Sometime on Friday the NFL will make an official announcement that Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension will be reduced from six to four games.
The news couldn’t have come at a better time either, with backup Byron Leftwich suffering a knee injury in the Steelers’ final preseason game on Thursday night. Leftwich is not expected to need surgery and could still play in the team’s opener next Sunday, although as of this writing nobody knows his status.
In light of Big Ben’s suspension being reduced, the question now becomes whether or not a futures wager on Pittsburgh’s 2011 Super Bowl odds is worth another look. At six games, bettors may have been less reluctant to take a shot on the Steelers, but now that he’ll only miss four they might take a shot.
Odds makers from online sports book BroburySports.com currently list the Steelers at 22/1 to win the 2011 Super Bowl and 10/1 to win the AFC. Considering they were just in the title game two years ago with largely the same roster, 22/1 would seem to offer tremendous value.
But let’s start with the schedule first. The games Big Ben will miss are as follows: vs. Falcons, at Titans, at Buccaneers and vs. Ravens. Baltimore was the only team that made the playoffs out of this group last year, but Atlanta narrowly missed going to the postseason and will be a strong team, as will Tennessee now that Vince Young is the full-time starter again.
If Leftwich or Dennis Dixon can’t earn a split over those first four games, a 1-3 or 0-4 hole might be too much for the Steelers to overcome. Remember, by the time Big Ben sees regular season game action again he’ll need time to shake off the rust. There’s no guarantee that he’s going to step back into the offense and the passing game will be as good as it was last year – I don’t care how much practice he’s had. Games are obviously another animal.
Let’s also keep in mind the concerns the Steelers have outside of Big Ben’s suspension. For starters, the offensive line lost starting tackle Willie Colon for the season and while they added veteran Flozell Adams, his pass protection has been in decline for years. He’ll no doubt help the run game, but edge rushers have feasted on him over the past couple of seasons.
The rest of the line is comprised of blockers who failed to open up holes for running back Rashard Mendenhall last season, although adding Maurkice Pouncey in the draft will certainly help in that area. Still, he’s a rookie and he’s pound to make mistakes.
The other huge area of concern is the secondary and the health of safety Troy Polamalu. If he can’t stay healthy, the rest of the unit will likely suffer – especially considering the cornerback position is already weak as it is.
Even at 22/1, I think passing on the Steelers this year makes sense. The only exception is if they look great in their first two games and you know they’re guaranteed a split when Big Ben is back. Then it might be worth consideration if their odds are still favorable.
As of now, however, there are much better teams out there with quarterbacks who will start from Week 1.