With Joe Flacco back practicing, the Ravens have officially flipped their script at quarterback.
Before Flacco suffered a hip injury in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 4, he was the starter and rookie Lamar Jackson was the X-factor, deployed intermittently as a change-of-pace option.
Now, Jackson is the presumed starter, at least for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, after leading the Ravens to victories in his first two starts. Flacco? Well, he is the X-factor now.
To be clear, it's not certain he'll be available Sunday. He was limited in practice Thursday and Friday and is listed as doubtful to play. When asked about Flacco Friday, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh spoke of him making progress and not experiencing setbacks, as opposed to being 100 percent ready.
Asked if Flacco is an option Sunday, Harbaugh replied, "I'd say yes, he's an option," adding that "there are still doctors involved."
It sounds as if Robert Griffin III is the likelier option as a No. 2 Sunday. But regardless, Flacco should be ready to play again soon, opening up a variety of possibilities. Even if Jackson is the No. 1 quarterback, the coaches could still use Flacco.
Like Jackson before, Flacco could sub in occasionally as part of an effort to confuse the opposing defense. I can easily see him in a Mad Bomber role, coming in to fling deep balls – a 180-degree switch from the run-oriented attack the Ravens feature with Jackson.
He could also replace Jackson for an entire series now and then – a button the Ravens declined to push when Flacco was starting and Jackson was subbing in.
Years ago, Tom Landry, the Dallas Cowboys' Hall of Fame coach, alternated quarterbacks on every snap one day. Unable to decide whether Roger Staubach and Craig Morton should start, Landry had them shuttle on and off the field, literally bringing in Landry's play-calls, against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 31, 1971.
The unique (to put it mildly) arrangement worked in that the Cowboys rolled up nearly 500 yards of offense and 26 firsts downs to Chicago's seven. But they committed seven turnovers and lost the game. Landry made Staubach his permanent starter the next week.
I'm pretty sure Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh won't resort to the same shenanigans.
But I'm not 100 percent sure. All possibilities are on the table. If Jackson struggles in his first road start Sunday or next week in Kansas City, Flacco could be summoned, like a relief pitcher, and asked to mount a rally. He could also never see the field if Harbaugh likes how Jackson and the starting offense are performing.
I don't know how long the Ravens' roster will include two able, starting-caliber quarterbacks. But as long as Jackson and Flacco both are there, it's an interesting advantage for the Ravens to consider.
The Ravens probably need to win Sunday to maintain their narrow edge in the race for the second AFC wild-card spot – the No. 6 playoff seed. A bunch of teams are right behind them.
But a win would also open the door to at least one other playoff scenario for Baltimore, depending on who wins the Sunday night game between the Steelers and Los Angeles Chargers.
The Ravens currently trail the Steelers by a game-and-a-half in the AFC North and trail the Chargers by two games in the race for the top wild-card berth – the No. 5 seed. But absent an unlikely tie between the Steelers and Chargers Sunday night, one of them is going to lose, enabling the Ravens to gain ground.
If the Steelers lose (and Ravens win), the Ravens would be just a half-game out of first place in the AFC North, an incredible development given their dubious prospects just a few weeks ago.
If the Chargers lose Sunday (and Ravens win), the Ravens would trail Los Angeles by just a game, an especially precarious margin considering the two teams will play in Los Angeles in a few weeks, giving Baltimore a chance to establish a tiebreaker edge.
Quite simply, the Ravens have a ton to gain by beating the Falcons Sunday.