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Roethlisberger Fallout

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Look, I don’t really have a statistic on how many teams in NFL history made the playoffs after a 1-3 start, but I can tell you that no club that started with that mark or worse made it to the postseason in 2009. And this is relevant because it’s now quite possible that the Pittsburgh Steelers will start the 2010 season at 1-3 or worse following the minimum four-game suspension of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Big Ben got the news from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday following his second accusation of a sexual assault in less than a year. Goodell actually suspended Roethlisberger for six games and ordered the QB to undergo “comprehensive behavioral counseling.” But the suspension could be reduced to four games after Goodell reviews the situation before the season. Then again, it could also be extended if Goodell decides Roethlisberger has not cooperated with the program.

With tens of millions of dollars and his Steeler and NFL future at stake, one would assume that Roethlisberger would do anything the commissioner asks and that he would meet all the requirements for getting the suspension lessened to four games – he’s not even expected to appeal. Remember that Michael Vick, who was convicted of a crime and did jail time, had his suspension reduced from six games to two before the beginning of last season after being on his best behavior.

So here is what Pittsburgh’s schedule looks like in Weeks 1-4 and the opponent’s record a year ago:

Week 1 – vs. Atlanta (9-7; missed playoffs)
Week 2 – at Tennessee (8-8; missed playoffs)
Week 3 – at Tampa Bay (3-13; missed playoffs)
Week 4 – vs. Baltimore (9-7, lost in wild-card game)

On the surface, that doesn’t look like too bad of a schedule – with the bye week coming in Week 5, allowing Roethlisberger a practice week to get back in sync with the team. But I would argue that Pittsburgh will only be a solid favorite at Tampa Bay, and the heat and humidity in Florida for a Sunday afternoon game in September can be rough on any visitor. Both Atlanta and Tennessee should be in contention for the playoffs this year, and the Ravens should be even better with Anquan Boldin.

It was against the Ravens in Week 12 last year that we saw the likely guy who will be under center in Weeks 1-4 this season: Former Oregon star Dennis Dixon. He had thrown all of one NFL pass in his two-year career before being forced to play against Baltimore with Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch both hurt. Dixon wasn’t too awful, going 12-for-26 for 145 yards with a TD. But he also threw a pick in overtime that led to Baltimore’s victory. 

The Steelers also traded for former backup Byron Leftwich, but that’s probably just for an extra body. The job is Dixon’s to lose in training camp against Batch, and Dixon certainly offers a mobile option that even Roethlisberger doesn’t. And the former Duck should be more prepared with a full camp that no doubt will include plenty of snaps with the first team. Of course, he also won’t have Santonio Holmes this year, either – Holmes caught Dixon’s TD pass against Baltimore.

Frankly, that opener against Atlanta probably determines whether Pittsburgh makes the playoffs in 2010. Because if the Steelers lose that, a 0-2 start looks pretty likely with a visit to Chris Johnson and the Titans next. And since 1990, only 13.75 percent of 0-2 teams have gone on to make the playoffs. Three playoff teams from 2008 started last year 0-2 (Panthers, Titans, Dolphins) and none made the postseason. And if the Steelers miss a second postseason in a row because of Roethlisberger, the already disgusted majority of fans may get him run out of town.

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