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Ravens QB Lamar Jackson's return could hinge on AFC playoff race

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will miss his third straight start today against the Falcons because of his sprained PCL.

While much is up in the air regarding Jackson's return, some of the decision-making regarding when he's back on the field could hinge on what's at stake for Baltimore going forward in the playoff race.

Tyler “Snoop” Huntley will start against the Falcons, despite being listed as questionable, sources say. Huntley is dealing with shoulder soreness, but he made all of his throws during Thursday's practice and should be fine, according to sources.

As for Jackson, this marks the end of his third week of recovery for the PCL sprain he suffered during a Dec. 4 win over the Broncos.

Jackson has not yet practiced since sustaining the injury. The plan, sources say, is to get Jackson on the field to determine how he feels doing football-related movements -- stopping, starting, cutting, reacting. Jackson has been fine running on a treadmill and moving straight ahead. Football-related movements would be the next step.

If he clears that hurdle, Jackson will be healthy enough to practice.

Sources say that the belief is that if Jackson is cleared to practice, he should be able to play. Jackson's return certainly would help the Ravens, as head coach John Harbaugh told reporters after their Week 15 loss to the Browns last week, "We just have to start scoring touchdowns."

The Ravens will make the determination on Jackson's status next week, but a decision also could depend on where things stand in the playoff picture, sources say.

If the Ravens lose today to the Falcons and a playoff berth is still in doubt, perhaps it's more likely that Jackson plays. If they win and the Bengals win -- which would mean an AFC North title is a long-shot and Baltimore's seeding is unlikely to improve -- the team could be more cautious with its star QB.

Those are some of the factors at play for Baltimore. If there is nothing to play for, does it make sense to use Jackson down the stretch? Perhaps not.

If the Ravens win today, they would only need the Patriots or Dolphins to lose or tie to clinch a playoff berth. The Ravens could also clinch a playoff berth with a loss, but they'd need a win by the Chargers and losses by the Patriots, Browns, Raiders and Titans to do so.

If the Ravens win and the Bengals lose to the Patriots today, the Ravens would also regain first place in the AFC North with two weeks left to play (including a Week 18 matchup with Cincinnati, potentially for the division title).

All the more reason why Jackson's status is open-ended and not decided.

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