The Pittsburgh Steelers got a welcomed bye-week jolt Tuesday when injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was filmed throwing passes in practice.
It was nothing fancy. No. 7 was just warming up and tossing the ball around. Yet, it was a movie all of Pittsburgh loved to see.
When Roethlisberger had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee last Monday, there were reports the Steelers superstar quarterback would be out 4-6 weeks. However, after Roethlisberger hit the practice field eight day after the surgery, the timetable has potentially gotten much shorter. On his radio show with Pittsburgh station 93.7 the Fan, Roethlisberger said he’d like to play against the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 6 when the Steelers return from their bye week. But he made it clear, that his return is still in question.
“I need to know what I can and can’t do,” Roethlisberger said about hoping to practice next week. “I don’t want to (hurt the team). In this situation, it would be smart to get a good, full practice in.”
Roethlisberger has a history of returning from injuries quicker than expected. His history and his presence on the practice field makes it plausible his timetable could be more like 2-3 weeks than 4-5 weeks at this point.
The Steelers are 4-3 after losing last week at home against New England. Backup Landry Jones was decent in the game, but, obviously the Steelers are a much different team with Roethlisberger at the helm. They can be a serious playoff contender with a healthy Roethlisberger. But the key is getting to the playoffs. Pittsburgh still leads the AFC North. Both Baltimore and Cincinnati are 3-4. Cleveland, the only winless team in the NFL, is out of the race, at 0-7.
When healthy, Pittsburgh is the clear best team in the division. But because of Roethlisberger’s uncertainly, the Ravens and the Bengals can sneak in.
Here are key stretches for the three contending teams in the AFC North:
Tough stretch: The two most critical stretches for the Steelers are the next two games and then Weeks 15 and 16. They play the Ravens next week and then host Dallas in Week 10. Then, the Steelers go to Cincinnati in Week 15 and go to Baltimore in Week 16. The key is the next two games. If the Steelers can split these two games, with Roethlisberger or not, they should be OK and not trying to play catch-up during late December.
Easy stretch: The Steelers play at Cleveland and at Indianapolis after the Dallas game. Roethlisberger should be back by then and they will be two very winnable games. The Steelers end the season at home against the Browns. So, if the Steelers need to win that game for any playoff reason, they are in good shape.
Tough stretch: The Ravens better enjoy their bye week. It gets pretty rough in the season half. That is not good news for a team that has lost four straight games after starting the season 3-0. The Ravens play Pittsburgh and Cincinnati twice. They also have road games at Dallas and New England. And they host the Eagles. That is a rough half of the season.
Easy stretch: The Ravens host the Browns in Week 10 and then the Dolphins in Week 13. Other than that, the rest of the season will be a struggle.
Tough stretch: The Bengals don’t have any really bumpy roads. They play a lot of competitive teams, but nothing too terrible as far as a stretch goes. Their toughest games are at home against the Eagles in Week 13 and host Pittsburgh in Week 15. But they are home games and they are manageable.
Easy stretch: While the rest of the Bengals schedule is not overly difficult, it is not overly easy, either. The only sure win is probably in Week 14 at Cleveland.
Conclusion: The Steelers are the best team in the division. They will get healthier and their schedule is manageable. I don’t see, barring major injury setbacks, Baltimore being able to hang with the Steelers. The Ravens are average and they haven’t shown they are good enough to maneuver through a rugged second-half schedule. Cincinnati is inconsistent and their schedule is competitive enough to keep the Bengals from making a run. With a healthy Roethlisberger, the Steelers should ease away from the competition in December.