Steelers will be put to the test; Browns visit Dallas

Can the surging Steelers take down bitter division rival Baltimore minus their two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback?

With Ben Roethlisberger ruled out for Sunday’s AFC North showdown, veteran backup Byron Leftwich must run the offense and minimize mistakes.

Likely easier said than done against a 7-2 Ravens’ club which usually plays to its potential against the Black & Gold. That isn’t to suggest Pittsburgh is facing long odds Sunday night at Heinz Field.

Without Big Ben, it seems imperative Pittsburgh’s running game show the way, removing a measure of pressure on Leftwich from being forced to produce a prolific passing attack.

This much is certain: A Steelers’ loss has Mike Tomlin’s ballclub two games behind Baltimore and playing catch-up with the rematch just two weeks away in Maryland.

The 2-7 Browns, meanwhile, return from a bye week, visiting Dallas’ 4-5 Cowboys. On paper, it appears a near-sure win for Tony Romo and company, though Cleveland most likely makes it interesting before eventually falling.

Cincinnati, coming off an unexpected 31-13 blowout of New York’s Giants, opposes the 1-8 Chiefs at KC in a game Marvin Lewis’ team is more than capable of losing.

This column needed an overtime field goal Monday night to salvage a 7-7 week which should come as no surprise.


MIAMI AT BUFFALO. The fish imploded last week, falling at home (37-3) to Tennessee while Buffalo was pulling off a near shocker at New England. Go figure this important division matchup. DOLPHINS, 27-21.


PHILADELPHIA AT WASHINGTON. NFC East battle of 3-6 teams with Andy Reid’s future in serious jeopardy. REDSKINS, 30-20.

TAMPA BAY AT CAROLINA. Surprising Bucs can go 6-4 and remain in playoff hunt with road win. Hard to figure which Panthers’ team will show up. Call it a weak Upset Special. PANTHERS, 23-17.

ARIZONA AT ATLANTA. Falcons finally fell following 8-0 start and should rebound in the Georgia Dome. FALCONS, 33-17.

GREEN BAY AT DETROIT. Should be a spirited NFC North matchup. Men of Motown basically operating in desperation mode. LIONS, 27-24.

NEW YORK JETS AT ST. LOUIS. Rams experienced rare tie at San Fran last weekend and should be inspired in their return home vs. unpredictable Jets. RAMS, 23-20.

CINCINNATI AT KANSAS CITY. No reason Bengals should lose here, though that possibility certainly exists. BENGALS, 20-17.

JACKSONVILLE AT HOUSTON. Pitiful 1-8 Jags may not win again this season. Texans just want to emerge in one piece. TEXANS, 37-10.

CLEVELAND AT DALLAS. As usual, Brownies will play heavily favored foe close to the vest before finally succumbing. COWBOYS, 28-20.

NEW ORLEANS AT OAKLAND. Expect mental letdown for Saints, coming off emotional win vs. Atlanta. SAINTS, 30-27.

INDIANAPOLIS AT NEW ENGLAND. Rookie (Andrew Luck) vs. veteran (Tom Brady). Pats should prevail on home turf. PATRIOTS, 31-24.

SAN DIEGO AT DENVER. Chargers can lay claim to league’s most underachieving club. Peyton Manning and Broncs can open near insurmountable lead in AFC West with victory. BRONCOS, 35-21.

BALTIMORE AT PITTSBURGH. Without banged-up Big Ben, Black & Gold must depend on running game and the Terrible Towel to prevail. STEELERS, 17-13.


CHICAGO AT SAN FRANCISCO. They may have saved weekend’s best matchup for last in a potential postseason preview showdown. 49ERS, 23-20.

OPEN DATES: Minnesota, New York Giants, Seattle, Tennessee.