Patrick Queen was not on the 2019 Ravens team that the 2023 Ravens will hear about for the next two weeks. The Pro Bowl inside linebacker cannot compare these Ravens’ plans as the AFC’s No. 1 seed to those Ravens’ plans. All he knows is this team’s path.

“Rest up, practice, get sharp, do what we have to do to get healthy, find out who we play” in the playoffs, he said Saturday. “And then go up there and kick their ass, simple as that.”

A 17-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Saturday’s regular-season finale could not dim those ambitions. The Ravens entered M&T Bank Stadium with the AFC’s No. 1 seed and an AFC North title secured. A win would be window dressing. A loss would be a minor scratch on a 13-4 record.

What mattered most, Ravens coaches and players knew in an upbeat locker room Saturday, was the next game. The game in the divisional round, two weekends away. The game that could rid the Ravens of the stench still emanating from their stunning loss there as Super Bowl favorites four years ago.

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As the Ravens look ahead to their bye week, to that next game, here’s where the team stands.

1. Whom will the Ravens face in the playoffs?

Ask again next weekend. Only three other AFC teams entered Week 18 with their playoff tickets punched: the Miami Dolphins, who could earn the No. 2 seed as AFC East champions or fall to the No. 6 seed; the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs, who are locked into the No. 3 seed; and the Cleveland Browns, who are locked into the No. 5 seed as the conference’s top wild-card team. A fourth team, the Houston Texans, clinched a playoff berth with a win Saturday over the Indianapolis Colts, though their seeding has not been set.

With just two spots remaining, three other teams will enter Sunday with playoff hopes: the Buffalo Bills, who could also end up with the No. 2 seed or fall to No. 6 or No. 7; the Steelers, who could end up with the No. 6 or No. 7 seed; and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who could earn the No. 4 seed as the AFC South champions.

But, with the NFL’s postseason format, the Ravens won’t know their bracket until after the wild-card round. The Ravens will face the lowest-seeded team still standing in their divisional-round game, which means they could face the No. 4 seed, the No. 7 seed or any team in between. And, with the league’s wild-card-round schedule, which spreads six games over three days next weekend, that could mean waiting until Monday to find out.

By DVOA, the Ravens’ toughest test in the AFC would be the Bills, who rank third in FTN’s efficiency metric. But the Steelers’ win did Buffalo no favors in finding a path to the playoffs. If the Bills lose Sunday to the Dolphins, and the Jaguars beat the Titans, Buffalo would be eliminated from playoff contention, removing MVP candidate Josh Allen from the Ravens’ list of potential headaches.

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2. How will the Ravens handle the next week?

Like it’s a normal game week. In 2019, when the 16-game regular season ended before the new year, Ravens players got the day off Jan. 1 but practiced three times during their bye week. This year, they plan to practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, along with a planned stadium practice next weekend.

“It’ll be preparation for the postseason, and that will be what we’ll do,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ll try to push it back a little bit to have some sort of a rhythm, as if we’re playing a game — say, on Saturday — kind of that idea. Then we’ll have our normal game week going into the divisional game.”

Baltimore Ravens cornerback Arthur Maulet (10) and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (23) tackle Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) as he hurdles in a football game at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday, January 6, 2024.
Baltimore Ravens cornerbacks Arthur Maulet (left) and Rock Ya-Sin tackle Steelers running back Najee Harris. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Harbaugh said Wednesday that the 2019 Ravens had “really good practices” and were in “good spirits” as they prepared for their playoff opener. He said he still felt good about their game plan for the Tennessee Titans. “We just didn’t get the job done in certain plays,” he said. The Ravens lost to the sixth-seeded Titans, 28-12.

“That’s how football goes,” Harbaugh added. “I guess the long-winded point here is that you just look at where you’re at with your team at this time and make the decisions that are best as you see it.”

Ravens players praised Harbaugh’s plan for this break. Defensive lineman Michael Pierce said the team would be more “mindful of not coming out slow,” as it had against Tennessee, which scored the game’s first 14 points. But offensive lineman Patrick Mekari said the Ravens are “not really thinking about or talking about” the 2019 team.

