With a win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens locked up at least a Wild Card (probably the fifth seed). They still have a chance to win the AFC North and get the second seed with a win over the Bengals next week and a Steelers loss to the Browns.
So should the Ravens rest their starters against the Bengals?
The answer depends on the value of the first-round bye and home game compared to the odds the Steelers will lose at home against the Browns.
First, the Bengals are a pretty bad team. Yes, they came out of nowhere to beat the Chargers this week. But while the Chargers have posted some impressive statistics, they never impressed anyone with the most important statistic: wins. The Chargers were playing with limited hopes of making the playoffs, while the Bengals were playing without distraction and for nothing but pride.
(Anyone else notice the Bengals looked their best without TO and No. 85?)
But in Baltimore, the Bengals will again look like the hapless team they've been all season. It is possible, and frankly, likely, the Ravens can beat the Bengals without some of their starters on the field.
While the Ravens can probably beat the Bengals with their backups, the same may not be true for the Steelers. The Browns still play with heart, and may respond to the tough loss in Baltimore with one more good showing this year. To beat the Browns, the Steelers will have to play a full 60 minutes of hard football.
But honestly, they'll probably win.
If the Steelers are very likely to win the game against the Browns, the Ravens coaches should have the starters in the game for the first half, and only keep them in the game if the Steelers are in big trouble and the Bengals are staying in the game. Otherwise, sit them, rest them, get the backups some work.
And get ready to head to Indianapolis.
Paul Stagg is a Ravens Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report
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