Your Monday Reality Check: Ravens should absolutely play to win in Cincinnati

December 24, 2012 | Glenn Clark

Your Monday Reality Check: Ravens should absolutely play to win in Cincinnati

I’m amazed by how many people I had to explain it to Sunday night. I honestly had to give up after a little while.

The stupidity of the statement “I’d rather the Baltimore Ravens be the four seed because the path looks easier to me” is unbelievable.

I was impressed by a number of things I saw from the Baltimore Ravens Sunday (weren’t we all?), but one that probably went unnoticed by many was how head coach John Harbaugh addressed the question of how the team would handle next week’s game.

“The thing we’re going to do for sure is we’re going to try to win the game” Harbaugh explained. “We’re also going to try to make sure we’re as healthy as we can be going into the playoffs so I think we’ll merge those two considerations.”

Bingo. The Baltimore Ravens absolutely MUST try to win their Week 17 date with the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

By virtue of their 33-14 win over the New York Giants Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens clinched the AFC North title and a home playoff game. They are guaranteed to play on Wild Card weekend of the NFL Playoffs, but they are not yet locked into the four seed. The Ravens could still clinch the three seed in the AFC Playoffs with a win over the Bengals and a New England Patriots loss to the Miami Dolphins.

The difference in the third seed and fourth seed isn’t necessarily significant, but it has the potential to be. Getting the third seed could be the difference in whether the Ravens are able to host the AFC Championship Game.

It seems like an unlikely scenario, but it’s not impossible. Should the Ravens and Patriots end up as the third and fourth seeds but each win their first two playoff games, they would meet in the AFC title game. If the Pats are the three seed and the Ravens the four, the Pats would host the game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. I vaguely remember such a game happening there before.

But if the Ravens were to finish as the three seed and the Patriots the fourth seed, the game would then be played in the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium, the place where the Baltimore Ravens have won 15 of their last 17 games (including playoffs).

Which scenario would you prefer?

I got this question Sunday night. “This seems so unlikely. When was the last time something like this even happened?”

The person who asked was right. It IS an unlikely scenario. But if the Ravens are to return to the AFC Championship Game at all, they will HAVE to knock off one of the top two seeds. The Pats would then only need to win a game either in Houston or Denver, neither of which seems like an impossible scenario.

And if you’ll allow your memory to serve you right, you’ll be reminded that the Ravens were a second half collapse away from having this scenario play out in January 2011. The New York Jets stunned the Patriots in Foxborough, so had the Ravens avoided blowing a fourteen point halftime lead to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, they would have hosted the AFC Championship Game as a five seed.

Some people argued to me “Glenn, I think the road is easier as a four seed because I’d rather play Indianapolis and Houston than Cincinnati and Denver.”

I have absolutely no idea why there is a sudden fear of the Cincinnati Bengals amongst Ravens fans. The difference between the Bengals and Colts is minimal at best. Bengals QB Andy Dalton has thrown for three touchdowns and five interceptions over the course of the last three weeks, is 0-3 in his career against the Ravens and thus far in his NFL career has not defeated a team that has clinched a postseason berth (although that could change next week if the Washington Redskins or New York Giants get in).

The Houston argument is more compelling. Despite the fact that the Ravens suffered a 43-13 shellacking earlier this season in Houston, it’s easy to understand why fans would believe that task more likely to be accomplished than a Ravens win in Denver. What’s forgotten in this scenario is that the Texans have not yet clinched the top seed in the AFC. They will need to do something they’ve never done in franchise history-win in Indianapolis-next Sunday in order to nail down the top spot, and RB Arian Foster’s availability could be an issue after he left Sunday’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings with an irregular heartbeat.

Should the Texans lose (as well as the Patriots) and the Broncos win, the Broncos would be the one seed and the Texans would be the two seed. Which scenario is better for the Ravens at that point?

The NFL did the Ravens no favors in scheduling, as their tilt with the Bengals will kick off at 1pm Sunday, while the Patriots won’t kick off until some three hours later. The Ravens will not have the benefit of knowing what the Patriots are doing to decide if there’s a point where they want to pull their starters.

Instead, they’ll simply have to channel former NFL coach Herm Edwards and “play to win the game.”

That doesn’t mean they should go crazy.

The Ravens are smart enough to know that the Patriots are unlikely to lose to the Dolphins and will most likely open the postseason by hosting the Colts in a playoff game for the second time in franchise history. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try.

As Harbaugh said, merging the two considerations is very plausible.

It would make total sense for the Ravens to consider giving oft-injured DT Haloti Ngata another week off (he rested for the team’s blowout win over the Oakland Raiders in November) and even LB Terrell Suggs (who has played the last two weeks after suffering a torn biceps tendon) the day off. Harbaugh also confirmed LB Ray Lewis wouldn’t be a consideration to return from Injured Reserve until the postseason. It wouldn’t be stunning to see S Bernard Pollard miss a third straight game either, and if WR Anquan Boldin’s shoulder is of significant concern it would be understandable to see him miss the finale as well.

But there is absolutely no reason for the Ravens to spend Sunday’s game with Tyrod Taylor handing the ball off to Anthony Allen all afternoon while Joe Flacco and Ray Rice watch in sweats. It’s one thing to be prudent. It’s quite another to just plain give up.

With something to play for still, there’s no reason the Ravens should do the latter. Judging by John Harbaugh’s comments, I’ll assume they won’t.

-G

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7 Comments For This Post

  1. PghSteve Says:

    I agree, you play to win. Chuck Noll always coached that way and was often criticized for it, but 4 Super Bowl wins quieted most of that. Take your foot off the gas and coast into the playoffs and you might find yourself coasting right out of the playoffs the next week.

    Congrats to the Ravens for a second consecutive AFC North title. Encouraging that they won it in a convincing victory rather than backed in.

    (Edit from Glenn: Agreed. The idea you can just “turn it on” doesn’t hold water with me.)

  2. Rubengy Says:

    I wonder how hard the Bengals are going to try since they’re locked into the sixth seed and technically have nothing to play for.

  3. Eric Says:

    Having healthy and rested players going into the playoffs are far more important than going all out and also hoping that the Dolphins lose in New England, which we all know absolutely will not happen

  4. Eric Says:

    Having healthy and rested players going into the playoffs are far more important then going all out and also hoping that the Dolphins lose in New England, which we all know absolutely will not happen

    (Edit from Glenn: You know that? Holy cow. What are the Powerball numbers?)

  5. PghSteve Says:

    It would be interesting if the Ravens moved up to the 3rd seed, as this would mean 2 consecutive games against Cincy, though the second one would be in Baltimore.

  6. PghSteve Says:

    Eric’s comment about New England absolutely beating Miami is interesting. I remember a few weeks ago when everyone was absolutely certain that the Steelers, with Charlie Batch at QB, could not beat the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. This is the NFL, where the only sure thing is that a good defensive hit will be flagged as a hit on a defenseless receiver…

    (Edit from Glenn: It’s a Christmas miracle. I’m in utter agreement with a Steelers fan.)

  7. Brian Says:

    I disagree completely with the mindset of trying to win this game. To treat this as a bye week would be the way to go. With all the injuries suffered up to this point, why would you risk more injuries based upon the most unlikely of scenarios playing out with the Ravens hosting the AFC Title game ?

    There will be no other time to rest anyone, do it now and practice, practice, practice.

    (Edit from Glenn: And then when the scenario plays out, you end up kicking yourself because you had the chance!)

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