The Pittsburgh Steelers will be just fine playing without their suspended Super Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger will serve a conditional six-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy, but it can be reduced to four games with good behavior.
The Steelers signed quarterback Byron Leftwich from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to replace Big Ben during his suspension. Leftwich has previous experience running the Steelers offense and the organization is comfortable with him at the helm.
The start of the 2010 campaign for the Steelers reminds me of the beginning of the 2008 season when Roethlisberger was injured in a motorcycle accident.
They relied on their stingy, top-ranked defense and pounded opponents with the running game. This strategy is exactly how they will get through the first four games of this season without their two-time Super Bowl champion at quarterback.
Rashard Mendenhall gained more than 1,100 yards last season and is ready to become the featured back in the wake of Willie Parker's departure.
The defense for the Steelers is finally healthy and back to "Steel Curtain" form. Defensive end Aaron Smith, who is a strong run stopper, is back after suffering a shoulder injury that caused him to miss much of last season.
It is hard to think of one player having a greater impact on a defense than safety Troy Polamalu.
He is the fire that ignites the Steelers defense. Polamalu only played in five games last season, but in those games the team went 4-1. He is expected to be at full strength after recovering from knee surgery.
The start of the 2010 schedule for the Steelers is not extremely challenging in Roethlisberger's absence. They host the Atlanta Falcons to start the season, a close game that they should win. Then travel to Tennessee and Tampa Bay where the Titans and Buccaneers both missed the playoffs a year ago.
The toughest opponent in that four-game stretch is Baltimore, but the Steelers always play their long-time rival tough, especially when the Ravens visit Heinz Field. Last year, backup Dennis Dixon battled to a 17-14 defeat at Baltimore.
Without Roethlisberger, I can easily see the Steelers starting the year 3-1, maybe even 4-0. Many reporters have the franchise with the most Super Bowl titles finishing third in the AFC North.
Last year, the Steelers finished a game behind division champion Cincinnati at 9-7. I see the black and gold going 11-5 in 2010-11.
Meanwhile, the Bengals have one of the hardest schedules in the league and Terrell Owens is not the answer to complement Chad Ochocinco. Their egos just simply do not match up.
The Baltimore defense is not the defense it was in the past. It is suffering many injuries in the secondary and it is just getting older. Domonique Foxworth is out for the season after tearing his ACL. Joe Flacco will not be able to carry the load and put up big numbers like the Ravens hope for.
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