The Ravens are heading to Cincinnati for a football game on Sunday.
And they’re going to try and win.
As they should.
There will be plenty of people this week who suggest that John Harbaugh should rest the bulk of his starting 22 for the upcoming season finale against the Bengals. Those folks will say “No way New England is losing to Miami” or “There’s no reason to risk a starter in a game that doesn’t matter” or “The number one goal is to be healthy for playoffs.”
Those are also the same folks who strolled into M&T Bank with a smirk on their face back on December 2 when Charlie Batch led the Steelers to town and said to anyone who would listen, “We’re not going to lose to Charlie Batch, obviously.”
Full disclosure: I was one of those people…but I didn’t have a smirk on my face as I walked into the stadium.
But I won’t be one of those goofs this week who recommends that the Ravens lay down in Cincinnati. John Harbaugh hasn’t had the greatest December of his coaching career, but he’s getting this one right. He must direct the Ravens to head to the Queen City fully intent on winning the game and, perhaps, securing the number three seed in the AFC.
To do anything else other than put your best AVAILABLE team on the field would make zero sense.
The word “available” above is in ALL CAPS for a reason. Harbaugh shouldn’t play anyone who wouldn’t normally play in the game. In other words, you simply put the 53 men out there who are healthy enough to play in an NFL game. If Anquan Boldin’s shoulder is sore and he can’t practice Thursday and Friday, you sit him out of the Cincy game. But if he practices and can play, he suits up and plays.
Saying “they should rest the guys who are banged up” is silly, because you’d be telling about 15 players not to play on Sunday. At this time of the season, nearly every starter or 35-snap a game back-up has an ailment that could use a couple of weeks of rest. But, as the saying goes, there’s no rest for the weary.
So, Harbaugh should treat this game just like he plans for an early October contest. The 53 players who can go, go.
Because as far as the Ravens go, the most important thing for them in the upcoming post-season can be summed up in two words. “Home Field”. I’ve paid attention to the Ravens this season and they’re nothing if not completely mysterious on the road. At home, they’re a threat to beat anyone. Away, they’re liable to stink it up worse than the Rolling Stones did at the 12/12/12 concert for Sandy relief.
They will either go into the post-season as the 3rd or 4th seed. That means the maximum amount of home games they can play in the playoffs would be two. They get a home game on either Jan. 5 or 6, then play on the road the following weekend if they win the opener in Baltimore. Somehow, if the wild card teams win their games (which, if you check over the last five years, happens enough to never say never), the Ravens could wind up hosting the AFC title game. Remember back in 2006 when the Colts beat the Ravens in Baltimore? Guess who hosted the AFC championship game the following week when New England – the four seed – eliminated San Diego? Right…the Colts. Guess who went to the Super Bowl and won a couple of weeks after that? Correct again, if you said “Colts”.
So — while the possibility still exists that your team could host the AFC title game, you go 100% in an effort to better your position on the chance you wind up getting the championship game in your building.
It’s that simple, really.
(Please see next page)