John Harbaugh’s Opinion on Resting Starters in Week 18 and Comparisons to 2019

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The Baltimore Ravens locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC with their victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, clinching home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The road to the Super Bowl goes through Baltimore, so the Ravens have nothing to play for when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 18. 

There’s plenty of incentive for Ravens head coach John Harbaugh to rest his starters. He’s not going to hide it when he makes that decision, but as of Tuesday, it’s still up in the air.

“We have to work through the injury part of it first. That’ll take us probably 24-48 hours to get a real handle on that, and then we’ll make those decisions on that,” Harbaugh said to reporters Monday, via a team transcript. “We’re not going to keep it a secret. We’ll let you know what we’re going to do once we start practicing.”

The last time the Ravens had the No. 1 seed was in the 2019 season, when Baltimore finished 14-2 and won 12 straight heading into the postseason. Lamar Jackson won the MVP and the Ravens clinched home-field advantage before the final week of the season, as Harbaugh did rest his starters.

The Ravens lost in the divisional round of the playoffs to the Tennessee Titans, despite having home-field advantage. That was also when the NFL had two teams earning a bye and the 12-team playoff format. There’s a 14-team format now and the Ravens are the only team with a bye — the perk of being the No. 1 seed in the conference. 

Harbaugh was adamant this team’s circumstances are different. This is the 2023 Ravens, not the 2019 Ravens, even if the scenario is the same.

“That was a disappointment. It was just a disappointment. We did our best. [It was] a certain kind of a season. It’s different from this season; it’s a different team; [it’s] different circumstances; [it’s a] different, everything except the record is about the same and [earning] the [first-round] bye,” Harbaugh said. “I remember the experience and the choices we made, but the decisions we made, we made for certain reasons, and we thought they were the right decision. What impacted what [and] how in terms of us not playing our best football that day, it’s really hard to say what the cause and effect was. We just didn’t. We didn’t go out there, and we didn’t do it. 

“That’s the thing I kind of take from it the most. Of course, you want to be better. We have to play way better than that next game if we want to win, and we do want to win. But you have to look at everything from the framework or through the lens of today – this team and the challenges that we’re facing – and that’s what we’ll try to do.” 

For context, the Pittsburgh Steelers are 4-point favorites for Saturday’s game in Baltimore (per SportsLine consensus odds). That implies oddmakers think the Ravens won’t start Jackson and and will go with Tyler Huntley this week. 

“I don’t really have a philosophy,” Harbaugh said on resting his starters. “And the good thing is that I feel like the depth we have, like we’re doing at offensive tackle, we can share time with guys, and that’s a very valuable thing. So, that comes into play as well. 

“And we just look at all that, but the team we put out there – which is going to be the team we have, it’s our team – is going to out there and do everything they can to win the game [and] play our best football game of the season and win the game against a real tough opponent.”  

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