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Friday, September 3, 2010
Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger

By James Walker

The Pittsburgh Steelers have officially begun life without two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. NFL comissioner Roger Goodell met with Roethlisberger on Friday and reduced his suspension from six games to four. Roethlisberger will not be allowed to train with the team until his suspension ends next month.

This was the expected outcome after the commissioner established firm guidelines in April that stated Roethlisberger could have his suspension cut two games for good behavior. Roethlisberger has done and said all the right things and seems to be heading in the right direction in his personal life.

Dixon
Dennis Dixon was 12-for-26 for 145 yards with a TD and an interception in his lone NFL regular-season start.
But with Roethlisberger out of the picture until October, let's look ahead to Pittsburgh's four opponents to start the season.

Game No. 1 vs. Atlanta Falcons

Analysis: The Falcons are a darkhorse Super Bowl contender. They have a good, young quarterback in Matt Ryan, a strong running game led by Michael Turner and an improved defense that was bolstered in the draft and free agency. Pittsburgh has a chance to win this game by feeding off the emotion of its home opener. But with an inexperienced Dennis Dixon likely getting his second career start against a quality opponent, quarterback play should be the difference.

AFC North blog prediction: Loss

Game No. 2 at Tennessee Titans

Analysis: As Pittsburgh found out during its 2008 Super Bowl season, Tennessee is not an easy place to play. This would be Dixon's first road start of the season and second road game of his career. The quarterbacks in this game are similar, but Tennessee's Vince Young has much more starting experience. Slight edge to the home team.

AFC North blog prediction: Loss

Game No. 3 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Analysis: We're not sure at this point if Byron Leftwich will be available. But based on the reported diagnosis of an MCL sprain, this could be a target date for his return. Depending on the team's record (I predict 0-2) and how Dixon is playing, the Steelers could turn to the veteran Leftwich, the favorite to win the starting job before Thursday's knee injury. The Buccaneers are rebuilding after last year's 3-13 record, so this is Pittsburgh's safest bet in the first four games.

AFC North blog prediction: Win

Game No. 4 vs. Baltimore Ravens

Analysis: Baltimore is 1-3 against Pittsburgh in its past four meetings, the only win coming last season when Roethlisberger sat out with a concussion. Expect a close game.

AFC North blog prediction: Loss