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Mailbag: What's Ravens' Best Playoff Path? Should They Rest Starters?

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) directs a play near the goal line during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) directs a play near the goal line during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Mink: The Ravens' sights remain fixed on winning the AFC North, so they will not be resting the starters Sunday against the Steelers. As long as they have a chance to capture the division title, which would come with the No. 3 seed and at least one home playoff game, they will fight for it.

As it pertains to Lamar Jackson, I think he plays when he's healthy enough to do so and feels good. He's not going to go out there and try to hobble through a non-playoff game. I also don't think he or the Ravens would want him to sit out if he's 100%.

If the Ravens were to lose this weekend and the Bengals win, then Cincinnati captures the North. At that point, maybe Baltimore would rest some starters going into Week 18. Maybe.

The other factor is that it seems much more beneficial to get the No. 5 seed instead of the No. 6 seed, which means the Ravens need to keep winning to stay a step ahead of the Los Angeles Chargers (9-6), who have also clinched a wild-card playoff spot. The No. 5 seed will face the AFC South winner (Jaguars or Titans) as opposed to the Chiefs, Bills, or Bengals in the first round of the playoffs.

The Ravens have played well on the road this season. They're 5-2 at home and 5-3 on the road. According to Football Outsiders' DVOA, the Ravens have the third-best road offense in the league this season. The fact that the Ravens won a playoff game in Tennessee in 2020 probably factors into the feeling that maybe it's best to go that route too. There's something about being in the enemy's house that has seemed to bring out the best in Baltimore.

If the Ravens win the division and get the No. 3 seed, they would likely face the Chargers or Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium. Perhaps a road game against the Jaguars or Titans would be more favorable. To me, it's a toss-up. Just keep trying to win and see how the cards fall.

Downing: It seems like Odell Beckham Jr. isn't going to play in the NFL this year. After his visit with the Dallas Cowboys and subsequent reports that his knee was not in great shape, the indication from Beckham’s camp seems to be that he's eyeing a return in 2023. The fact that Beckham has yet to sign anywhere further suggests that his return won't happen until next season. This makes sense based on the point of the season right now. Beckham is coming back from a torn ACL that he suffered in the Super Bowl in February, so it's not realistic to expect him to play right away after getting signed. Look at how the Ravens treated the rehab process for J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Marcus Peters. Each of those players practiced for multiple weeks to ramp up before returning to game action. If the Ravens signed Beckham today, it's a question as to whether he'd even be ready to play in time for the playoffs.

I don't think that the addition of Sammy Watkins is a factor in deciding whether to bring in Beckham, and the Ravens could still look to sign him for next year. Rich Eisen of NFL Network reported that Head Coach John Harbaugh told him the Ravens have talked with Beckham and are still in the mix to sign him. Based on that information, we shouldn't rule out the possibility of seeing Beckham in a Ravens jersey, but time seems to be running out for that to happen this season.

Mink: I do think Jackson will return before the postseason. That will obviously be a huge boost to the offense. Jackson gives the Ravens another dynamic in the running game. Tyler Huntley is fast too, but he's not the same runner as Jackson. Jackson also gives the Ravens more potential in the passing game. He is more likely to extend plays in hopes of finding a big one. The return of the former MVP could be the shot in the arm that this offense needs to lead it on a playoff run.

Really, it's just the passing game and the red-zone efficiency that need to improve with the offense. The running game is superb. Jackson will definitely boost the passing game, though I still expect it to be a complement to the rushing attack. The Ravens were struggling in the red zone even before Jackson went down so there's not such a clear fix there. They have just had too many different mistakes in that area and need to keep hammering away at being sharp down there.

Downing:  Yes, I do think the Ravens are being judicious at watching the snap counts and carry numbers for Dobbins. He's coming back from a major knee injury that required a follow-up scope procedure in the middle of the season. They held him back from action early in the season when Dobbins was itching to play, and the running back has expressed his gratitude for the Ravens having his best interest in mind rather than just throwing him on the field too soon.

However, I wouldn't read too much into Dobbins going without a fourth quarter carry in the last two games. Edwards was rolling on a historically cold day against the Falcons, and Harbaugh said that the fourth quarter just because a time where they wanted to feature Edwards. That's the tough thing about having two very good running backs, it's tough to get both of them the ball as much as you'd like. Against Cleveland, the Ravens went to a pass-heavy script in the fourth quarter when they trailed by two scores, and Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman acknowledged after the game that they could have run it more than they did in that game. The Ravens want to be cautious with Dobbins and Edwards to make sure they're healthy in the playoffs, but I expect Dobbins to have plenty of fourth-quarter carries in his future.

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