If you want to face the Ravens in the AFC playoffs, you'll have to come see them in Baltimore.
Players and coaches congratulated each other on the sidelines Sunday as the final seconds ticked, and the feel-good atmosphere continued in the locker room. The Ravens' 11th straight victory earned them the AFC's No. 1 seed for the first time in franchise history after a hard-fought 31-15 road victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Baltimore has earned homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, along with a much-deserved bye during the opening weekend. The Week 17 regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers will have no bearing on Baltimore's playoff seeding. The Ravens can rest starters against Pittsburgh if they choose to, and considering how hard-hitting Sunday's game was, the option to rest starters against the Steelers is nice to have.
Cleveland didn't make it easy for the Ravens and running back Mark Ingram (calf), cornerback Marcus Peters (chest) and cornerback Jimmy Smith all left the game at various points with injuries. Tight end Mark Andrews also limped off but returned. Peters and Smith returned to the game, but Ingram did not return after he was announced as questionable to return.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said after the game Ingram's injury wasn't serious, but the NFL season is grueling, and the Ravens (13-2) have stormed through it with consistency and determination. The ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl, however, the top regular-season goal is accomplished.
Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda is in his 13th season, and he has won a Super Bowl with the Ravens, yet he has never entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed. He's very much looking forward to it.
"We'll get that week off to rest and recover," Yanda said. "We're a running team, so we play a physical game every Sunday. And obviously we'll play at home. We won't have to travel. We're right in our backyard and that's where we want to be. It's definitely an advantage."
Harbaugh will have decisions to make about playing time for the regular-season finale. The Ravens have obvious momentum and want to keep it heading into the postseason. But it's also vital to make sure that key players are healthy and fresh heading into the postseason.
This is the eighth time Harbaugh has coached the Ravens into the playoffs in 12 seasons, and as the No. 1 seed, he'll seek input from his staff and players about the best way to prepare. It won't be possible for Harbaugh to rest all the starters against the Steelers even if he wanted to, because unlike the preseason when there are 90 players on the roster, only 53 players are on the regular-season roster.
"I'll sit down with the leadership council tomorrow before we meet," Harbaugh said. "We'll probably talk about that (who will play against Pittsburgh). I'll be real interested in what the players think about that, [and] the coaches. One thing I want to emphasize is that no matter what we do, the emphasis is going to be on winning the football game. We want that 14th win."
Not surprisingly, Jackson said he wanted to play Week 17 against the Steelers. His competitive nature is part of what makes him special, and the favorite to win the MVP award after another sparkling performance against the Browns.
"Of course [I want to play]," Jackson said, his eyes narrowing as if there was no point even asking him that. "But, it's coach's decision."
Jackson is happy the Ravens have clinched the No. 1 seed a week before the regular season ends.
"It's going to help us a lot to recover," Jackson said.
Harbaugh acknowledged this has been a special regular season.
It's an enviable situation for the Ravens to be in, having a week still left in the regular season with the No. 1 seed already earned. It's going to be a pleasant holiday week for a team that hasn't lost since September, and has put itself in prime position to make a Super Bowl run.
Harbaugh and the Ravens don't plan on letting up. But at least for a few days, they could savor being the No. 1 seed for the first time in team history.
"It's a great accomplishment," Harbaugh said. "It's something I'm sure we'll always take pride in. It's something to look back on at some point. But right now we're looking forward."