Will Ben Roethlisberger's Return Be Enough to Save Pittsburgh Steelers?

Zach KruseSenior Analyst INovember 28, 2012

Nov 25, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) on the sidelines in the third quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

The Pittsburgh Steelers may not get back quarterback Ben Roethlisberger before a matchup with the Baltimore Ravens Sunday, but it's looking more and more like his return will come in time for the Steelers to save their season. 

Roethlisberger has missed the last two games after sustaining shoulder and rib injuries against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 10. The Steelers have lost both games since the injury—to the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns—to fall to 6-5 in 2012.

Roethlisberger can't get healthy fast enough. Luckily for Pittsburgh, that process has been going faster than originally thought.

On Wednesday, Roethlisberger practiced with the team but was limited, according to Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun. 

Roethlisberger's chances of playing Sunday against the Ravens have always been slim, but his return to practice—even in a limited capacity—gives himself a chance to be active Sunday. More than likely, Roethlisberger will be listed as either "questionable" or "doubtful."

But even if Roethisberger can't play in Week 13, his return looks like it will come sooner rather than later. That would give the Steelers an opportunity to rescue what has becoming a fading season. 

Losses to both the Ravens and Browns have all but eliminated the Steelers' chances of winning the AFC North, but the playoffs are still on the table. 

At 6-5, the Steelers continue to tenuously hold the sixth and final slot in the AFC playoff picture. Better yet, only the Cincinnati Bengals (6-5) and Miami Dolphins (5-6) look like the true contenders to steal that title away from Pittsburgh over the final five games of the season. 

The Steelers also hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bengals thanks to a 24-17 win early this season. 

Even if Roethlisberger can't play Sunday and the Steelers fall to 6-6, getting a healthy quarterback for the final four games should give Pittsburgh the edge over both the Bengals and Dolphins to secure the final playoff spot. 

Over its final four games, Pittsburgh plays a somewhat comfortable schedule with games against San Diego, Dallas, Cincinnati and Cleveland. With three home games (including a visit from Cincinnati), and Roethlisberger's career dominance of those four teams, the Steelers should remain in control of their own playoff destiny. 

Overall, Roethlisberger has a career record of 36-5 against the Chargers, Cowboys, Bengals and Browns. 

In comparison, Cincinnati finishes their season with a trip to Pittsburgh and a season-finale welcome from the Ravens, who are likely to be fighting for a top seed in the AFC.

Losing Roethilisberger was a painful punch, but these Steelers are far from knocked out. 

While not having Roethlisberger this weekend probably means the Steelers drop to .500, that's not the biggest worry for Pittsburgh.

Once Roethlisberger is back in the starting lineup—and it's looking more and more like that return will come next week—the Steelers will once again be the front-runners for the AFC's final playoff spot.