There's always an interesting debate to be had at this time of year when heading into the playoffs: rest your starters, avoid injuries and heal up; or keep playing to stay sharp? In recent years, Roger Goodell and the executives in the league have set up the schedule so that the back end is loaded with meaningful divisional games. This decisive move was done so that teams wouldn't be resting their starters and putting a poor product on the field for anywhere from one to three weeks at the end of the year.
With the Bengals solidifying a Wild Card spot on Sunday and the Ravens claiming the division with their respective win against the Giants, the question is looming over Marvin Lewis on what he'll do next week when the two teams meet in the season finale. In speaking with the media on Christmas Eve, Lewis sounds as if he will keep his foot on the gas pedal.
When asked about if he'll rest his starters on Sunday, Lewis responded (via Paul Dehner, Jr. of CBSSports) with a snide "How'd that turn out for us last time". And as Joe Reedy from The Cincinnati Enquirer pointed out on Twitter, Lewis' comment could be associated with Lewis' first two playoff berths in 2005 and 2009 where he decided to rest everybody up before the postseason. Both resulted in tough losses to the Steelers and Jets, respectively.
"I think it's important for our team to play well," Lewis said. "We are going to play to win the football game. [We're playing for] improvement. Each and every time we go out. That's what we have been doing since November 4th is working to play better every time we had an opportunity to play. We've done that we need to keep doing that."
Given that the Bengals are 6-1 in their last seven games, the idea of continuing to play his starters and keep the momentum makes sense. But, there's a fine line to walk here, as Lewis undoubtedly wants to make sure that he has his team at full strength. It would be devastating to lose a valuable player to injury in a game that would really have no impact on the Bengals' season at this point, save for postseason seeding with the Ravens.
It's undetermined who the Bengals will play in the Wild Card round this year. Where Cincinnati will travel is predicated upon the results in the games involving the Broncos, Patriots, Texans, and the Ravens.