Sitting at 7-5 and in a dead heat with the Cincinnati Bengals for the last wild card spot, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that is looking to get hot down the stretch; to do that, they are going to need their franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, back on the field.
Luckily for the Steelers and their fans, that looks to be the case heading into this Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers.
Recovering from a sprained shoulder and dislocated rib, Roethlisberger has missed the last three Pittsburgh games, with the Steelers going 1-2 in his absence. This week however, 'Big Ben' has returned to the practice field, taking roughly 90 percent of Thursdays first-team reps as he prepares to return to the starting lineup this weekend.
"He looks like himself for the most part," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "Now I don't know what he's feeling when he's doing some of those things. But it looks like he's moving around pretty good."
This news should come with great cheer for Steelers fans but there is one group of people who should treat this next game with a heavy dose of skepticism; the fantasy football owners.
While it's obvious that the Steelers and all their offensive weapons are better served with Roethlisberger under center as opposed to Charlie Batch, history shows that playing Ben coming off of an injury isn't a wise move. When coming off an injury stint where he has missed at least one game, Roethlisberger has been less than stellar in his return game, completing just 61.1 percent of his passes and averaging 173.2 yards passing. Also, he has thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions for a passer rating of 73.9 in these games.
Not exactly light them up numbers.
In preparation for the Chargers game this weekend, Roethlisberger has been fit with custom shoulder pads as well as a compression shirt to help further protect his injured areas. These alterations combined with his poor stats when returning from injury, as well as questions about his arm strength due to the nature of his hurts, leads to only one conclusion:
Unless you don't have a better option, sit Ben for one more week. The numbers don't lie.
As far as for the rest of the Steelers offense, Roethlisberger's return can only lead to an increase in production in all areas. Start Mike Wallace, Johnathon Dwyer, Antonio Brown, and Heath Miller unless you have better options.
James LeBeau is a sports contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JleBeau76 or subscribe on Facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports.
Photo Credit: Getty