How will Big Ben’s injuries affect Pittsburgh’s playoff possibilities?

It took a little longer than expected, but the Steelers picked up an expected Monday night win against the struggling Chiefs to remain one game behind Baltimore in the AFC North. However, it’s likely any post-game celebrations after the 16-13 overtime victory were muted, and not just because it was an overtime win against a 1-8 team.

When the Steelers take on the rival Ravens on Sunday night, they’ll be doing so without Ben Roethlisberger, who suffered a sprained right shoulder and a dislocated rib on a sack late in the third quarter of Monday night’s game. And even though Roethlisberger is no stranger to being banged up, it’s unlikely that Sunday’s game will be the only one that he misses. With the serious pain that he’s dealing with – mostly from the dislocated rib – and the potential that the rib could puncture the aorta being a serious concern at the moment, he likely won‘t be allowed to return quickly even if he wants to, even if it means he misses most or all of the rest of the regular season. That will likely affect the Steelers’ odds with online sportsbooks, but his health, both in the short term and long term, is much more important than football.

But when it comes to the football side of things, how will his absence affect the Steelers this week and going forward, if he winds up missing several weeks? Given the good season he was having before Monday night, any replacement would be a drop-off, but how much of a drop-off will there be with the reins now in the hands of former first-round pick Byron Leftwich, who’s set to make his first start since 2009 on Sunday night? Leftwich was a fairly respectable 7 of 14 for 73 yards against the Chiefs, but he’ll face a much sterner test against the Ravens, who have done a lot of bending defensively this season but are sure to bring their best for Sunday‘s showdown.

But even though his career as a starter and his lack of meaningful game action over the last several seasons won’t invoke a great deal of confidence, Leftwich, who’s spent four of the last five seasons with the Steelers (2008 & 2010-present) is highly familiar with the personnel and playbook, which counts for a lot. Also, to make his job a lot easier, Pittsburgh’s stable of running backs, which has produced three individual 100-yard performances in the last four weeks, will get a lot of touches, against a run defense that hasn’t been as stout this season as we’re used to seeing. Plus, the Steelers still boast one of the league’s best defenses, according to the latest NFL statistics. So, even though the Ravens are unsurprisingly favored, it won’t be a surprise if the Steelers extend their winning streak to five and tie things up atop the AFC North.

A win would be huge, because after Sunday, three of Pittsburgh’s next four games are on the road, at Cleveland, Baltimore, and Dallas. Tackling that stretch and the remainder of the homestretch would certainly be a lot easier with Big Ben on the field, no doubt about that. But the more the rust comes off, the more comfortable Leftwich will be and the better he should do. And if he can perform efficiently, the Steelers’ overall quality and winning pedigree should see them through successfully until their main man returns, whether it’s in a few weeks or just in time for the postseason.