4. As phenomenal as the Baltimore defense has been during the absence of Ray Lewis, the Ravens could use the veteran’s return against the toughest offense they’ve faced in two months. It’s hard to overstate how impressive the defense has been with the 36-year-old Lewis sidelined for the last four games, but Cincinnati, San Francisco, Cleveland, and Indianapolis aren’t exactly a lineup of offensive juggernauts. While the Chargers have been inconsistent this season, they currently rank seventh in passing offense and 16th in rush offense, giving them the eighth overall offense in the NFL. Tight end Antonio Gates provides a major challenge to the Baltimore linebackers in pass coverage while running back Ryan Mathews is finally playing with the purpose the Chargers saw when they drafted him with the 12th overall pick in the 2010 draft. With San Diego having more balance than any offense the Ravens have faced in recent weeks, Lewis’ return would mean a great deal in terms of his cerebral leadership in recognizing offensive formations and tendencies in pre-snap reads. The last four weeks have certainly proven the Ravens are more than capable of getting the best of San Diego, but the task would be much easier with No. 52 in the middle of the defense.
5. Not only would the No. 1 seed keep the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in January, but it’s sorely needed after having the earliest bye week in the NFL. Never mind the fact that Baltimore has won 17 of its last 18 games at home, even though it’s undoubtedly an impressive feat. A simple look at the scheduled bye weeks among playoff contenders suggests the Ravens would stand to benefit a great deal from an extra week of rest. Baltimore had its bye in Week 5, the first weekend in which teams received their respite. Meanwhile, the Patriots received theirs in Week 7 and Pittsburgh and Houston had the latest bye in Week 11. Any team embraces the thought of an extra week off to begin the playoffs, but the Ravens will have played nearly three months of football without a break — unless you count their three-day rest following their Thanksgiving game — and could use the extra time to rest the worrisome toe injuries plaguing Lewis, Webb, and starting left guard Ben Grubbs.