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AFC Championship, Jets Vs. Steelers: Big Ben's Big Break

There are plenty of Pittsburgh Steelers fans who feel as though the teams biggest opponent this year, wasn't on their schedule. NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell has created more problems for the Black and Gold, and their extremely loyal fan base, than John Harbaugh or Rex Ryan ever could. The league's crusade against 'hard hits' strikes at the heart of Pittsburgh's defensive philosophy, and the make-up of it's physical personnel. They've handed out hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, and penalties in 15 yard chunks that would reach nearly all the way to Philadelphia, if they were laid end to end.

And of course, there was the suspension of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at the beginning of the season. Big Ben was suspended four games for an off-field incident, that called his 'moral fiber' into question. It was the kind of thing that, outraged a lot of people, who were never privvy to all the details. Including Roger Goodell. But he made a great showing of bringing Roethlisberger to some kind some kind of standard of decency hearing, in which he was found wanting. It seemed like a cynical play to the Helen Lovejoys of the world, morally censuring a player who even though there was no concrete evidence, you just know did something distasteful.

You can see how Steelers fans could feel their team has overcome the express wishes of the NFL brass, to play in the AFC Championship game against the New York Jets, Sunday.

But it could be that Roger Goodell did the Steelers a big favor, by sitting Roethlisberger early in the season.

The NFL season is a long one, (not long enough for owners, but that's another story) and the wear and tear on any player begins to show late in the year. The hits, the pressure, the sheer physicality, catches up to a player after 16 weeks.

Look at Mark Sanchez, the quarterback for the Jets. Right now he's playing with a tear in his throwing shoulder. He's still doing very well, but it's an impediment. Every pass, really every snap, has to send a little jolt of pain through his arm. And Roethlisberger takes a lot of hits, more than the majority of other quarterbacks. It takes a toll.

But this year Ben's played 25% less than the majority of quarterbacks. Imagine a marathon runner, who only had to run three-quarters of the race. Or a boxer, replacing one fighter in the fifth round. How much easier is it to go the distance?  

Now, I'm not suggesting the Steelers should be grateful to the NFL or Roger Goodell for their one-man lockout of Roethlisberger. Better to thank Charlie Batch for his workman-like leadership of the offense, in Ben's absence. Definitely that fine(d) defense held up their end.

But as the rest of the Super Bowl hopeful quarterbacks search for whatever they've got left in the tank, Steelers fans can at least think of Goodell and smile...for once.

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