NFL

Ben Roethlisberger's Shoulder Sprain Impacts the AFC North Division Race, But Not Rest of Playoffs for Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulder injury is getting the amorphous whispers of serious treatment. Ed Werder cites sources who say it could be pretty significant and “one that could take a while to heal.” Mike Tomlin though, just said that he is in the questionable category with a shoulder sprain, while Mike Silver of Yahoo says that his sources tell him “not long term” though “iffy” for this weekend. Basically, the internet is awash in Big Ben rumors, amazingly none of them from the Big Lead or Deadspin.

What I can do is try to estimate the impact of the injury looking at the scenarios, and how it affects the AFC race.

In the last year, we’ve seen several quarterback injuries impact playoff outcomes. Last year, it was Matt Schaub going out with a lis franc injury at about this same point. The Texans were 7-3, and with an easier schedule remaining, looked to be on pace for a first round bye. They closed 3-3, and ended up having to go to Baltimore with rookie quarterback T.J.Yates. A week later, Cutler was lost with a broken thumb, reversing the Bears fortunes from 7-3 to out of the playoffs when Caleb Hanie was horrible.

At the time, I did some calculations of contending teams that lost a quarterback. We can now add those cases from last year in (Michael Vick also qualifies, as Eagles had winning record with him). Since 2002, staters with a winning record who played between 9 & 13 games won 66.7%, while their backups won 47% of games. That’s a drop off of nearly 20% in game winning percentage.

We can also look at Pittsburgh, like I did with talk of Ben Roethlisberger potentially missing a game due to birth of a child. Pittsburgh has scored one fewer point per game with Roethlisberger out for 15 starts since 2004. They have won 71% of games with Roethlisberger, and 60% without him (9 of 15). That’s a smaller drop off, so far, but if we assume Byron Leftwich to be no better than an average backup, we can go with 20%.

Pittsburgh, unfortunately, faces Baltimore twice in three weeks in a weird scheduling quirk, with another division game at Cleveland in the middle, so that those will be key in any division tiebreaker. The path to the AFC North likely requires a Pittsburgh sweep of Baltimore, and that was just impacted. Pittsburgh does get Baltimore at home next week, so if they can win that one, they might still be alive for the division. If you thought Pittsburgh had say, a 60% chance at home before, then they still have at least a 40% chance even if Roethlisberger cannot go.

Besides impacting Pittsburgh’s chances of getting the home game with a division win, though, it likely won’t hurt them even if Roethlisberger does miss games beyond the second Baltimore affair. The top of the AFC is becoming clearer, as it looks like the Texans, Broncos and Patriots should start to pull away in their divisions. The middle class in the AFC stinks, almost like there is no middle class.

The Steelers will be fine, as they host two of the teams that could potentially catch them with strong runs, the Chargers and Bengals, have to come to Pittsburgh in December. If all these various reports are somewhere around the truth–he’ll miss games, but certainly not done for the season–then he should be back for those. Nine wins and they are in. The only impact of on the playoffs is that they may have to go on the road, just like in 2005, when they went 2-2 in games without Roethlisberger, costing them the regular season division title. They’ll have to win a game in Baltimore probably. It just may have to be in January now, if Roethlisberger is out for three weeks.

[photo via US Presswire]

 

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