What Does Ben Roethlisberger's Injury Mean for AFC Playoff Picture?

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst INovember 13, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 12:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rolls out to pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the game on November 12, 2012 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The shoulder injury for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger does not kill the playoff chances for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012, but it does make the Baltimore Ravens clear favorites to repeat as AFC North champions and secure a top overall seed in the conference. 

The Steelers may end up having to settle for second place in the division and another wildcard slot.

Head coach Mike Tomlin announced Tuesday that Roethlisberger suffered a sprained sternoclavicular joint (or SC joint) in his right shoulder during the Steelers' overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs Monday night. 

Via Mike Garafolo of USA Today:

Tomlin says Ben has an SC (sternoclavicular) sprain. That's all he has at this point.

— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) November 13, 2012


ESPN's Ed Werder expanded on the mindset of the Steelers coaching staff for next week, per a source:

Another Steelers source told ESPN that the team's staff was told: "proceed with (backup quarterback Byron (Leftwich). It doesn't look like you're going to have Ben this week. We're looking at next week as a possibility as of right now." 

While not as serious as it could have been, the injury is likely to keep Roethlisberger out of the Steelers' Week 11 matchup with the Ravens in Pittsburgh. That reality is significant in the scheme of the AFC North race currently forming over the final stretch of this season.  

The 6-3 Steelers are currently a game back of the 7-2 Ravens, and a loss at home without Roethlisberger would push Pittsburgh to two games back with six games to play. Certainly not an insurmountable deficit, but one that would put the Ravens comfortably ahead in the AFC North. 

Of course, the Steelers are not guaranteed a loss this Sunday without Roethlisberger in the lineup. The team has won football games without him in the past. According to Werder's report, the Steelers are 9-5 without Roethlisberger since 2004. 

But rolling without their elite quarterback won't make matter any easier against their chief rival, especially considering the play from the position Monday night. 

Backup Byron Leftwich completed just 7-of-14 passes for 73 yards and zero touchdowns against the Chiefs. Over five offensive drives, Leftwich led the Steelers to just one field goal in the fourth quarter. Matt Cassel's interception set up the game-winning field goal try in overtime.

Rustiness obviously played a major part in that ineffectiveness.  

Before last night's appearance, Leftwich had only thrown seven total passes over the last three seasons. His last start came in September of 2009 as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The history of this rivalry isn't on Leftwich's side, either.

Overall, the Steelers have lost both games without Roethlisberger against the Ravens—in 2009 (20-17, game started by Dennis Dixon) and 2010 (17-14, Charlie Batch). 

The Ravens are also 3-1 over the last four regular season games against the Steelers. 

Roethlisberger's injury is obviously not a death knell for the Steelers' playoff chances this season, but it does put the next week or two in doubt. Falling to the Ravens at home Sunday night would only put Baltimore one step closer to another division title, leaving Pittsburgh grasping for a wildcard slot again in 2012.