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50 Words or Less: The Debate on How to Handle Mark Andrews' Return

From left: TE Isaiah Likely, TE Mark Andrews
From left: TE Isaiah Likely, TE Mark Andrews

Super Wild-Card Weekend is arguably the best sports weekend of the year. It's even better when your team has a first-round bye and you get to relax watching the other games knowing you're already through to the next round.

As Head Coach John Harbaugh said Friday, the Ravens are already 1-0 in the playoffs. They earned this bye with how well they played during the regular season.

It was a winning bye week in more ways than one. Here are my thoughts on the week and what's ahead, all in 50 words or less:

The Ravens' bye week couldn't have ended any better than getting Mark Andrews back on the field Friday afternoon. We don't know yet whether Andrews will be able to play next weekend, but he was moving well and has time to shake off the cobwebs. It's a huge boost.

The question now is what happens with Isaiah Likely, who has thrived (five touchdowns in six games) while Andrews has been sidelined. It partly depends on how strong Andrews feels. Is he physically ready for a full plate, or would he build up from a more limited role?

Even if Andrews is full-go, Likely has proven he's worthy of a bigger role than he had pre-injury, when he had 10 targets in 10 games. Likely has added a different dimension to the Ravens offense with his run-after-catch ability. It's hard to mess with an offense that's been cooking.

At the same time, this is Mark Andrews we're talking about here – one of the best tight ends in the game and Lamar Jackson's favorite targets. Likely has been fantastic, but don't let that overshadow what Andrews means to the Ravens offense, especially in big moments.

The question is whether Todd Monken deploys more two-tight-end Andrews/Likely formations. Monken didn't do it much earlier, but it was successful. Is it too late to try to master new wrinkles? Or is the opportunity to present new challenges to a defense you've already faced too valuable to pass up?

Harbaugh's bye-week anti-rust plan seemed to work well. It felt like a normal week with the same practice routine. On Friday, players packed their bags for a stadium practice just like they would for a game. The goals were to get healthier, get better, and maintain a rhythm. Check, check, check.

The addition of running back Dalvin Cook added some intrigue this week. In 2019, Mark Ingram's calf strain put a damper on Baltimore's offense heading into the playoffs. This year, they got stronger. I don't expect Cook to have a major immediate role, but it could grow throughout the postseason.

Rampant interest in the Ravens' coordinators and assistants adds to the notion that this is the year to win it all. With as much success as the Ravens have had this regular season, free agents price themselves out and coaches get poached. The window isn't always this wide open.

As eras ended for some of the game's legendary head coaches, Harbaugh is still going strong in Year 16. Harbaugh has an impressive ability to adapt, stay fresh, and yet also remain consistent. Another Super Bowl would cement him in the same company as some of those other legends.

My informal poll of who Ravens fans want to face had the Browns clearly at the bottom. While Joe Flacco's return would be a great story, Baltimore fans don't want to read it. A third matchup against the Browns' tenacious defense could pose bigger problems than Flacco, however.

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