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“We’re very focused on what’s coming up,” he said. “These next 10 days are crucially important, and just taking them one day at a time, getting better, recovering and getting ready for that playoff week we have in two weeks.”

A respite is also welcome. The 2023 Ravens have played one more game than the 2019 Ravens had entering the playoffs. A football-free weekend can feel like a relief.

“Playing all those damn snaps, it’s not easy,” left guard John Simpson said. “But I feel like they got the guy to do that. And this week is going to be huge, because I definitely need it. My body’s hurting. ... This week is going to be huge, and I’m just trying to take advantage of it as much as possible, get as much treatment as I can, get some massage therapy — whatever I need to be ready for that game coming up.”

3. What’s the Ravens’ injury situation?

Pretty good. Defensive lineman Brent Urban (stinger), outside linebacker Odafe Oweh (ankle), inside linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips (shoulder) and safety Geno Stone (knee) left Saturday’s game with injuries, but Harbaugh indicated they were minor. Urban cleared a concussion evaluation, according to the team.

“I think it looks like we got through [the game] OK,” Harbaugh said. “Some of them looked a little tough. Right now, it looks like we would have all those guys back for the playoff week for the divisional game.”

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Five Ravens missed Saturday’s game because of injury: wide receiver Zay Flowers (calf), right guard Kevin Zeitler (knee/quadriceps), linebacker Malik Harrison (groin), cornerback Marlon Humphrey (calf) and safety Kyle Hamilton (knee). Quarterback Lamar Jackson, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and inside linebacker Roquan Smith sat out to rest. Cornerback Ronald Darby did not play because of an illness.

“We’re very focused on what’s coming up. These next 10 days are crucially important, and just taking them one day at a time, getting better, recovering and getting ready for that playoff week we have in two weeks.”

Defensive tackle Michael Pierce

Hamilton seemed closest to full strength last week; the Pro Bowl pick was a limited participant in Thursday’s practice and listed as questionable for Saturday’s game. Zeitler missed practice last week after sitting out the Week 17 win over the Dolphins, but he’s among the Ravens’ toughest and most durable linemen. Humphrey also was sidelined after suffering another calf injury against Miami, but Harbaugh indicated Monday that the Ravens would likely have their banged-up players back for the divisional round.

Cornerback Brandon Stephens, meanwhile, showed no ill effects of the ankle injury that sidelined him against Miami. He played all 62 defensive snaps Saturday and was targeted in coverage just once, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats.

“This is what we’ve trained for all year, is for seasons like this, long seasons, and then after,” Stephens said. “So we’ve got a long way to go, but we’re going to take it just one week at a time. That’s all we can do.”

Tight end Mark Andrews, who suffered a serious ankle injury in Week 11, remains the Ravens’ biggest mystery. Harbaugh said last week that Andrews was “ahead of schedule” in his recovery, but he’s offered no timetable for a possible return.

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“Our job is to get to that point” when he can return, Harbaugh said. “That’s what we have to do, is get to the point where we’re still playing when he comes back, and it’s going to take everything we have.”

4. What role will Dalvin Cook have in Baltimore?

That’s unclear. The former New York Jets running back, whom the Ravens signed to their practice squad Friday, could make his Ravens debut in the playoffs. He’ll have two weeks to familiarize himself with the playbook, practice mesh-point exchanges with Jackson and perhaps carve out a small role in the offense.

The Ravens’ top two running backs are Gus Edwards and Justice Hill, but Cook could push for snaps behind them. Melvin Gordon had seven carries for 18 yards Saturday, along with a costly fumble.

But Cook, like Gordon, has had trouble with ball security in recent years. He had two fumbles on 67 carries this season for the Jets, after finishing with four fumbles on 264 carries for the Minnesota Vikings last season. In 15 games with the Jets, who have one of the NFL’s worst run-blocking offensive lines, Cook averaged just 3.2 yards per carry and rushed for 214 yards overall.

“Dalvin wanted to come here,” Harbaugh said. “He wanted to be here. So we’ll figure that one out. We’ll be in the process of figuring out how all that fits, but you sure appreciate having another really good player on your football team.”

Ravens tight end Isaiah Likely leads the celebration after his second-quarter touchdown. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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