Goodell could influence AFC North

April, 14, 2010
4/14/10
11:00
AM ET
One of the most influential people in the AFC North right now is not a player or coach.

In fact, it's NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

How is this possible?

Goodell
Goodell
Well, Goodell has to decide whether to suspend Pittsburgh Steelers star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. His call will not only impact the Steelers but other division teams looking to get an early jump on Pittsburgh.

Roethlisberger, who met with Goodell Tuesday, is in hot water after two sexual assault allegations in less than a year. Roethlisberger will not face criminal charges, but his actions were enough to catch the attention of the league office.

The AFC North is expected to be a close, three-team race between the Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals next season. If Goodell gives Roethlisberger a sizable suspension, such as four games, that could be just the edge Baltimore and/or Cincinnati needs to get off to a fast start and create separation from Pittsburgh.

Without Roethlisberger under center, the Steelers are not nearly as formidable. Depending on the September opponents, Pittsburgh could get off to a slow start if Goodell benches the team's most important player.

I'm sure division rivals would like to have Pittsburgh on its schedule for the game(s) Roethlisberger potentially could be sidelined. He's been a thorn in the side of Cincinnati, Baltimore and the Cleveland Browns over the years.

All the Steelers can do at this point is hope for the best. In this case that would be a one-game suspension for Roethlisberger or no suspension at all.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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