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Pro Football Weekly's Eric Edholm brings you hot news and the inside scoop about the NFL.

Assessing the damage done to the Steelers with Ben’s suspension

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Updated Oct. 06, 2010 @ 7:27 p.m.
By Eric Edholm

The NFL has suspended Ben Roethlisberger six games. It could end up four games. It could end up eight.

But for the purposes of this blog entry, let’s call it six. And let’s look at what they face during his league-imposed time of reflection. (In kindergarten, we called this period “time out.”)

The Steelers open with a very good Falcons team on the rise and — ahem — their poster-boy QB, Matt Ryan. That game very well could be a season-kicking-off win for an Atlanta club that Ryan said is ready to take aim at the Saints.

In Week Two, the Steelers go to Tennessee, an intriguing opponent. It could be a matchup of scramblers: Vince Young vs. Dennis Dixon. Or it could be scrambler (Young) vs. lumberer if Byron Leftwich is the starter. Call it a coin flip right now, but the Titans will have home field.

The Buccaneers are two years from contending, but again, the game is in Tampa. Still a likely Steelers win, though the Bucs beat the Saints when they were still playing hard a year ago.

The Ravens have to be pumped to have heard the six-game whacking. That means they will not see Ben in Pittsburgh and certainly will be favored to win there.

Week Five is a bye, followed by the Browns in Pittsburgh. No matter who is playing QB for the Browns at that point, the Steelers will be favorites.

And then in Week Six, the also-intriguing Dolphins are the test in Miami. Assuming Ben is still sidelined, the Dolphins have to have the edge here.

Could be 2-4. Could be 4-2. That’s the range I see. Not season-crushing if they lose four of those games, but that’s a big hole to dig out of in a division where the Ravens look very, very good and the Bengals made the postseason a year ago.

What I thought was one of the most compelling games of the newly announced schedule, even prior to the Roethlisberger suspension, was the Halloween night game between the Steelers and Saints. It was noteworthy to me because this is normally the date where the NFL gives MLB its Sunday night to broadcast the World Series without competition. But no longer: The NFL has served notice that it is the Big Kahuna in the sports world, ready to crush any silly baseball game that comes across its path.

And my goodness, what if that is Big Ben’s first game back? Saints. Steelers. Roethlisberger. The past two champions. October 31 in a city that loves to get a little weird (I should know: I have spent two Halloweens there) on All Hallow’s Eve. It would be epic.

But, taking a step back, it’s worth noting last season’s pass-defense rankings of the six teams the Steelers open with: Falcons (28th); Titans (31st); Buccaneers (10th; somewhat misleading because of the awful run defense); Ravens (eighth); Browns (29th); and Dolphins (24th). That means the Steelers face four of last year’s nine worst pass defenses. Can’t ask for much better a break than that.

Maybe the Steelers can come out of this all right. As always, it will be fascinating stuff.

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