The Ravens without Ray Lewis

The Ravens' defense has been excellent during Ray Lewis' career in Baltimore. Icon SMI

The Baltimore Ravens have won 117 regular-season games since the 2000 season, the year they won a Super Bowl and had a winning record for the first time as a franchise. That's a decent run, sixth in the NFL in that period. And there's something interesting about this list of teams in front of them, and even right behind them.

Look at the QBs. New England has had Tom Brady, Indianapolis Peyton Manning; the Steelers have had Ben Roethlisberger, the Packers Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Even Philly, with the transition from Donovan McNabb to Michael Vick, generally never saw the quarterback position as a glaring weakness. The same is true for the teams right behind the Ravens, with the Giants (Eli Manning) and the Saints (Drew Brees) in recent years.

And then there's Baltimore. Trent Dilfer, as much as he's derided for "managing" a team to a Super Bowl, really saved the day in 2000 for a team that couldn't score at all. He was limited, but made the plays that year. But the organization wanted more. The Ravens tried Elvis Grbac, Kyle Boller, Jeff Blake; they brought in Steve McNair. Joe Flacco was pretty good for a young starter, but only last season did you finally get a sense that the Ravens fans really believed they had found a quarterback worthy of competing for titles.

The point I'm trying to make here is that, among the NFL's best teams over an extended period, only the Ravens have been saddled with constant questions about the QB position. Every other franchise next to them has, in large part, had all the parts revolving around the QB. For Baltimore, it's been all about the defense, just looking to get "good enough" play from the QB.

Until now, at least.

He might try to play forever, but Ray Lewis is nearing the end of his career. Because of that, and with the Ravens looking more and more like one of the top offenses in the NFL, I'm asked a lot about how I think the team will transition from the Lewis era to whatever comes next.

So let's take a look at the trajectory of the team in several phases based on whether it's likely to get better, stay the same or improve towards the end of Lewis' career. We can call it the "Ray scale."