Carson, Calif. — At the end of an interview in a nearly emptied-out Ravens locker room early Sunday morning, outside linebacker Matthew Judon was asked about the game he didn’t have to worry about winning.
The Ravens had just beaten the Los Angeles Chargers, 22-10, essentially reasserting control of their postseason future. Fourteen hours later, nearly 2,000 miles away from StubHub Center, the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers would face the Saints in New Orleans. Did Judon care what the Steelers did?
“The who?” Judon asked. It wasn’t clear whether he was kidding. The Ravens didn’t have to worry that much about their rivals’ result. The reporter repeated the question anyway.
“Whatever happens, happens,” he said. “We only can control the Ravens.”
That remains true. But after the Saints’ dramatic 31-28 win Sunday over the Steelers, the Ravens’ playoff picture is clear: Win and they’re in.
Leading the AFC North for the first time since Week 6, the Ravens (9-6) can claim the division Sunday for the first time since 2012 with a win at home Sunday in their regular-season finale over the Cleveland Browns (7-7-1), a game that has been flexed from 1 p.m. to 4:25 p.m., or a loss by the Steelers (8-6-1) to the visiting Cincinnati Bengals (6-9).
Wins by the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts over the weekend eliminated the possibility of a wild-card berth for the Ravens. But if they make the playoffs, they will be guaranteed at least one postseason home game. They can finish as low as the No. 4 seed, which could set up a rematch against the Chargers, and as high as the No. 2 seed, which would secure their first wild-card-round bye since 2011.
But after Saturday’s win, the Ravens refused to look that far ahead. They were focused on the Browns. Their Week 17 matchup is something of a reprisal of two recent regular-season finales with playoff implications, one pleasant and one unpleasant.
Last season, the Ravens could’ve made the playoffs with any of three results: a win over the Cincinnati Bengals or a loss by either the Tennessee Titans or Buffalo Bills. But the Titans and Bills won, and the Ravens couldn’t hold on in the final minute of a game that, according to ESPN, they had a 93.4 percent chance of winning then. Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd’s 49-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-12 dealt the Ravens a season-ending 31-27 loss at home.
When the Ravens last faced a seven-win Browns team, it was also in Week 17. It was also at home. And with the San Diego Chargers’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that 2014 afternoon, it was also a win-and-they’re-in scenario. The Ravens did, 20-10, to advance to the playoffs. They haven’t been since.
“We won in Week 16 last year,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said Saturday night, referring to the Ravens’ 23-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts that moved them to the brink of the playoffs. “Got to win in Week 17. That’s the only thing that matters.”
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When the Ravens lost in overtime to the Browns, 12-9, in Week 5 — Cleveland’s first AFC North win since October 2015 — it seemed unlikely that the teams would meet in the regular-season finale with much momentum. While the Browns already had two more wins than they did all last season, they were still led by a rookie quarterback. And any Ravens team that lost to the Browns — they hadn’t in five straight games — probably wasn’t destined for greatness.
But since the Ravens’ Week 11 bye, the teams have lost a combined two games.
“We’re not worried about” the playoff picture, Lamar Jackson said Saturday. “We have the Browns right now, coming out, so we gotta focus on that. The team celebrates tonight or whatever, so we just gotta get ready for the Browns.”
Added Judon: “We’ve got to play the next game. That’s what’s going to keep us [on an] even keel. This win, we needed it we got it and we’re about to get out of here, get back home and definitely learn from the mistakes that we made in this game and try to get a win against the Browns.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh was nearly fired after the team came one stop short of making the playoffs last year. His return for next season was announced, in a minor surprise, a day before the win Saturday.
After the win, he said he was aware of the Ravens’ playoff scenarios. He would not entertain the notion of what it would take to get in with a loss. He preferred to channel former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis instead.
“We feel like we need to win. That’s it,” Harbaugh said. “We feel like we need to win, and that’s been our thing: Just win. Just win, baby.”