Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) is pressured by Los...

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) is pressured by Los Angeles Chargers defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day (51) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. Credit: AP/Ashley Landis

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — John Harbaugh admitted he was rooting against the Browns and Steelers last weekend, so in that sense, the Baltimore coach got his wish.

“Absolutely, you root against all the teams that are in your way,” he said. "So, that’s what we did. We had a good day.”

The Ravens had their open date last week, and they returned in an even better position than before. Pittsburgh's loss to lowly Arizona, and Cleveland's to the Los Angeles Rams, left Baltimore with a two-game lead atop the AFC North. Kansas City and Jacksonville — two teams competing with the Ravens for the top spot in the conference — lost as well.

So if it wasn't obvious before, now it is: The Ravens (9-3) have quite an opportunity down the stretch, starting with this weekend's home game against the Rams.

“It comes with the same thing that we've been doing for the first 12 games,” receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. “Finding ways to win football games, finding ways to be elite.”

The Ravens will be tested. After this game against Los Angeles (6-6), they finish the season against Jacksonville (8-4), San Francisco (9-3), Miami (9-3) and Pittsburgh (7-5).

Of course, two of those teams now have big health concerns at quarterback after Trevor Lawrence of the Jaguars and Kenny Pickett of the Steelers sprained ankles.

It's been that kind of season in the NFL. Pickett's injury means Baltimore is currently the only team in the division with its No. 1 quarterback available at the moment. Ravens fans may not have much sympathy after losing star QB Lamar Jackson toward the end of each of the past two seasons.

“We don't want to see injuries happen in the league. We want everybody to go out there and give it their all, and when we play against teams, just have their best," Jackson said. “But it's part of the game. I went down last year, the year before. It happens in football.”

Not only has Jackson been available all season, but the rest of the Ravens appear to be coming out of the open date in pretty good shape.

Of the players on the 53-man roster, only receiver Rashod Bateman (illness) missed practice Wednesday. Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (concussion) and linebacker Malik Harrison (groin) were limited.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (calf) was a full participant after missing two straight games. Tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee) wasn't listed on the injury report at all.

By the time they take the field against the Rams, Baltimore will have played only one game in the previous 23 days.

“It’s been good for us. Our guys are in good spirits,” Harbaugh said. "The time off will be good for us physically and mentally as well. But it’s part of the National Football League. We have a big challenge in front of us Sunday, and that’s what everybody is focusing on.”

When Jackson won MVP honors in 2019, Baltimore seemed to be starting a lengthy window of Super Bowl contention, but since then, the Ravens haven't even had a home playoff game. Jackson is still just 26 — and he signed a new long-term deal with Baltimore last offseason — but a few things have aligned in the Ravens' favor this season, and they shouldn't take this opportunity for granted.

“Right now, I’m preaching it. I feel like I’m preaching to the choir, but it’s like we have to take advantage of what we have,” Jackson said. "Because we might not see it again for a few years. We might. I’m not going to say that. We might, but you never know.”

More football news

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months
ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME