By Arnie Leshin
Thanks to his stumbling Pittsburgh Steelers crashing the National Football League playoffs via an stirring field goal overtime win in Baltimore last week, Big Ben at 39 years old will again take the field in the wild card first round Sunday night.
Since he first took his initial snap in the Pittsburgh uniform 17 years ago at age 22, Roethlisberger has remained right where he began, and this could be his finale as he has indicated this would be his last campaign.
Pitt snuck in as the American Football Conference North wild card at 9-7, and will play against the Chiefs in Kansas City in a scheduled 6:15 kickoff on NBC. No doubt the Steelers are in the underdog role, but Roethlisberger doesn’t see it that way.
“We haven been exactly on a roll said the 6-foot-6 Big Ben, “but we’re happy to still be playing and will be be out to stay that way.”
What his Steelers could do is be in upset mold and eliminate last year’s Super Bowl runner-up. KC dropped off some, but still comes in with a 12-5 record and as the top team in the AFC West, with the Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) taking the second spot.
The other team from Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Eagles, finished on a low with a resounding loss to the AFC East champion Dallas Cowboys, and now needs to recover by ousting the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Bucs, 13-4 and winners of the NFC South.
But don’t count on it or on the two Quaker State representatives gaining the next round. The Eagles have been up-and-down and carry a 9-8 record, the Steelers are just happy to line up again behind the ever faithful Roethlisberger.
“He’s been just an outstanding player, a Hall of Fame player for us,” said head coach Mike Tomlin in regard to Roethisbrger, “and so it’s neat to see him so eager to take on Kansas City.”
The National Football Conference has the most entries, three, in the hunt with the Los Angeles Rams (12-5), the Arizona Cardinals (11-6), and the San Francisco 49ers (10-7) finishing one, two, three. California also has the most teams, two, with the Niners from up north and the Rams from down south. In the AFC, the East has Philly and Dallas in the hunt.
In the AFC, the Tennessee Titans (12-5) drew the first round bye, in the NFC it’s the Green Bay Packers (13-4) in that position.
Meanwhile, the Rams don’t play until Monday night when they take on the visiting conference rivals Arizona in a scheduled 6:15 start and viewed on ESPN and ABC. The Cardinals got away to a stellar start before floundering down the stretch and settling for second place behind the Rams.
San Francisco has a real toughie when it plays at AFC champion Dallas (12-5), which is playing its best ball of the campaign. But the 49ers finished only two games behind the Rams and one behind Arizona, so they can’t be taken lightly.
The playoffs begin with Saturday’s wild card doubleheader pairing Las Vegas at AFC South winning Cincinnati Bengals, 10-7, and putting together a surprisingly good season that ended a playoff drought. Both they and the Raiders sport the same overall records in a tilt slated for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff on NBC.
In the second game set for 2:30 on CBS, it’s an all-AFC match-up when the East champion Buffalo Bills (11-6) are home to the runner-up New England Patriots (10-7), who are unaccustomed to playing a first-round contest on the road. The two split the regular-season games.
None of these teams have been soaring-hot entering the weekend, so there’s no telling which one has all the key ingredients to finish on top of the heap. You don’t hear that Tampa Bay is set to win another one under ageless quarterback Tom Brady, or that Kansas City is primed to win this time.
Buffalo has been on a kind of a roller-coaster ride and just edged the Pats for the top spot in the AFC East, while the Cowboys have been impressive and are favored by some. The Rams are given a chance, and how Arizona plays is up to the struggling Cards. The Bengals lack playoff experience, but have been good at home, just as the Raiders have played well on the road.
So that’s it, pick-em now, just don’t bet your house on it.
SATURDAY, January 15th
Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-7), 2:30 p.m. on NBC
New England Patriots (10-7) at Buffalo Bills (11-6), 6:15 p.m. on CBS
SUNDAY: January 16th
Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) at Tampa Bay Bucs (13-4), 11 a.m. on FOX
San Francisco 49ers (10-7) at Dallas Cowboys (12-5), 2:30 p.m. on CBS
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-5), 6:15 p.m. on NBC
MONDAY: January 17th
Arizona Cardinals (11-6) at Los Angeles Rams (12-5), 6:15 p.m. on ESPN and ABC.