While he has already started for the Baltimore Ravens in each of the past four games, today’s contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will officially be the first one in which rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson is considered at the top of the depth chart, former starter Joe Flacco to dress and serve as his backup.
Flacco had missed the previous four games while recovering from a hip injury that he suffered playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers before the Ravens’ bye week. Jackson was chosen over Robert Griffin III to start, and while he did not necessarily perform lights out, he helped the team around him play better, and the defense stepped up, going 3-1 and only losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime.
Despite their defeat last week, Baltimore remains nipping at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ heels for the race to claim the AFC North, Pittsburgh sitting at 7-5-1 following a three-game losing streak and the Ravens now at 7-6. They were 4-5 before Jackson took over.
The Ravens play at 1 PM, and so could put the pressure on the Steelers to keep up the pace in the evening as they host the New England Patriots at Heinz Field. Given how they have recently performed, one would figure that Baltimore has a good chance of taking down the Buccaneers.
That would secure an eighth in for them and would force the Steelers to merely hold serve rather than gain an advantage. Not that Pittsburgh wouldn’t be trying to win every game from now on until football is done being played for the 2018 season anyway, but any team would rather be playing to gain ground rather than to simply keep their current position.
Things could get really bleak by kickoff time depending on how the chips fall, however, as there are three teams competing for the second Wildcard spot that are all 7-6 right now. The Indianapolis Colts host the Dallas Cowboys while the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans travel to play the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants, respectively.
If the Ravens win, and any of these other teams win, and the Steelers lose to the Patriots, then they will fall out of the playoff picture. That’s how serious this week is. And all of these competitive results will be determined by the time that Pittsburgh plays.
It wasn’t so long ago that we were talking about watching the Chiefs and the Patriots in competition for the number one seed. Now we’re really watching the Dolphins and the Colts, hoping to stay just inches ahead of them. That’s certainly not ideal, but that’s where we are right now, and I’d rather stay ahead.