BALTIMORE — The Ravens just need to win.
Dreams of a first-round bye evaporated with New England and Houston handling their business in Week 17, but Baltimore clinches its first AFC North championship since 2012 and first playoff appearance since 2014 with a victory over Cleveland on Sunday. Of course, a loss coupled with a Pittsburgh win over Cincinnati would knock the Ravens out of the playoffs for a fourth straight season and the fifth time in six years. With the Patriots and Texans winning, the AFC North champion would remain the fourth seed in the conference.
Despite the Ravens issuing a statement last week announcing John Harbaugh would return in 2019 as the sides are working on a contract extension, speculation persists about the 11th-year head coach’s future. Multiple national outlets reported Sunday that NFL teams could seek a trade for Harbaugh’s services, especially if the Ravens were to lose in Week 17. Harbaugh remains under contract through the 2019 season.
There were no surprises among Baltimore’s inactives as linebacker Terrell Suggs (hamstring), wide receiver John Brown (hamstring), defensive back Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), and slot cornerback Tavon Young (groin) are all active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. However, guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) is once again inactive despite practicing fully all week, making it apparent that he’s lost the starting left guard job to the combination of veteran James Hurst and rookie Bradley Bozeman.
Veteran running back Buck Allen was a healthy scratch for a second straight week while outside linebacker Tim Williams was deactivated for the eighth straight game, continuing his disappointing second season.
The Browns had already ruled out cornerback Denzel Ward on Friday as the rookie sensation continues to recover from a concussion. Cleveland starting center JC Tretter is active despite being listed as questionable with an ankle injury.
Sunday will mark the final regular-season game of Ozzie Newsome’s terrific 23-year run as Ravens general manager, making his photo a natural choice for the Week 17 game-day program cover (below). Longtime assistant general manager Eric DeCosta will take over at the end of the season with Newsome expected to remain with the organization in some capacity.
— Luke Jones (@BaltimoreLuke) December 30, 2018
Sunday’s referee is Shawn Smith.
According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-40s with winds light and variable and no chance of precipitation.
The Ravens are wearing their black jerseys with purple pants, the first time they’ve ever worn that uniform combination. Cleveland dons white tops with brown pants for its season finale.
Sunday marks the 40th all-time meeting between these AFC North teams with the Ravens enjoying an overwhelming 29-10 advantage. Baltimore is 18-3 against Cleveland in the Harbaugh era, but the Browns are seeking their first season sweep of the Ravens since 2007, the last time they finished with a winning record.
The Ravens are trying to avoid a fourth consecutive Week 17 loss. Their last victory in a regular-season finale came in 2014 when they defeated the Browns to punch their ticket to the playoffs as a wild card.
Below are Sunday’s inactives:
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
RB Buck Allen
FB/DL Patrick Ricard
LB Tim Williams
G Alex Lewis
DL Zach Sieler
CB Denzel Ward
QB Drew Stanton
WR Blake Jackson
OL Kyle Kalis
OL Desmond Harrison
DL Chad Thomas
DL Carl Davis