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Pittsburgh Quarterback Injuries Reverberate Through AFC North

The AFC North this week will be dominated by news that not only will the Steelers be without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger this weekend, but also without his immediate replacement, Byron Leftwich.

With both quarterbacks injured, the Steelers will look to third-stringer Charlie Batch, while a replacement backup will need to be picked up off the street, so to speak. Understandably, this scenario is creating havoc with this weekend’s fixtures.

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) at Cleveland Browns (2-8)

Sunday 1 PM ET

Injured against the Ravens, Byron Leftwich will be absent this weekend leaving Pittsburgh with third-string quarterback, Charlie Batch.

Following Sunday night’s tough loss to Baltimore – which left backup quarterback Byron Leftwich injured – Pittsburgh (6-4, 2-3 road) will hope a trip to Cleveland (2-8, 2-3 home) proves fruitful.

Leftwich completed the game against Baltimore but was found to have fractured two ribs as well as a sore shoulder at the conclusion, rendering him inactive for this Sunday’s game.

The Steelers will start long-time backup Charlie Batch against the lowly Browns. Batch joined the Steelers in 2002 after being released by Detroit – where Joey Harrington had been given the starting role. The former Eastern Michigan standout is 5-2 when starting for the Steelers. He has thrown 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions in a Pittsburgh uniform. His last start came on Dec. 24, 2011 in a 27-0 win over St. Louis.

Cleveland came close to knocking off the Dallas Cowboys this past weekend, eventually succumbing to a field goal in overtime. The 23-20 defeat marked the fifth time this season that the Browns have lost by a touchdown or less.

Pittsburgh has won the last four against Cleveland and 16 of the last 17. In fact, dating back to 1994, the Steelers have dominated the Browns with a 29-4 record.

But the absence of Ben Roethlisberger and Leftwich will give Brandon Weedon, Trent Richardson and Co. the opportunity for a rare victory.

Bookmakers are hesitant on putting out a line this early in the week, but expect the spread to be very close (even, perhaps) in the wake of the news that Batch will start.

Oakland Raiders (3-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)

Sunday 1 PM ET

One team that can take advantage of Pittsburgh’s predicament is Cincinnati (5-5, 2-3 home). The Bengals sit just one game behind the Steelers following a 28-6 victory over Kansas City on Sunday.

The Bengals have now won two in a row, snapping a four-game losing streak that had many believing Marvin Lewis’ side was done for the season. Now Cincinnati can really get back into the mix with a win over Oakland (3-7, 1-4 road) this Sunday.

Oakland arrives in Ohio on the back of an absolute drubbing at the hands of New Orleans, and a three-game losing streak. This will be quarterback Carson Palmer’s first trip to Cincinnati after his hold-out trade demands.

The Bengals will look to take advantage of the Raiders defense that has been an Achilles heel this season. The silver and black team is rated last in the league in points conceded, and has not been particularly effective stopping either the run or the pass.

Cincinnati meanwhile has proven it can put points on the board to the tune of 24.8 per contest (good enough for 12th in the league). The Bengals’ defense is by no means a sure thing, but middle of the table rankings suggest the team may have enough in this encounter.

Oddsmakers have Cincinnati as favorites (-6) with the over/under at 48.

Neither team has fared well against the spread this season, with Cincinnati registering a 4-5-1 ATS record compared to Oakland’s 3-7-0 ATS.

Oakland was victorious the last time the sides met (2009) but hasn’t won in Cincinnati since 1995. To be fair though, the Raiders have only visited the city once in that period.

Baltimore Ravens (8-2) at San Diego Chargers (4-6)

Sunday 4:05 PM ET

Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens' offense was noticeably A.W.O.L. on Sunday against the Steelers.

On its record alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Baltimore (8-2, 3-2 road) had been dominant this season. However, six Ravens games this season have been decided by one touchdown or less. Those more decisive decisions include wins over Cincinnati, Cleveland and Oakland, as well as a loss to Houston. Put simply, the Ravens have not been dominant.

Still, as any coach will tell you; it’s not how you play it’s the result and as such, the Ravens are sitting pretty at the top of the AFC North, two games ahead of Pittsburgh, and just one game behind Houston for the best record in the conference.

This weekend Baltimore makes the long cross-country trip to San Diego (4-6, 2-2 home).

After a solid start to the season, Phillip Rivers and the Chargers have fallen off the pace, losing five of the last six, and dropping two games below .500.

The match-up offers Baltimore a good opportunity to create even more daylight at the top of the division, especially with the bruised and battered Pittsburgh due up next. However, the team will need to find some sort of offense, which was severely lacking against Pittsburgh last Sunday – the team failed to score an offensive touchdown.

A combination of these offensive woes and the long journey saw the line open with San Diego narrow favorites (-1.5), but the Ravens have shifted to one-point favorites since. Expect more movement from the spread before the weekend.

San Diego was victorious the last time these two sides met (2011) and has won two of the last three meetings. The two sides are tied 2-2 all-time in this relatively young rivalry.

The over/under is 47. Bettors looking for the edge face a headache decision as the total has gone under in eight Ravens games but over in seven Chargers games. Which one will prove true this weekend?

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