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Falcons vs. Ravens: Will Lamar Jackson or Joe Flacco start against Atlanta?

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Jackson is the future, but is the future starting right now?

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Lamar Jackson has led the Ravens to two straight wins, throwing for an unimpressive 328 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions while running for 190 yards and a touchdown. He’s far from a finished product as a quarterback, especially as a passer, but he’s been good enough to earn wins.

In Joe Flacco’s last two starts before an injury robbed him of Weeks 11 and 12, he had thrown for an unimpressive 398 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions and two carries for 14 yards. The Ravens lost both of those games.

I’m not seriously suggesting that Flacco or Jackson were the sole reason for those outcomes—Jackson’s interceptions against THE RAIDERS were pretty bad, for example—but for all the good things Flacco has done for this franchise over the years, he’s very much a known quantity. He threw eight touchdowns against two interceptions in his first four weeks, but after that he regressed to the Flacco we’ve seen far too often in recent years, tossing five touchdowns against four interceptions before his injury. He’s dealt with crummy weapons most of his career, but regardless of his supporting cast he’s been good-to-mediocre aside from 2010 and 2014 and his magical 2012-2013 Super Bowl run, which will rightly be remembered as one of the great performances in playoff history. I like to rag on the man because for so long Flacco versus Matt Ryan was a legitimate debate, but he’s meant a lot to that franchise and has done some very good things in Baltimore, and the switch to the new guy isn’t going to be as clean and easy as it would be for a team moving on from, say, Sam Bradford.

The Ravens didn’t draft Lamar Jackson in the first round as a curio or a gadget player. They drafted the former Heisman winner because of his promise as a quarterback, promise that is being realized in fits and starts over the last two weeks. As Baltimore Beatdown outlines here, there are compelling reasons to star Flacco if he’s indeed healthy against Atlanta, but John Harbaugh’s best shot to remain head coach and Baltimore’s best long-term play is to keep starting Jackson. He’s the man the Ravens have under contract at a relatively affordable price for the next three-to-four seasons, the man who adds a new dimension for an offense still lacking a killer supporting cast, and the developmental option Harbaugh and this coaching staff can point to as they plead for more time, regardless of what happens the rest of the way. This team is not winning a Super Bowl with Joe Flacco or Lamar Jackson at the helm, which really sort of makes the case by itself, and Flacco’s injury gives Harbaugh all the cover he needs to keep Jackson under center.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I fully expect the Falcons to have to contend with Jackson in Week 13. LJ will give the Falcons some golden opportunities for turnovers because he’s young and inexperienced and sometimes downright inaccurate, but he’ll also be a bear for an undisciplined and tackling-averse unit to deal with. That’ll be a fine test for a defense that has flunked a lot of them this year, and it’ll be a fine way for Baltimore to move forward in an AFC North with a disintegrating Bengals team and soon-to-be-Ben-Roethlisberger-less Steelers team.