Now that the Ravens have a playoff berth in tow, they might need to consider an interesting quandary: Is it worth keeping linebacker Ray Lewis out until the postseason?
Lewis has made a speedy recovery from surgery to repair a torn triceps, putting himself in position to return from what had been perceived as a season-ending injury.
He has been practicing with Baltimore and was first eligible to come back Sunday against the Broncos, but the team chose to hold him out.
There's a chance Lewis will be back this week against the Giants, but coach John Harbaugh and management should seriously consider whether playing the veteran makes sense.
The argument for bringing him back?
There's still something at stake in terms of playoff seeding and winning the division.
Now that a first-round bye is out of the question, Baltimore will want to do everything it can to play its way out of the sixth seed in the AFC to avoid a first-round match-up at Houston, Denver or New England. Facing the Colts, Bengals or Steelers would be far more appetizing, and so would playing one game at home. The highest the Ravens can be seeded is third.
Another reason to bring Lewis back if he's cleared is the loss of Jameel McClain for the remainder of the season, which has further depleted an already thinned-out set of linebackers.
Lewis wasn't at his historic best when he was healthy earlier this season, but his experience and leadership will bring great value to a group that is currently using Josh Bynes, Albert McClellan and Brendon Ayanbadejo in roles they weren't expected to fill.
Also, the fact that Lewis has missed eight games could factor into the team's decision to go ahead with bringing him back during the regular season. If the Ravens want to get the most out of Lewis in the playoffs, it might benefit them to give him a couple of games to get back up to speed.
So why shouldn't the Ravens bring Lewis back until the playoffs?
The team can't fall out of the postseason picture, and it can only benefit the squad to have Lewis available. Why chance Lewis getting hurt again before the Ravens are playing for their ultimate goal - a run at the Super Bowl?
If the Ravens have to go on with a limited Terrell Suggs, no McClain, no Lewis and possibly no Dannell Ellerbe, the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton or Ben Roethlisberger will be licking their lips at the opportunity of throwing darts right at the middle of the Baltimore defense.
The Ravens could use an emotional boost and Lewis inspires like none other. A return in the playoffs might provide the kind of jolt this team needs at exactly the right moment. It might not make sense to waste that with only playoff seeding on the line.
Verdict: This isn't an easy call, but I think the Ravens should hold Lewis out and hope the dinged-up defense can figure things out over the last two weeks of the regular season without him. Putting the team's inspirational leader in danger for games that will only go to determine the Ravens' postseason opponent isn't worth losing him for good.
Of course, Baltimore would rather not go on the road to face the Broncos, Patriots or Texans in the opening round. But even with Lewis, there's no guarantee the team will recover to avoid such a match-up the way things have gone this month. A fresh and healthy Lewis when the postseason begins is far more valuable than no Lewis.