More than a half-dozen sources told Yahoo! Sports that Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis could come back from a torn triceps muscle by Week 15, when Baltimore hosts Denver in a game that could determine a top-two seed and a first-round playoff bye.
Under that timetable, Lewis would return nine weeks after undergoing surgery. That recovery would trump Terrell Suggs' comeback, as Suggs returned last month despite tearing an Achilles tendon in May.
But do the Ravens really need Lewis to rush back? The play of the Ravens' defense says no.
With Lewis, the Ravens went 5-1 and allowed 19.6 points per game. Without him, Baltimore has a 4-1 record and has given up 20.2 points per game.
With Lewis, the defense allowed 396.6 yards per game, including 136.5 on the ground. Without him, the Ravens have given up 344.6 total yards, including 118.8 yards rushing.
This isn't the same situation as the Steelers with injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers' offense desperately needs him to return.
The Ravens, on the other hand, are considered a virtual lock to win the AFC North, leading the Steelers and Bengals by three games with five weeks remaining. The defense has found its groove in the red zone, not allowing a touchdown inside its 20-yard line in the past four games. There really is no need for Lewis to be a medical miracle.
One source told Yahoo! Sports that Lewis could practice as soon as Thursday, the day he's eligible to do so after being placed on the injured reserve/ designated to return list six weeks earlier, and reports that he almost certainly will return sometime in the next month. Lewis wouldn't confirm any timetable for his return, saying, "You've got eyes -- what do you expect to happen? I'm here to support my team."
The Ravens have adjusted to life without Lewis, moving Jameel McClain to Lewis' spot and putting Dannell Ellerbe in the starting lineup. Ellerbe has been one of the Ravens' most consistent defenders this year.
But Ellerbe left the Chargers game with an ankle injury and didn't return. He told the Baltimore Sun that he plans to play against the Steelers on Sunday, although he may undergo an X-ray on Monday.
"I will do everything in my power to be out there," Ellerbe said.
Based on how the defense has been playing lately, Ellerbe's status may be more important than Lewis' this week.