Ray Lewis: LB's Projected Return Date and How It Impacts Ravens Down the Stretch

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Ray Lewis: LB's Projected Return Date and How It Impacts Ravens Down the Stretch
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Ray Lewis is coming back.

He may not return in time for the fantasy playoffs, but he should be ready for action by the time the Baltimore Ravens end the regular season and set out on their quest to advance past the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 2000.

The fact that the Ravens are going to have Lewis after all, as they set out to do just that, makes them a whole lot scarier than they already are.

That is saying something, considering this team already owns the NFL's third-best record.

It's saying something that the Ravens have managed to go 9-2 despite missing one of their key defensive pieces for a huge chunk of the season. When Lewis went down last month, the goal was to stay afloat.

It's safe to say Baltimore has blown that goal out of the water. 

Lewis, who tore his triceps against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6, was expected to miss the rest of the regular season, but according to Yahoo!'s Michael Silver, the linebacker is eligible to return to the Ravens this Thursday and will most likely get back on the field sometime in the next month.

For a Ravens defense that has fought to stay above water despite several crushing injuries to key members of the unit, there couldn't be better news.

Just ask linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who told Silver:

For the greatest player in Ravens history to be able to return from this injury and come on this championship run with us? When he was said to be down and out? Man, that's critical mass. When he comes through that tunnel, that's gonna be the earthquake and the tsunami.

It may sound like a hyperbole, but it's not.

Lewis' return really will be that significant. 

As of now, Baltimore's defense ranks 24th in the league, which is nowhere near what the Ravens normally expect out of that unit. It has consistently been one of the best in the NFL for years, and it is precisely what has allowed Baltimore play in at least two postseason games in each of the last four seasons.

The fact that the Ravens have still managed to take a commanding three-game lead in the AFC North, despite their defense being the weakest it has been in years, is a tribute to this team's depth and grit (or, it's a tribute to the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been uncharacteristically bad this season).

The Ravens are going to be one of the AFC's top seeds in the postseason, with or without Lewis—but if they had this much success this season without him, imagine how much more formidable this team is going to be with him back in the fold.

Of the five remaining games on the Ravens' slate, two of them will come against division opponents: They face the Steelers on Sunday, who look anything but scary without Ben Roethlisberger in the mix, and they face the fading Bengals in the season finale.

Sandwiched in between those two are three tough games that present the real challenge—against Washington, Denver and the New York Giants.

Getting past the Steelers shouldn't be much of a problem for this defense.

Taking down the Redskins will be iffier. But where the Ravens are really going to need Lewis—and a foolproof defensive scheme—is against the Broncos and the Giants in Weeks 15 and 16.

In the next five weeks, the Ravens will face three of the league's top-10 offenses. If Lewis returns for a date with Denver's fourth-best attack, Baltimore will be in excellent shape.

Baltimore needs a top-of-the-line unit in place for those three games against Washington, Denver and New York, and not only will Lewis' return bolster the linebacking corps, but his presence will offer a massive morale boost to this team when it needs it the very most.

The Ravens have been good this year—very good—but they're going to need a little something extra in at least three of the next five weeks.

Lewis is that something extra.

His energy, his intensity, his game—all of that adds up to a huge plus for the Ravens as they close out this season. Baltimore was already scary, but now, if Lewis does return in the next month, it looks terrifying. 

If there was ever a perfect time for Lewis to return, he picked it.

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