It's entirely possible that the Detroit Lions will be playing for the NFC North title next week without their starting center. That's because Dominic Raiola stomped on Chicago Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson during Sunday's game:
After the game, Raiola claimed that the stomp was inadvertent, and he also apparently apologized to Ferguson.
Raiola denied stepping on Ferguson on purpose. Said he was stumbling. "There's no room for that," he said.— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) December 21, 2014
Raiola said he apologized to Ferguson for stepping on his ankle. Said he doesn't expect to hear from the league on the incident— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) December 21, 2014
Ferguson, like most people, isn't buying it. Here's what he said after the game about the incident:
Ferguson's take on Raiola's apology: "None of that matters, we all saw the play. You can’t take back what happened with that play."— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) December 21, 2014
If we were talking about Larry Warford or Riley Reiff or someone else, I'd be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But given that this is Raiola, he doesn't deserve any benefit of the doubt whatsoever. He was lucky to avoid a big fine for his antics against the New England Patriots earlier in the year, and it's not like a dirty play is out of character for him. His temper has gotten him into trouble on and off the field in the past, and his claim that the stomp on Sunday was inadvertent is pretty tough to buy.
Ultimately, I suppose Raiola simply has to convince the NFL that the stomp wasn't intentional. If the NFL thinks it was intentional, he could be looking at a one- or two-game suspension based on past precedent with Ndamukong Suh. As noted by Josh Katzenstein, a two-game suspension could mean that Raiola's career with the Lions is over considering they would have to win a playoff game for him to be eligible again. It's highly unlikely that Raiola, who turns 36 later this month, will be back next season regardless of whether or not he retires, so his time in Detroit could already be over depending on the severity of his punishment.
Of course, this is all assuming there is any discipline for Raiola. The NFL has made some strange decisions on discipline in the past, and I suppose we shouldn't rule out any scenario. At the very least, a big fine seems likely for Raiola, but there's no guarantee that will even happen, as the Patriots incident showed us earlier in the season.
Regardless of what the NFL does, it's really to the point where I'm looking forward to the post-Raiola era here in Detroit. He's constantly making the Lions look bad with his antics, and it's not like he is so talented that everybody can simply overlook his behavior. He may have had a great season in 2013, but the Lions need to make a change at the center position sooner rather than later.