With the Ravens aiming to improve their playoff positioning and finish the regular season on a high note in Cincinnati on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. The possibility of a home playoff game adds spice, but John Harbaugh labeled this “a two-game operation” with the likelihood of facing Cincinnati next week. The injury risk involved in going all out for a series of events that has — at best — maybe a 15% chance of occurring remains shaky.
2. Of course, downplaying the odds of a home playoff game to players and the organization’s business side is easier said than done. I’d anticipate Baltimore playing everyone who’s healthy, but Harbaugh needs to be ready to pull his best players sooner than later if the game isn’t going well.
3. For all the coin flip talk, the playoff-bound Chargers have a history of coming up small and could easily lose at Denver anyway. The Ravens were 5-3 at home this season — with only one multi-score win — and own a 3-4 all-time record in playoff games at M&T Bank Stadium.
4. Joe Burrow is quite a step up in competition after the defense faced mostly below-average, rusty, or rookie quarterbacks over the last two months with the exception of Trevor Lawrence. Regardless of the outcome, the Ravens getting some semblance of playoff legs under them should be beneficial.
5. Speaking of star quarterbacks, Lamar Jackson will miss his fifth straight game as Harbaugh attempted to calm the growing conjecture, speculation, and frustration on Friday. While lacking specifics, a statement of that nature probably would have been more helpful two or three weeks ago.
6. While the Ravens are “hopeful” Jackson will return next week, might it be wise to rest Tyler Huntley and his tender right shoulder on Sunday if he’s the most likely starting quarterback for the wild-card round? Taking a longer look at Anthony Brown wouldn’t be the worst byproduct.
7. Remember Cincinnati’s early-season problems against two-high defenses and how effectively the Ravens deployed that strategy in Week 5? With the way the Bengals have left those struggles in the dust, it’ll be interesting to see how Mike Macdonald approaches this one with a possible rematch looming next week.
8. The Bengals defense will see a better version of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards this time around, but the Ravens didn’t face standout defensive tackle D.J. Reader in the first meeting. The 335-pound Reader poses a massive challenge against the run.
9. I’d bet on Edwards touching the ball very early in Sunday’s game after Harbaugh and Greg Roman both acknowledged he should have played more against Pittsburgh last Sunday. That admission is fine, but why didn’t it happen then? They’re the ones in charge of the operation.
10. Cincinnati’s right tackle will be a spot to watch after veteran starter La’el Collins was lost for the season in Week 16. Hakeem Adeniji has taken over after starting elsewhere in the past, but that’s a position the Ravens should try to exploit.
11. DeSean Jackson missed the entire practice week with an illness as Harbaugh admitted his status is in real question. Since his 62-yard reception in the Week 12 loss at Jacksonville, the 36-year-old has six catches for 63 yards on 12 targets.
12. Friday marked 10 years since Ray Lewis played his final home game to kick off the magical run to Super Bowl XLVII. While this season hasn’t been moving in an encouraging direction for a while, don’t take a 14th trip to the postseason in the last 23 years for granted.
Prediction: Even with a healthy Jackson, I don’t know if the Ravens have enough offensive firepower to go on the road and beat a top-shelf team that hasn’t lost since Halloween. Without him, Baltimore has a microscopic margin for error with a defense that still wilts too much in crunch time and an offense that can’t throw the football or score enough touchdowns in the red zone. I expect the Bengals to grab an early lead on Sunday before both teams eventually downshift and cruise to the finish with an eye toward keeping their key players healthy for the playoffs. The Ravens lose 24-13 to finish 10-7 in the regular season.