There is no point in not being ecstatic about the Baltimore Ravens 2023 regular season. The Flock just destroyed fellow Super Bowl contenders in beating the 49ers and the Dolphins on back-to-back weeks. The Ravens have won the AFC and the North division by extension. Sounds familiar? That should have us all worried!
Of course, it sounds familiar. We can only hope things stay at that level and don't turn into an encore, however. Back in 2019, the Ravens dominated everyone, Lamar Jackson won his first MVP, but when all was said and done Baltimore crashed out of the playoffs on the first attempt at winning a postseason game by falling to the Tennessee Titans. Sheesh...
Now, in the year 2023 (2024 already as I type this; Happy New Year, Flock Nation!) of our Lord, the Ravens have once more dominated the AFC and the NFL as a whole. Jackson is a virtual lock to win another MVP award. The Ravens will sit the first week of postseason play and can even rest their starters in the regular-season finale. All of that sounds great, but memories last forever and they're not even a bit good in this comparison.
The 2019 Ravens were the favorites to win the title as they entered the playoffs with a 14-2 record and the MVP standing on their pocket. Then, the Titans game happened and the Ravens went home packing in the divisional round.
There are reasons for optimism, obviously, and any living soul would rather enter the playoffs enjoying a bye week and in possession of the No. 1 seed rather than having to keep fighting without a break from September to mid-February. Also, the Ravens must have learned the lesson the hard way in 2019 and should be able to navigate the situation better now than they did back then.
Speaking about the possibility of resting players in the game against the Steelers next Saturday, for example, head coach John Harbaugh made clear that he's still weighing his options and that he's approaching the situation more cautiously than he did in 2019 when he sat everyone and they found his team rusty in the playoffs.
The Ravens entered Week 17 banged up a bit with three starters inactive against the Dolphins (Kyle Hamilton, Kevin Zeitler, and Brandon Stephens) and then went on to lose two more key members of the defense during the game in cornerback Marlon Humphrey and linebacker Patrick Queen. If this team needs something, that's resting for a while.
The 2019 loss perhaps cannot be quite compared to the current situation of the team, which is a much more veteran and experienced group of players whether that's because of the new additions (players such as Jadeveon Clowney and Odell Beckham Jr.) or simply youngster growing and maturing with Lamar Jackson leading the way and understanding both the mental and physical aspects of the game much better.
For now, the Ravens will have to decide what to do when they host the Steelers next Saturday, and following that regular-season finale they will need to craft a smooth two-week plan of balanced rest and training as they gear up to play their first playoff game come January 21st.