.
The game against the Steelers is a do or die game for Pittsburgh and it is a huge advantage for the Ravens youth to be able to play in such a meaningful game.
A Rivalry Game is Still A Rivalry Game
When you think of the Ravens rivalry with the Steelers, it is impossible not to picture tight, hard-hitting, competitive football games.
The best example is the 2015 season. Pittsburgh ended the season 10-6 with a playoff victory over the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals. The Ravens – decimated by injuries – recorded their worst record of the John Harbaugh era at 5-11. However, you wouldn’t know if you just watched their head-to-head matchups. Baltimore took both games from Pittsburgh, both by narrow margins, using two different starting quarterbacks. Going into their second matchup, the Steelers (9-5) were also five games ahead of the Ravens (4-10) in the overall standings. Ryan Mallett, Javorius Allen, and Kamar Aiken led the undermanned Ravens in their final home game of the season. A 20-17 victory over their rivals. The trio has only started eight games since that season – all by Aiken – and only one after 2016.
Robert Griffin III will be starting for the Ravens at quarterback on Sunday. There is no question he would like to show the rest of the NFL that he can still play in big games. He’s seven years removed from his only playoff start.
A simple fact of the AFC North is that no team likes to lose. Ever. The Ravens have had their seasons ended by Steelers and Bengals in two of the last three seasons. Sending a little bit of payback at Pittsburgh can not be understated. Whether they are fighting for their own lives or not, beating a division rival is always important. Baltimore has seen too much recent heartbreak to let the Steelers roll over them on Sunday.
Preparing For the Playoffs
While the Ravens Week 17 game means nothing to their overall positioning, it will feel like a playoff game. The Ravens won’t play their first playoff game for another two weeks. But the Steelers are already in single-game elimination mode. Ravens-Steelers games are inherently smash-mouth and their Sunday matchup should be a great tune-up for Baltimore. Getting any sort of momentum going into the most important stretch of your season is a huge boost as well.
The Ravens have a chance to win a franchise-high 14th game this week against their biggest rival. This should be another classic AFC North clash.
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