Ray Lewis: Decision to Sideline Star LB Until Playoffs Will Cost Ravens Dearly

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistDecember 22, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 25: Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens speaks to Referee Gene Steratore #114 before the start of the  game against the San Diego Chargers on November 25, 2012 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Dan Hanzus of NFL.com has learned that the Baltimore Ravens plan to keep star linebacker Ray Lewis sidelined for the rest of the regular season.

This news shouldn't come as much of a shock given the nature of Lewis' injury (torn triceps) and the prognosis he was given upon suffering it in Week 6. But it is a little curious coming on the heels of a Baltimore Sun report that claimed Lewis was on track to play in Week 16. Per the Sun's Jeff Zrebiac:

Lewis has practiced with the Ravens the past three weeks, wearing a brace on his right arm. He was first eligible to come back last week against the Denver Broncos, but the decision was made to give him one more week of practice.

He’s gotten through this week with no setbacks and while he has not spoken to reporters, Lewis has been upbeat and active around the locker room. In past weeks, Lewis was barely around the locker room after practice.   

Media speculation is often specious, especially on the subject of injuries, but by all accounts, it sounds like Lewis is technically healthy enough to play. That is, had the Ravens not clinched backed into a playoff berth last weekend, there's a good chance we'd see Lewis against the Giants on Sunday.

This decision makes plenty of sense at first glance. Even if he's "healthy" enough to take the field, a couple weeks of rest will certainly get him closer to full strength. And the closer Lewis gets to full strength, the better the Ravens' defense will ostensibly perform in the playoffs.

But at what cost? See, while the Ravens did indeed clinch back into a playoff berth last weekend, the AFC North title is still up for grabs.

If Baltimore loses to the Giants (who are favored by 2.5 points) and the Bengals beat Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore would be tied atop the division at 9-6. That would set up Week 17 showdown, in Cincinnati, between the teams with the fate of the division at stake.

That could pose a serious problem for Baltimore.

In all likelihood, the winner of the AFC North would get to host the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Wild-Card game. They currently rank 26th in Football Outsiders' efficiency rankings, 22.1 percentage points worse than the Ravens in weighted DVOA.

The AFC's No. 6 seed, however, would face a wild-card battle in New England against the Patriots. They currently rank first in Football Outsiders' efficiency rankings, 42.3 percentage points better than the Ravens in weighted DVOA.

That's a pretty big difference, to say the least.

So, yeah: Ray Lewis—and, by extension, the Ravens' defense—will probably play better in the playoffs if the linebacker rests the next two weeks. And sure, if they find a way to win (or back into) the division title without him, this argument becomes inconsequential.

But given the stakes, Baltimore is taking a dangerous, significant and potentially lethal risk.