The Pittsburgh Steelers are a game behind the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North and are two games clear for the final wildcard position, with seven games remaining. However, they could find themselves without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for an extended period of time, if not for the rest of the season.
Roethlisberger was knocked out of the Steelers' Week 10 contest with an apparent shoulder injury. He actually left the stadium before the game was over, so he could get to the hospital and have an MRI on the shoulder. His right, throwing, shoulder was diagnosed with a sprain. However, it was a rib injury that came back with the more serious prognosis.
Roethlisberger has a "dislocated" rib, which doctors are concerned could puncture his aorta if it is moved around too much. The injury, which happened when the Kansas City Chiefs sacked Roethlisberger, could hold "Big Ben" out for an extended period o time, although Roethlisberger is confident he will be back this year.
His doctors, however, are not sure when he will be able to get back to playing.
"From what [the doctor] said, he's trying to talk to experts, because there is no case study over the exact same thing," Roethlisberger said on Wednesday. "We are just trying to talk to people - because we don't know."
Big Ben has been ruled out of this weekend's contest against the Ravens, the first of two meetings over three weeks for the two teams. The Steelers have gone 8&5 without Roethlisberger since they drafted him, with four of those five losses coming against the Ravens.
"I don't think [the injury is season ending]," Roethlisberger said. "I don't know though. I'm not a medical expert. I just know I'm going to do what I can to get back."
Backup quarterback Byron Leftwich will start for the Steelers with Roethlisberger out. Of course, the Steelers will be hoping Big Ben can get back on the field. The Miami Dolphins, who were holding on to a wildcard position until losing their last two games, and the San Diego Chargers are both capable of surpassing the Steelers if they stumble without Roethlisberger.
The Dolphins have some tough games of their own coming up, including two games against the New England Patriots and a game at the San Francisco 49ers. But, if the Steelers stumble, Miami could find the door to the playoffs opening up for them again. Can they take advantage?
If they are going to position themselves for that playoff position, the Dolphins have to start with a win tonight against the Buffalo Bills.