F. Dale Lolley's Sports Column
AFC North back in play for Steelers
After shockingly winning in Baltimore last weekend, the Steelers are playing with house money the rest of the season.
Or are they?
It was assumed by most that the Steelers would lose again last weekend in Baltimore, then get Ben Roethlisberger back for the stretch run.
But with last week’s win, suddenly, the AFC North is now in play again for the Steelers.
Baltimore is a 2-point underdog today at Washington, then hosts Denver and the New York Giants before finishing the regular season at Cincinnati.
If the Ravens lose today at Washington, they could be in trouble.
While they might be slight favorites at home against the Broncos and Giants, would anyone be surprised if the Ravens lose one or both of those games?
If that happens, the regular season finale in Cincinnati just might be played with a postseason spot on the line.
The Steelers have three home games remaining, starting with today’s game against the struggling San Diego Chargers, who won three of their first four games before dropping seven of their past eight.
The Steelers are n 8-point favorite to beat the struggling Chargers, who have never won a regular season game in Pittsburgh in 14 tries. With Roethlisberger returning, the Steelers should cover that spread.
They then finish up the regular season at Dallas and at home against Cincinnati and Cleveland. The Steelers will be favored in all of their home games and the game against the up-and-down Cowboys should be considered a toss up.
If the Steelers win all four, they will have a shot at winning the AFC North and getting no worse than a home game in the opening round of the AFC playoffs.
That’s how important last week’s win in Baltimore was.
Of course, the way this season has gone – where up is down and right is left – who knows what to expect?
Roethlisberger looked sharp in practice this week and always gets a little extra competitive – if that is possible for him – when he’s playing against Eli Manning or Philip Rivers, the two quarterbacks selected ahead of him in the 2004 draft.
Look for another strong game from Roethlisberger in his return.
Take the Steelers to win, 24-13
Joe Flacco doesn’t play well on the road, and an already banged up defense could be missing Terrell Suggs – though T-Sizzle has been more T-Fizzle this season while coming back from an Achilles injury.
Take Washington, 27-20
The Cowboys were fortunate to come away with a win over struggling Philadelphia last week. Cincinnati is not struggling.
Take Cincinnati, 26-21
Could it be a three-game winning streak for the Browns? Yep.
Take Cleveland, 20-13
The Eagles gave it their best shot last week against division rival Dallas. Bucs need a win to stay in the playoff race.
Take Tampa Bay, 27-17
Things are falling apart in Chicago, which has been ravaged by injuries.
Take Minnesota, 17-16
New England has beaten Denver, but lost to Baltimore. Houston trounced Baltimore and Denver. But that was when the Texans were playing well earlier this season.
Take New England, 31-27
Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill will have his hands full here.
Take San Francisco, 24-9
Now that the Saints are basically out of the playoff picture, they can try to play spoilers.
Take the Saints to cover in a 34-31 loss
Detroit is dangerous but kind of like Dallas, plenty of bark, little bite.
Take Green Bay, 27-20
Seahawks are 5-0 at home this season, while the Cardinals haven’t won since a 4-0 start.
Take Seattle, 23-10
The Colts stole a win last week in Detroit. They won’t need to steal one here.
Take Indianapolis, 24-14
This game is so bad, the home crowd will be calling for native son Tim Tebow to play - for the Jets.
Take Jacksonville to cover in a 17-16 loss
Tough game to pick. The Falcons won their Super Bowl last week against New Orleans, but the 3-9 Panthers have been talking trash on the 11-1 Falcons.
Take Atlanta, 30-20
Rams won their Super Bowl last week against the 49ers.
Take Buffalo, 24-20
Last Week: 2-13 ATS (Ouch); 7-8 Straight up
Overall: 75-94-6 ATS; 105-70 Straight up
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.