OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s been a quiet bye week for the Ravens, which is exactly what you want ahead of wild-card weekend.
Several players haven’t practiced and remain on the mend from recent injuries, a group including rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers, three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and outside linebacker Odafe Oweh. Next week’s practice participation will give us a much better idea of who could be in danger of not playing in the second round.
Star quarterback Lamar Jackson admits he’s “antsy” waiting to learn the opponent for next weekend’s divisional round, but Baltimore has otherwise gone through a fairly typical practice week that will conclude with a workout at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday. Veteran newcomer and four-time Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook said joining the best team in football is “a new breath of air,” a sentiment that probably has as much to do with escaping the mess that was the 2023 New York Jets as anything else. But the locker room has appeared loose and relaxed during media availability times.
Yes, this week is the calm before the storm knowing the season will be on the line every time the Ravens take the field from here on out. It also reiterates the urgency Baltimore is feeling to seize this moment as the AFC’s No. 1 seed with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
One can look no further than multiple teams being interested in defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, offensive coordinator Todd Monken, and assistant head coach and defensive line coach Anthony Weaver for their head coaching openings. There’s also interest in other Ravens assistants as teams will be filling coordinator positions and aiming to pluck talented minds from one of the NFL’s best coaching staffs. Interest and interviews don’t guarantee departures, of course, but there’s a high degree of demand, especially for the 36-year-old Macdonald with at least five teams requesting interviews.
“The organization and the team have helped put us in these types of situations,” said Macdonald, who praised the support provided by head coach John Harbaugh with the process. “All these coaches, you understand what type of talented people that we have. I’m excited for the coaches that have opportunities that definitely deserve it — phenomenal human beings, great leaders, great coaches — so you’re rooting for them throughout the process.
“I think that we also all understand that there’s a mission here involved as well. We’re all laser-sharp focused on the goal at hand, and we all know that’s it obviously starts with next weekend.”
Some changes are inevitable, and that’s before even browsing Baltimore’s list of pending free agents this offseason. There’s a reason we quip that the NFL really stands for “not for long.”
To be clear, the Ravens’ Super Bowl window isn’t closing with a healthy Jackson at the top of his game. But it’s also difficult not to look at the rest of the AFC without acknowledging this could be Baltimore’s best chance on paper, especially as Jackson’s $260 million contract becomes a bigger factor with the salary cap.
The Kansas City Chiefs are still the defending Super Bowl champions and are being overlooked by too many, but they haven’t appeared this mortal since a rookie Patrick Mahomes was backing up Alex Smith six years ago.
Buffalo remains as talented as any team in the field, but the Bills had to win their last five games just to get to this point.
Miami has been decimated by injuries and didn’t look ready for the bright lights in the regular season, let alone the playoffs.
Though rookie C.J. Stroud and Houston will have their opportunity, the Texans are probably a year away from becoming a major problem for the rest of the AFC.
The Ravens can’t possibly let a 39-year-old Joe Flacco and Cleveland come into Baltimore to beat them, right? Or Pittsburgh without all-world edge rusher T.J. Watt?
Cincinnati is sitting at home after getting a taste of what the Ravens endured losing their star quarterback the previous two years, but Joe Burrow will be back next season.
No, the circumstances couldn’t be better for Jackson and the Ravens to finish their story.
But nothing is guaranteed, which brings us back to that painful lesson from four years ago. As was the case in 2019, the Ravens were the best team in the NFL this season, but that affords no mulligans from the time they kick off next Saturday or Sunday.
A bad day in the regular season is a temporary setback. It’s fatal in January.
“I can’t blame people for talking about ,” Pro Bowl safety Kyle Hamilton said. “Obviously, I wasn’t here. I don’t know too much of what happened, but we were first in the AFC and lost. That’s all people have to go off of right now besides the Ray Lewis, Ed Reed days.
“We have to prove ourselves in the moment that we’re capable of going to win a championship.”
If not now, it isn’t going to get any easier moving forward.