The fate of the AFC North and the Bengals’ playoff hopes may be decided tonight in Pittsburgh when the Baltimore Raven head to the steel city to take on the Steelers. The Ravens hold a modest lead in the division at 7-3, while Pitt was looking poised to overtake them, standing at 6-3 and having won four straight games coming into tonight’s matchup. However, they’ll have to keep up their streak without their most important player, QB Ben Roethlisberger will not play Sunday. Ben sprained his right shoulder on Monday night and is now expected to miss at least the next three weeks, leaving backup QB Byron Leftwich to get the start for first time since 2009. His career record as a starter is 24-25, and his passer rating is 82.7 with two touchdowns and one interception in his two career starts vs. Baltimore.
The Ravens have been the benefactors of an easy first-half schedule thus far, and thus can be attributed to their 7-2 mark as they lead the AFC North by one game over the Steelers. Five of their seven wins are against Cleveland (twice), Kansas City, Oakland and Philadelphia, who are a combined 11-36 after today’s action. With two games coming in the next three weeks against the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger likely out due to his rib injury, it may be safe to say the AFC North is the Ravens to lose at this point.
If Big Ben does end up missing the next three weeks and the Steelers go on a losing streak, it’s a very realistic scenario that the Bengals and Steelers enter their Week 16 matchup in Pittsburgh within one game of each other. As of now, at 5-5, the Bengals are set to play the Raiders, Cowboys, Eagles, and Chargers in that same span. With a game and a half separating the AFC North rivals, it’s very possible that the Bengals will have a chance to overtake the Steelers for their wild card playoff spot. If the Steelers struggle significantly the rest of the year, they could fall out of the playoff picture completely, leaving a team like the Indianapolis Colts (6-4 after just losing to New England) to secure a playoff spot.