The Steelers are swimming in dangerous waters.
They are 6-4 and chasing Baltimore in the NFC North. Three of the next four games are on the road, including this Sunday at Cleveland against the gritty Browns. Next week they are at Baltimore. Four of the final six games are against division opponents.
And no one knows how many of those games will be played without starting QB Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder/ribs). It looks like veteran Charlie Batch – who has not taken a live snap this season -- will get the call against Cleveland in a game which figures to be listed as close to a pick ‘em once the quarterback situation is cleared up.
In Vegas, Covers Expert handicapper Teddy Covers figures that the number will be pretty close to a wash.
“My number is Pittsburgh -1,” he says, “so I’d certainly expect [the books] to put it at something in the pick range.”
Covers says it’s impossible to determine when a line will be posted.
A few eyebrows were raised when the Steelers went with Byron Leftwich last Sunday against the Ravens, but any suspense about who will start in Cleveland ended when it was disclosed that Leftwich has fractured ribs.
Batch had one clean bite of the apple last season and he went 15-for-22 for 208 yards and a 79.4 QB rating in a 27-0 victory over the Rams. That he went 3-1 while Roethlisberger was serving a suspension a few years ago only increases the comfort level.
Making things even more problematic for the Steelers is the absence of WR Jerricho Cotchery (ribs). The team is considering bringing back old friend Plaxico Burress, at least until Cotchery is healthy again.
At 6-4 (4-5-1 ATS) the Steelers are in the pole position for one of the AFC wild-card spots, but if they can’t take care of business in Cleveland or Baltimore, the landscape could look a lot different heading down the stretch. Keeping them on course is Batch’s job now.
“Aside from beating Cleveland like a drum [16-1 SU L17 games, including 11-0 SU and 9-2 ATS when not favored by 8 or more points],” Covers Expert Marc Lawrence says, “Pittsburgh owns the better offense and the superior defense. And Batch is 5-2 SU and ATS as a starter with Pittsburgh in his career."
Batch is 16-10-1 ATS in division games, including 10-2-1 ATS when his team is off a loss (8-0 ATS when both teams are off a loss).