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In AFC North, Pittsburgh faces big void at the start

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is suspended for first six games for violating league's personal conduct policy, a disappointing mess for traditional powerhouse in one of NFL's toughest divisions.

July 20, 2010|By Sam Farmer

Times NFL writer Sam Farmer poses the big questions as each team readies for training camp:

The Pittsburgh Steelers learned when Troy Polamalu went down with a knee injury last season what one player can mean to a team.

Now, the Steelers will start this season with an absence that's even more conspicuous.

In April, the NFL suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first six games of the season for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Although he is allowed to participate in training camp, Roethlisberger will have to step aside and hand over the offense — probably to Byron Leftwich — when the season starts.

That means both Baltimore (Week 4) and Cleveland (Week 6) will be able to get their games at Pittsburgh out of the way with a backup quarterback at the helm for the Steelers.

It's a disappointing mess for one of the league's proudest franchises, one that also dealt talented-but-trouble-prone receiver Santonio Holmes to the Jets this off-season for a mere fifth-round pick.

The AFC North is among the toughest divisions in football. And for the team that has won two of the past five Super Bowls, it certainly isn't getting any easier.

Cincinnati

Can the Bengals break their 28-year streak of failing to make the playoffs two years in a row? Can the offensive line do a better job of protecting Carson Palmer? How will Palmer benefit from having a big target over the middle in Jermaine Gresham? Can Antonio Bryant do what Laveranues Coles could not — pan out at receiver?

Rookies and veterans: July 28, in Georgetown, Ky.

Baltimore

Does Anquan Boldin give the Ravens the playmaking target they wanted to give their offense a much-needed boost? Baltimore didn't draft a cornerback, so the weight of expectation is on Lardarius Webb, who's coming off a knee injury. Will he be a difference maker? Can defensive tackle Terrence Cody pair with Haloti Ngata to wreak havoc in the middle the way Baltimore has come to expect?

Rookies: Monday, Veterans: July 28, in Westminster, Md.

Pittsburgh

Could losing Roethlisberger for the start of the season actually help the Steelers gel as a team? What happens if, say, Leftwich is rolling when Big Ben is ready to come back? Will the Steelers defense start showing its age? What happened to those old dominating offensive lines in Pittsburgh?

Rookies and veterans: July 30, in Latrobe, Pa.

Cleveland

Can the Browns change their fortunes? They're definitely trying, with a new president in Mike Holmgren, new general manager in Tom Heckert, three new quarterbacks, new running backs, and a retooled defensive backfield. Can quarterback Jake Delhomme return to the form he once enjoyed in Carolina, or is he still a turnover machine? Can the Browns maintain the momentum they had at the end of last season, when they won their last four games?

Rookies: Friday, Veterans: July 30, in Berea, Ohio.

Next: NFC East

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