The Ravens blew out the Dolphins 56-19 in Week 17 to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC for the 2023-24 NFL playoffs.
Now, Baltimore will have a key decision to make. Will they rest their starters Saturday or have them play in a game that won’t be consequential to their playoff chances?
Calling the Ravens’ final game of the season “meaningless” would be a bit of a misnomer. They are taking on their arch-rival, the Steelers, and winning could prevent Pittsburgh from getting into the postseason.
In that sense, Baltimore does have something for which to play. The only question is whether it’s worth risking the long-term health of one of the team’s stars knowing it already clinched the division and home-field advantage during the playoffs.
So, are the Ravens sitting their starters in Week 18? Here’s what to know about John Harbaugh’s key decision with Lamar Jackson and more entering the season’s final week.
Will the Ravens sit their starters?
John Harbaugh told reporters Monday that he hasn’t yet decided whether to play his starters in Week 18 or rest them.
“We’ve got to work through the injury part of it first and that’ll take us probably 24-48 hours to get a real handle on that,” Harbaugh explained. “Then we’ll make those decisions.”
Harbaugh said injuries weren’t the only factor informing his decision. The team is also weighing the importance of trying to win a rivalry game at home against the Steelers while also looking ahead to the postseason.
“We have kind of a two-fold thought process right now,” Harbaugh said. “We have our priority, which is the Steelers game and putting our best foot forward, playing our best game against our biggest rival, who we expect to be playing great football.
“We expect it to be a very hard-fought game. So we’ve gotta get our minds right for that, as we will. Then just playing for the next step in the playoffs.”
The good news for Ravens fans that want to know who is playing is that Harbaugh isn’t planning to play this one close to the vest.
“We’re not gonna keep it a secret,” Harbaugh said of his decision on the starters. “We’ll let you know what we’re gonna do once we start practicing.”
So, it seems that the Steelers and the public alike will have an idea of whether Pittsburgh will be squaring off with Baltimore’s backups or whether Jackson and Co. will get a chance to play in Week 18.
Is Lamar Jackson playing Week 18?
Harbaugh hasn’t announced a decision on Jackson’s status yet, but it’s hard to imagine that he would play much — if at all — in Week 18.
When the Ravens clinched the AFC’s No. 1 seed at the end of the 2019 NFL season, Jackson sat out Week 17 — then the final week of the season — to preserve his health for the postseason. The Ravens seem likely to follow that approach in 2023, especially considering that Jackson has been injury-prone in recent seasons.
Jackson has largely avoided the injury report in 2023, but he missed five contests each in 2021 and 2022. Thus, keeping him in the proverbial bubble wrap would likely be the prudent move for Baltimore, even if it means risking a slightly rusty Jackson in the divisional round.
If Jackson doesn’t start, backup quarterback Tyler Huntley would likely get a chance to operate in that role. He has a career record of 3-5 in eight starts and has completed 65.6 percent of his career passes for 1,811 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Josh Johnson and Malik Cunningham are the other quarterback options currently on Baltimore’s 53-man roster.
Source : ESPN.com