The LA Chargers kick off their final game of the season against the Denver Broncos at 1:25 p.m. PT. Currently the fifth seed, the Chargers can guarantee that seeding in the AFC playoffs before even stepping onto the field in Week 18.
The Baltimore Ravens are on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 18. That game kicks off at 10:00 a.m. PT. If the Ravens win, they would force the Chargers to beat the Broncos in order to get the fifth seed. If Baltimore loses then the Chargers can rest their starters as the outcome against Denver won't matter.
Baltimore already has its back against the wall in this game on the road against a really good Bengals team. We already knew that the Ravens would be without starter Lamar Jackson and now it seems possible that Baltimore might be turning the starting job over to QB3 Anthony Brown.
Anything can happen in the NFL but the odds of the Ravens beating the Bengals on the road with their third-string quarterback are pretty slim. Baltimore is already struggling to win games with Tyler Huntley under center.
The Ravens may not care as much about the fifth seed as the Chargers.
Being the fifth seed means that the Chargers will play the winner of the Tennessee Titans-Jacksonville Jaguars game from Saturday night. While the Bolts cannot dismiss either of those teams as quality opponents, they are a far easier matchup than having to play one of the top three teams in the AFC.
That fact doesn't seem to matter much to the Ravens, who instead seem more interested in making sure that Huntley is healthy for the playoffs in the case that Lamar still cannot suit up. Baltimore cannot fall lower than the sixth seed in the AFC anyway.
There is a pretty strong chance that Baltimore is going to have to play the Bengals again next week in the playoffs anyway. If the Buffalo Bills beat the New England Patriots then the Bengals are locked in as the third seed. This would set the stage for the exact same game in the exact same place in the playoffs: Ravens vs. Bengals in Cincinnati.
With Baltimore also needing a Chargers loss against a bad Denver team to jump to the fifth seed, it makes a lot of sense if John Harbaugh and the coaching staff are going into this game not wanting to show the Bengals too much and empty the playbook. Hence why Brown starting seems like a real possibility.