Ben Roethlisberger hopes to be out of his sling and on the field for next week's… (Justin K. Aller / Getty Images )
Ben Roethlisberger said watching his Pittsburgh Steelers lose Sunday at Cleveland was excruciating. More painful than his injured shoulder? We'll find out this week.
"I'm going to try," the quarterback told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette when asked whether he would play Sunday when the Steelers play at Baltimore in a crucial AFC North showdown. "It's killing me to watch."
It's killing Pittsburgh fans too, as their 6-5 team has dropped two in a row without Roethlisberger, who is recovering from shoulder and rib injuries.
The Steelers, down to third-string quarterback Charlie Batch because of the broken ribs of backup Byron Leftwich, committed eight turnovers in their 20-14 loss at Cleveland.
Leftwich was injured in a three-point home loss to the Ravens on Nov. 18, a 13-10 defensive slugfest that Baltimore won with two field goals and a punt return for a touchdown. It was the Ravens' third consecutive victory at Heinz Field.
One bright spot for the Steelers: On Monday, they activated rookie guard David DeCastro from the reserve/injured list, a key for their offensive line. DeCastro, a first-round pick who blocked for Andrew Luck at Stanford, missed the first 11 games because of a torn knee ligament.
With five games to go, the Steelers are trying to keep pace for a wild-card spot in a race that includes 7-4 Indianapolis, 6-5 Cincinnati and 5-6 Miami.
At 9-2, the Ravens have the inside track on the No. 2 seeding in the AFC behind 10-1 Houston, a prime spot seeing as the two top-seeded teams get a first-round bye. But that's certainly no lock for the Ravens (or the Texans, for that matter) as both Denver and New England are 8-3.
The New York Giants were plenty impressive Sunday night in their 38-10 thrashing of Green Bay, taking a two-game lead in the NFC East with that victory.
The Giants play at Washington on Monday night, facing a rested Redskins team coming off a 38-31 win at Dallas on Thanksgiving.
Even though the Giants won the Super Bowl last season, they were swept by the Redskins.
The Giants won Round 1 with the Redskins this season, posting a 27-23 victory in East Rutherford, N.J., but they had problems stopping Robert Griffin III. The rookie quarterback completed 20 of 28 passes for 258 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and ran nine times for 89 yards.
Tampa Bay, angling for an NFC wild-card spot, is smarting after a one-point loss to Atlanta on Sunday, its seventh loss to the Falcons in eight tries.
No time to stew, though, as the Buccaneers play at Denver on Sunday with a chance to complete a sweep of all four AFC West opponents. That's no simple task against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, who have won a league-best six consecutive games.
Denver has the easiest remaining schedule, but that doesn't mean all of the opponents are pushovers. The Broncos' two toughest games down the stretch are against the Buccaneers and at Baltimore on Dec. 16.
Who will start at quarterback when San Francisco plays at St. Louis on Sunday?
Jim Harbaugh isn't saying … yet. But the 49ers coach said Monday that he'll probably announce the starter — Colin Kaepernick or Alex Smith — on Wednesday, rather than waiting until game time to give a definitive answer, as he did Sunday.
Harbaugh said he doesn't want his other players to have to deal with the distraction of being asked about the situation by reporters all week. So far, though, he's playing coy.
"Alex Smith is our starting quarterback," the coach said Monday. "He has not done anything to lose that job. He's playing at a very high level."
But before you draw any conclusions from that …
"You also can't categorize Colin Kaepernick as a backup quarterback," Harbaugh continued. "He's started games and played very well. It's a unique situation, because both quarterbacks are playing well."