(CBS Baltimore) — The Baltimore Ravens, at 13-2, have clinched the AFC North and the top seed in the AFC playoffs. The team has earned themselves a first-round bye and home-field advantage though the championship. And they’ve done it with one game remaining on the schedule.
The Ravens will play the next closest team in the division, the Pittsburgh Steelers, at 8-7, in Week 17. While the NFL schedulers probably envisioned a showdown between division rivals for the title, it hasn’t turned out that way. The game won’t affect the Ravens’ status at all and, depending on how the Tennessee Titans do against the Houston Texans, it may not ultimately matter for the Steelers either.
Pittsburgh seemed destined for the last wild-card spot going into their Week 15 matchup with the New York Jets. But, as will so many other things this season in Pittsburgh, it didn’t quite turn out as they hoped. The Jets stifled an already questionable Steelers offensive attack, limiting them to just 10 points in the loss. Ex-Steeler Le’Veon Bell ran for three yards less than this entire former team.
Now the Steelers need to win and get help to make the postseason. The Ravens ultimately don’t care.
With the top seed all sewn up, Baltimore will rest many of their top players, Lamar Jackson, Earl Thomas, Mark Ingram, Brandon Williams and Marshal Yanda among them. Quarterbacking duties will fall to Robert Griffin III and possibly Trace McSorley. Formerly inactive players may see time as well.
With Week 17 off and a first-round bye to follow, many Ravens will enjoy three weeks off between games. (The NFL divisional round is scheduled for the weekend of January 11 and 12.) That seems like a positive after a grueling season. Even players who have avoided the official injury report are battered and bruised and could use the rest.
But is there a downside to so much rest at this point in the season? How concerned should the Ravens be about players getting rusty?
Inside The NFL analyst and former NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall doesn’t see it as a problem. “I think coach [John] Harbaugh, and his experience navigating through the playoffs and the road to the Super Bowl, he has it. He’s drawing from that. Now if this was a rookie coach, or a coach that doesn’t have the experience that Harbaugh does, it would be a concern. But I’m not concerned at all, because he’s a seasoned coach that’s been to the Super Bowl.”
Of course, it would be nice to hand the Steelers another loss. And a full complement of players, with Lamar Jackson padding his stats on what’s likely an MVP season, would virtually ensure that. But it’s hardly worth endangering a Super Bowl run over.
You can catch Brandon Marshall along with Phil Simms, Ray Lewis, Michael Irvin, and host James Brown on Inside The NFL every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.