The question of whether a team with nothing for which to play should play to win in Week 17 has received another data point for when it inevitably arises again.
The Ravens, who secured the No. 1 seed with a Week 16 win over the Browns, rested key starters for the regular-season finale. As a result, said key starters went 20 days between games.
So were the Ravens rusty on Saturday night?
“I don’t know,” coach John Harbaugh said after the 28-12 loss. “I don’t have the answer. It’s unanswerable. I thought our guys practiced really hard, did the best they could. But we didn’t play a sharp football game, for sure. What you attribute that to, I guess you can theorize.”
Embedded in that answer is the possibility that Harbaugh, the PFT coach of the year, made a coaching error by not keeping his guys fresh. Of course, if Harbaugh had played the likes of Lamar Jackson in a meaningless game against the Steelers and if the likes of Jackson had gotten injured by a hard-hitting arch-rival that entered the game with a playoff berth still a possibility, Harbaugh would have been relentlessly criticized.
It will remain unknown whether Harbaugh made a mistake, without finding an alternate universe in which he played all starters in Week 17 and the Ravens didn’t lose to the Titans in the divisional round. Regardless, the No. 6 seed bounced the No. 1 seed in stunning fashion, extending to two years Baltimore’s streak of one and done playoff exits. Harbaugh’s focus for 2020 surely will be to ensure that it doesn’t happen three years in a row.