No point in playing hero ball anymore. Not for the Baltimore Ravens. They've secured a first-round bye. They've secured the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Now, perhaps more so than any other NFL team, they have to put all of their most important players on the bench for Week 17 against the Steelers. There can be no debate.
That, of course, goes against the ethos of the Ravens. Physical, determined, unyielding. This franchise doesn't like to sit. Plus, the Steelers are their most hated rivals. With a chance to end their season and keep them from the playoffs, the Ravens would usually go for the jugular.
That would be a mistake. If they need an example of why, look at Mark Ingram. The star running back was hurt against the Browns on a non-contact play. It was his left calf. We don't know the extent or how long he'll be out. It could have been his Achilles or his ACL or his MCL or any L that ended his season, which could still happen, crushing the Ravens' pursuit of what actually matters: the Super Bowl.
As always, the Ravens play a physically-taxing brand of football on both sides of the ball. Their rushing attack has two 1,000-yard rushers, Ingram and QB Lamar Jackson, and is No. 1 in the NFL in yards per game. Their rushing defense gives up the fifth fewest yards per game in the NFL. If that's your strength, which it clearly is on both sides of the ball, you need that strength to be full go in the playoffs. You can't afford injuries now. In the NFL, the only way to do that is to stay healthy.
Of course, there's always the argument of staying sharp and not wanting to take the foot off the gas. But the Ravens are getting a first-round bye, so they'll get a week off anyway. An extra week won't matter. And guess what they did after their bye this year? Beat the Patriots 37-20 in arguably their best performance of the year.
So yeah, bench Jackson, Mark Andrews, Marquise Brown, Matt Judon, Marlon Humphrey and whoever else you want to preserve. Ingram isn't playing next week, if at all for the rest of the season. Let that injury be a lesson for the Ravens on the importance of preservation. They just have to hope it doesn't come back to haunt them in the playoffs.