Is Lamar Jackson playing or not? The head games of the Baltimore Ravens in the run-up to the question of whether one of the best NFL quarterbacks can ever play are the topic of the playoff encounter against the Cincinnati Bengals, last year’s Super Bowl participants.

The second leg from last week is scheduled. At least that’s what you’d think when the Baltimore Ravens travel to Cincinnati again for the Wild Card Playoffs. The Bengals won the last game day quite comfortably with 27-16 and yet the upcoming game in the Wild Card Playoffs will be very different. Baltimore is now finally hoping for its returnees Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews and will approach the match completely differently with both top performers.

Quarterback Jackson played his last game for the Ravens five weeks ago. Once again, the mobile passer and runner was out for a few games during the season. At least he’ll be back in time for the playoffs this time. At least that’s the hope in Baltimore. Because it remains questionable how fit Lamar actually is, whether he can play and how long it will take him to step onto the field to shake off the rust of the regeneration weeks.

The latest reports from Baltimore point more to Jackson’s failure. He himself tweeted an update of his injury: “My knee is still inflamed and still unstable”. His message, which his coach Jon Harbaugh was unaware of, went on to say that he “can’t give 100 percent”. Many rated his statement as the end of the Bengals game. Or are the Ravens and Jackson pulling off a big deception?

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Lamar’s knee has been under scrutiny for days. So far he has only been able to train to a limited extent.

Only the quarterback himself knows to what extent the ongoing discussion about his contract extension will also play a role in the length of his recovery. Certainly, Lamar Jackson will be less likely to accept the risk of his injury hardening when his current contract expires soon and his future depends on his health. Seen in this way, the Ravens have put themselves in a difficult situation here.

Mark Andrews is doing much better. He only skipped the last game against Cincy. His return to wild cards is at least as important. Because with 73 receptions, the tight end is clearly Jackson’s strongest passing station.

For Cincinnati, the biggest challenge in this game is the unpredictability of the Ravens attack. Because unlike Baltimore, who had to compete with the best players in the last game, the Bengals lack the necessary illustrative material on the opponent.

While Baltimore knows exactly how Joe Burrow brings his best receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd into play and can already understand many runs from running back Joe Mixon, the Bengals last played against third quarterback Anthony Brown, who threw two interceptions and didn’t play a single run play.

Lamar Jackson would give his offense a whole new face with it. However, the Ravens also need this advantage, which is why the tactical calculations of his experienced coach John Harbaugh could also be behind the talk about his injury.

Cincinnati nominally have a much more quick-witted offense and are quite well equipped on defense for Baltimore’s physical attacking play. However, they now have to prepare for the game against an agile and powerful Lamar Jackson and at the same time have a game plan ready against pocket passer Brown.

The fact that last week’s plan against Brown worked almost completely and can be pulled out of the drawer again with minor adjustments plays into the Bengals’ hands. Here it would be Baltimore that needs to find answers. If Lamar Jackson plays, which will be closely monitored over the weekend, Cincinnati will have to change completely.

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Such head games were not uncommon before important playoff duels. A game’s game plan is at least as important as having the better staff on the field in American football. The “chess on grass” can only be won with the right strategy.

Baltimore is deliberately playing the card of deception here, shrouding its plans for Sunday’s game. It’s also, in their defense, the Ravens’ only chance of winning the game. Joe Burrow even goes into the match as a favorite against a healthy Jackson. The home advantage should do the rest here.

Cincinnati shouldn’t get involved in the head games. They were already too mellow in the last playoffs to let the Ravens unsettle them now. Mentally there was no stronger team in the postseason in 2022. If the Bengals remember, they’ll just play their game.

The original to this article “The Jackson mystery: Quarterback injury becomes a mind game” comes from