Ben Roethlisberger: How Shoulder Injury Shakes Up AFC Playoff Picture

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Ben Roethlisberger: How Shoulder Injury Shakes Up AFC Playoff Picture
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Steeler fans hope to see him back soon.

With Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers are holding on strong—after winning four in a row— to the sixth seed in the AFC and a fair chance to win the AFC North. 

Without Big Ben, the Steelers have essentially zero chance to win the AFC North and have less of a grip on the final playoff spot. 

In yesterday's Monday Night Football tilt against the Kansas City Chiefs, Roethlisberger was sacked and immediately left the field to the locker room. Steeler fans—so used to seeing their starting quarterback play through pain—expected him to run out of the tunnel at any moment to get back on the field.

It never happened. 

Now it appears the injury may be serious. If that is the case, the Steelers are in big trouble, especially with two upcoming games against the Baltimore Ravens. And if you somehow think Roethlisberger will miraculously come back against the Ravens, keep in mind this injury is similar to that which ended Brett Favre's consecutive games-played streak. 

Let's take a closer look at how much this affects the overall AFC playoff picture. 

 

AFC North Race over

Even though SportsCenter would like you to believe the New England Patriots-New York Jets or New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys rivalries are the NFL's best, this is simply untrue. 

The most fierce bloodbath happens twice each year in the AFC North, and players from both the Ravens and the Steelers genuinely dislike each other. Roethlisberger is almost certainly out this weekend against the Ravens, and Byron Leftwich won't win them the game. 

A couple years ago, Roethlisberger was out, and Dennis Dixon came in and lost to the Baltimore Ravens. Nothing like a little deja vu for Steeler fans. 

The worst news is that if Roethlisberger does come back within a month, he'd still miss both Baltimore Ravens games because Pittsburgh plays them twice in a span of three weeks. 

 

Opens the door for others 

With the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens firmly entrenched as playoff contenders, the Roethlisberger injury opens the door for mediocre teams like the Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals and even the Tennessee Titans to catch or pass Pittsburgh.

The Colts for the time being are the fifth seed in any playoff scenario; every other team on that list is two games back except for the Titans (two-and-a-half games back). 

However, the Colts have taken advantage of a soft schedule and have two games against the Houston Texans on the horizon. 

If Roethlisberger is out for a significant amount of time, you can make the case the Steelers will lose two of their next three games, thus opening up a window for teams like the Bengals and Chargers—teams talented enough to take advantage of the opportunity. 

 

Ten wins and you're in 

Big Ben is out. Maybe for a couple weeks. Or he'll be back this week. But this doesn't mean doom and gloom for the Steelers. 

They have other players as well. 

Even though Rashard Mendenhall, Antonio Brown, Troy Polamalu and now Ryan Clark are all nursing injuries, the Steelers are still rolling along pretty well. Granted, Roethlisberger has been a huge part of that, but the defense and running game have played much better in recent weeks. 

In a down year in the AFC, 10 wins might get you into the payoffs. Heck, nine wins may get you there.

The Steelers still have very winnable games against Cleveland twice, Dallas, Cincinnati and San Diego. In their four-game winning streak, the Steelers passing defense has stepped it up and shut down Andy Dalton, Robert Griffin III and Eli Manning. They own the best pass defense in the league (171.1 yards per game). 

It also doesn't hurt that, before the Chiefs game, they reeled off three straight rushing performances of over 100 yards. 

Big Ben's injury hurts, but it won't end the Steelers' playoff chances. 

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