Editor’s note: On Thursday night, the NFL announced that the suspended Cincinnati Bengals-Buffalo Bills game would be canceled, ending the Ravens’ AFC North title hopes. With a win in Cincinnati, though, the team could still host a playoff game, pending the result of a coin flip.

The Ravens went to practice Thursday trying to control what they could control, which meant leaving some of their season’s most urgent questions for another day.

The Ravens (10-6) didn’t know whether their game Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals (11-4) would matter in their push for an AFC North title. They’d entered Week 18 1 1/2 games behind Cincinnati in the division standings, needing a Bengals loss to the Bills on Monday night to have a chance — only to have the game postponed and reportedly canceled in the wake of Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin’s on-field collapse and hospitalization.

The Ravens didn’t know whom they might actually see on the opposite sideline Sunday in Cincinnati. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said Wednesday that he would expect “mixed votes” among teammates asked to play so soon after watching Hamlin suffer cardiac arrest. “Personally, I think playing is going to be tough, but there’s people that want to play, too, and there’s people that don’t,” Burrow said.

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The Ravens maybe didn’t even know who would start at quarterback in their regular-season finale. Lamar Jackson missed his 14th straight day of practice Thursday and is not expected to be available Sunday. Tyler Huntley was listed as limited on the team’s injury report, but after practice, offensive coordinator Greg Roman said of Huntley, “Anytime your quarterback can’t practice, that’s a tough situation.”

“There’s no reason to be upset, man,” right tackle Morgan Moses said. “We’re blessed to have a game this week. We’re blessed to be in the playoffs next week. So that’s what’s most important. You can’t [dwell] on things that you can’t control. It’s out of our hands, and it’s our job to go execute on Sunday, and whoever we play next week, go execute at that. So that’s my mindset. I think that’s a lot of guys’ mindset. It’s just focus on what’s in front of us.”

The scale of that challenge could be familiar. In Week 16 last season, the Ravens traveled to Cincinnati with a journeyman quarterback, Josh Johnson, starting a pivotal AFC North game less than two weeks after he’d joined their practice squad. The Bengals nearly doubled the Ravens up, 41-21, handing them their fourth of six straight losses to end the season.

An ankle injury sidelined Jackson for that game. Huntley missed it with a coronavirus infection. It’s unclear whether either will be available Sunday. Jackson is expected to miss his fifth straight start with a knee injury.

Huntley, meanwhile, has been limited by injuries to his right (throwing) shoulder and wrist. He didn’t appear to throw a pass during individual and team drills in the half-hour of practice open to reporters Thursday. He hasn’t passed for more than 130 yards in any of his four starts, though he had several impressive throws and finished 14-for-21 overall in Sunday’s last-minute loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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“He’s working hard; he’s doing rehab like crazy,” Roman said Thursday. “He’s been dealing with this thing for weeks and fighting through it. It’s changed maybe the way we’ve had to play some of these games a little bit, but we know when he’s at full strength, he’s a dynamic player for us. So we just want to get him back there.”

If he’s not, the Ravens would turn to an undrafted rookie against one of the NFL’s best teams. Anthony Brown has appeared in just one game this season, completing three of his five passes for 16 yards after coming on for an injured Huntley in a Week 14 win in Pittsburgh.

Before his surprise start last season in Cincinnati, Johnson had started eight games over his itinerant NFL career. Brown has played just 23 offensive snaps total.

“I have a lot of confidence in him,” Roman said. “I think he has a bright future. You never know until they get out there and do it the first time, but that’s OK. That’s OK; that’s part of the excitement. I thought how he [conducted] himself in Pittsburgh, on the road, coming in that game and leading us to victory there, was pretty darn impressive. So he’s off to a good start, but he’s buckling down for any opportunity that comes his way, as obviously is Tyler.”

NFL officials have only added to the week’s uncertainty. The Associated Press reported Thursday that the league would not resume the Bills-Bengals game that was suspended Monday night after Hamlin collapsed. That decision, though not confirmed by the NFL as of Thursday night, would effectively eliminate the Ravens from contention for the division title, considerably lessening the stakes of their Week 18 matchup.

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With no hopes of overtaking Cincinnati in the AFC North, the Ravens could rise only as high as No. 5 in the AFC’s playoff picture with a win Sunday. That seeding would send them back on the road for a wild-card-round game against the AFC South champions — either the Jacksonville Jaguars or Tennessee Titans.

But even that scenario requires outside help. Unless the Denver Broncos upset the Los Angeles Chargers (10-6) on Sunday, the Ravens would lose a possible tiebreaker with the Chargers because of their inferior record in AFC games. In that case, the Ravens would settle for the No. 6 seed and a road playoff game against one of two Super Bowl favorites: the Buffalo Bills (12-3) or, more likely, the Bengals.

The probability of a rematch in Cincinnati could reshape both teams’ plans for Sunday, though Ravens coordinators were cautious to acknowledge to what degree. Under the NFL’s current playoff structure, even with a win Sunday, the Bengals could jump the Bills for a No. 2 seed only if Buffalo loses Sunday to the New England Patriots.

With Cincinnati looking to recover mentally from a scarring Week 17 and the Ravens looking to recover physically from a tough late-season stretch, the teams’ Week 18 lineups could look considerably different from how they might next weekend.

“Look, it’s all up to the coaches and to God,” Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins said Thursday. “So if I don’t play, if I do play, I’ll be ready.”

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Moses said he couldn’t recall ever having to play the same team twice in a row. But then, most teams don’t face a division rival in the playoffs. And most teams don’t have a season like the Ravens’, either.


Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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