Mink: To the first question, I don't think facing a team twice matters all that much.
Now let's break down each of the Ravens' four possible divisional round opponents: the Texans (No. 4 seed), Browns (No. 5), Dolphins (No. 6), and Steelers (No. 7). As a reminder, the Ravens will face the lowest-seeded AFC team that wins this weekend in the wild-card round.
Houston is a young team that has outperformed what many people (except John Harbaugh) expected under first-year Head Coach DeMeco Ryans and rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. Stroud has had a phenomenal rookie season and may be the most talented quarterback of the four the Ravens could face. His 4,108 passing yards is the 8th most in the league, despite missing two games. Stoud can make every throw and has made sound decisions.
The Ravens already beat the Texans, 25-9, in Week 1 by shutting down their run game, keeping a lid on big plays, and getting after Stroud (five sacks). But that was a long time ago and both teams have grown considerably since.
However, he's still a rookie quarterback playing in his first playoffs and history is not kind to rookies. Would the moment and M&T Bank Stadium environment be too big? The Texans have just two wins this season over teams who made the playoffs (Steelers in Week 4 and Buccaneers in Week 8). They aren't as battle-tested as some of the other remaining teams.
The return of Joe Flacco to M&T Bank Stadium would be a great story, but the thought of him knocking his former team out of the playoffs is a nightmare. As opposed to Stroud, "Joe Cool" has plenty of experience in a playoff environment. Ravens fans know well how good "January Joe" (using every nickname here) can be in the playoffs after his 2012 Super Bowl run. Is Flacco on one of those heaters right now? He's topped 300 passing yards and thrown 11 touchdowns in four starts down the stretch.
Flacco is letting it rip on his comeback tour, but his aggressiveness has also led to eight interceptions in five games. The Ravens defense, which led the league in takeaways, may get some opportunities. Plus, Baltimore's pass rush would have a more traditional pocket passer to attack. The Browns' run game had a day against the Ravens defense in their last meeting.
The Browns defense is one of the best in the league and can create matchup problems, particularly with edge rusher Myles Garrett. However, the Ravens offense scored 28 and 24 points against it, respectively, this season. Cleveland rallied from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to beat the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in November. The Ravens would be determined to close them out this time.
Less than two weeks ago, the Ravens and Dolphins were squaring off in a battle for the No. 1 seed as the two top teams in the conference. After a Baltimore blowout and Dolphins loss to the Bills in the regular-season finale, Miami has quickly gone from one of the hottest teams in the league to a No. 6 seed that must go to frigid Kansas City in the wild-card round. A win there, however, could turn their momentum around.
The Dolphins still have the league's top wide receiver (Tyreek Hill), leading passer (Tua Tagovailoa), and a challenging offensive scheme capable of exploding at any point. They're also expected to get two top offensive playmakers (wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and running back Raheem Mostert) back, so the offense would be more dangerous than the last time it came to M&T Bank Stadium.
The Dolphins are really banged up on defense, however. After losing Bradley Chubb to a season-ending knee injury against the Ravens, more outside linebackers dropped last week. They were forced to sign veteran Justin Houston, who now is thrust into a significant role opposite fellow veteran Melvin Ingram.
On paper, the Steelers are the most vulnerable. They're operating with backup quarterback Mason Rudolph (by choice). Their offense ranks No. 24 in the NFL, though it has been better in recent weeks. Their best player, T.J. Watt, suffered a knee injury in Baltimore in the regular-season finale that could keep him out, or at least hamper him, in the divisional round.
The Steelers beat the Ravens in both meetings this season, but they both come with an asterisk. Baltimore beat itself in the first game in Pittsburgh with seven dropped passes. The Ravens rested six key starters, including Lamar Jackson, in the second meeting and still made it close.
Still, the fact is the Steelers have beaten the Ravens in six of their last seven meetings. They've been a tough out, largely because they don't beat themselves, they typically eventually hit a big play on offense, and they've been clutch in the fourth quarter closing games out.
Now my opinion? Give me the Steelers or Texans before the Dolphins or Browns. But whoever it is, the Ravens should win.
Mink: This will be a much shorter answer. The Ravens do not care. The players have been confident in themselves all season long and felt like they can beat anyone (even when pundits did not). They've talked the talk and walked the walk.
Patrick Queen said it best after the Steelers game: "Rest up, practice, get sharp, do what we have to do to get healthy, find out who we play, and then go up there and kick their [butt]. Simple as that."
Downing: I'm sure you're referencing the Steelers, and the fact that the Ravens have lost four-straight games to them at M&T Bank Stadium. First, it's important to recognize the approach the Ravens took in Sunday's game. Yes, they wanted to win, but they still rested several key starters including Jackson, linebacker Roquan Smith, safety Kyle Hamilton, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, wide receivers Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr., and guard Kevin Zeitler. The Ravens had no playoff implications on the line while the Steelers were fighting for their postseason opportunity. Had the Ravens played all their starters, it would likely have been a much different game on Sunday. I'll also point out that the Ravens have beaten another rival, the Bengals, at M&T Bank Stadium in big games the last two years. A case could be made that the Bengals are the bigger rival right now, and the Ravens have taken them down the last two times in Baltimore. There's also a possibility that the Ravens will get another shot at the Steelers this season. If the Steelers beat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, then Pittsburgh will pay a visit back to Baltimore in the divisional round. If that happens, the Ravens will be eager to alter the outcome.
Downing: The Ravens are putting in work during this bye week. Some teams opt to take a lighter approach during a playoff bye, but the Ravens are practicing Wednesday through Saturday to ensure they stay sharp and ready for whoever they face in the divisional round. Without knowing who they'll play, the team isn't taking a game plan specific approach to practice, but they're using the time to work on themselves. Practice time isn't just about game-planning. The Ravens can spend time working on their own schemes and execution to ensure they're sharp and ready for whatever opponent comes to town. The exact game plan will vary based on who the Ravens end up playing, but there are certainly core plays on both sides of the ball that the Ravens will run regardless of opponent, and they can dedicate this week to that work.
On the coaching side, the Ravens will spend some time looking ahead and scouting potential opponents. Some of the younger coaches will put together advance reports for the position coaches and coordinators to get a jump on game-planning for next week. The coaches can also use this time to add any other wrinkles to their approach. The identity of this team is set on both sides of the ball, but the coaches could use the extra time to add a few creative plays to the mix and practice them during the week. A unique piece of this week is that the Ravens will practice at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday, and that time will simulate the routine of a normal gameday. The team doesn't do that in a normal week, but Head Coach John Harbaugh said he wanted to make this week as much like a normal game week as possible, and that will include heading to the stadium on the weekend.