This weekend the Steelers will play the Chargersin a rematch of their bizarre 11-10 regular season circus, but this time with an entire NFL season between them. And along with an entire NFL season come nagging, painful injuries to key players. It's like a right of January -- someone important must be hurt, at least slightly so.
Steelers-Chargers will double down on that maxim. Rather than one important player being injured, both teams have a star in serious pain. For the Steelers, it's a concussed Ben Roethlisberger; and for the Chargers it's LaDainian Tomlinson with what may or may not be a detached tendon. (For the record, the team is calling it a strained groin.) It's not clear whether either player will play this week, or how effective they will be, but assuming neither do, one team will feel slightly more pain than the other.
At first glance, and with no recollection of recent history, one would think the Tomlinson injury has more impact on the game. After all, Tomlinson has been the best running back in football for years, and arguably the game's best player. What's more, Tomlinson's team is far more reliant on his play than Pittsburgh's is on Roethlisberger's. Pittsburgh's defensive stars are a great equalizer, a force to level the playing field no matter the opponent; the Chargers have few such luxuries on either side of the ball.
But last week changed this week's outlook. (In the NFL, this happens every single week.) Darren Sproles -- 5'5 of quickness and determination and natural running intelligence -- exploded into the Chargers' lineup. The Chargers toppled the Colts, and Sproles danced into the end zone in overtime to win the game. What would have been a devastating Tomlinson absence is merely an unfortunate one.
For the Steelers, the lack of Roethlisberger leaves the team in the always curious hands of Byron Leftwich, the deposed Jaguars quarterback. Leftwich has proven himself to be capable this season, but rarely do backups fill a steady quarterbac's shoes smoothly, and Leftwich could be no exception.
Or, you know, both players could play. Or maybe Leftwich will play great. We really have no idea. With the NFL, that's the whole point.