In the final week of the regular NFL season, the Baltimore Ravens (13-3) are set to host the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7) in a meaningless matchup for the former but a substantially saucy one for the latter. The NFL had not made any announcement about the scheduling and slotting of games until all results from Week 17 were set in stone.
Of course, this is always going to be one of the fiercest rivalries in the NFL, but only half-stakes in play, the NFL has decided to move this finale to Saturday on the earliest slate of games, scheduling kick-off time for 4:30 p.m. while broadcasting it on ABC and ESPN.
So big is the difference in what is in play for these two going forward, that the Steelers are currently favored by 3.5 points by oddsmakers as betting opened on Monday morning. That is, obviously, because the Ravens have already clinched both the No. 1 AFC conference and AFC North division seeds and could very well decide to rest several starters next Saturday.
Baltimore's head coach John Harbaugh, however, revealed that the decision on whether quarterback Lamar Jackson or other primary players will play against the Steelers has not been made yet.
"You can only take six players out of the equation," Harbaugh said after the win over Miami. That is, of course, as many players as Baltimore can rest next week considering the 53-man roster and the maximum number of players the team can rule out/deactivate for that matchup.
Harbaugh will surely think about resting some players (and he'd do good going that way) but it's fair for him to have some doubts in light of past experiences, namely what happened in the 2019 season.
The coach recalled how a similar situation four years ago, where key players had nearly two weeks off, resulted in a first-game playoff elimination at the hands of the Tennessee Titans.
Such a long break (the Ravens can go three weeks without giving much of a damn as they won't play their first postseason game until Jan. 21), can hurt the squad's chemistry and fitness, so this might be treated carefully.
Harbaugh explained his current position on the issue, saying, "I’ve given a lot of thought to it, and it was all hypothetical until just now.
"I’m sure I’ll talk to Lamar, and I’m sure he’s going to want to play," Harbaugh said. "But, we’re going to have to talk about that and decide what we want to do."
The Steelers, on the other hand, have more than a lot riding on the game against Baltimore. Following their upset of the Seattle Seahawks (30-23), Pittsburgh's playoff chances remain alive and according to The New York Times playoff simulator, their likelihood of making the postseason is 28%, which could surge to 72% with a victory over Baltimore.
In any case, the odds are still a bit against Pittsburgh as they cannot clinch a playoffs berth all by themselves but will instead be forced to wait and see what other teams do, most probably needing a Bills loss to the Dolphins or a Jaguars win over the Titans among other results, some of them kinda unlikely.