Rather than going all out for the lingering chance of securing a home game in the wild-card round, the Ravens chose to rest several key starters in Cincinnati on Sunday.
Baltimore entered Week 18 needing a win over the Bengals, a Los Angeles Chargers win at Denver, and a successful coin flip to be able to host a playoff game against AFC North champion Cincinnati next weekend. But instead of going all in for an outcome that had maybe — at best — a 15% chance of occurring and risking injury to some notable players, head coach John Harbaugh was keeping an eye on the big picture, especially with the strong probability of playing the Bengals again next week.
“We’re going to play this thing for short-term and long-term considerations,” Harbaugh said Friday. “We’re thinking about the short-term — whatever they end up being and did end up being today. Then, long-term considerations being the most important thing is being as prepared as we can for the playoffs.
“You really can’t sit too many guys out. This is not the preseason. You don’t have an unlimited number of guys. It’s not as big a deal as I think it’s sometimes made out to be, but our plan is to go up there and win the football game and do the best we can to win the football game.”
While Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, running back J.K. Dobbins, and right guard Kevin Zeitler were healthy scratches, Baltimore deactivated quarterback Tyler Huntley, who didn’t throw in practices all week because of right shoulder tendinitis. With starter Lamar Jackson (left knee) missing a fifth straight game and uncertain to be ready for the start of the playoffs, the Ravens started third-string rookie Anthony Brown in order to rest Huntley’s right shoulder if he needs to be the starter for the wild-card round.
Brown, undrafted out of Oregon, was making his first NFL start, but he finished Baltimore’s Week 14 win at Pittsburgh after Huntley exited with a concussion in the third quarter. Veteran quarterback Brett Hundley was elevated from the practice squad on Saturday to back up the rookie.
Cornerback Marcus Peters (calf) was also inactive for a third straight game, but he was able to practice on a limited basis all week, a sign that he should be ready for the start of the playoffs. Second-year cornerback Brandon Stephens was also deactivated after coming down with an illness late in the week.
A number of other key starters seemed likely to rest or to play sparingly in Sunday’s game.
On Saturday, the Ravens waived tight end Nick Boyle and wide receiver DeSean Jackson and activated cornerback Daryl Worley and wide receiver Tylan Wallace from injured reserve. It’s unclear whether Baltimore has any plans to bring back Jackson — who missed the entire practice week due to an illness — or Boyle for the postseason. Regarded as one of the NFL’s best blocking tight ends prior to his devastating knee injury in 2020, the 29-year-old Boyle has played very little this season and appeared likely to be released in the offseason.
The Bengals were set to begin Sunday’s game with all healthy starters. Defensive end Sam Hubbard was active after being sidelined with a calf injury since Week 15.
Below were the Week 18 inactives:
QB Tyler Huntley
RB J.K. Dobbins
TE Mark Andrews
CB Marcus Peters
G Kevin Zeitler
CB Brandon Stephens
DT Rayshad Nichols
QB Lamar Jackson
QB Jake Browning
HB Chris Evans
CB Jalen Davis
OT D’Ante Smith
TE Devin Asiasi
DE Jeff Gunter