Will off-the-field incidents force several AFC North players to miss games via suspension?
The "suspension watch" in the division currently stands at four, but it seems to be growing nearly every week.
Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Santonio Holmes of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cleveland Browns nose tackle Shaun Rogers probably will have to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell before the start of the 2010 season. The foursome will face the prospect of missing games, which will be up to Goodell's discretion.
Maualuga was the first AFC North player to get in trouble. He was charged with DUI in January after crashing a vehicle into two parked cars and a parking meter in Kentucky. Rogers was arrested last week for having a gun in his luggage while trying to board a flight at a Cleveland airport. Rogers later said it was a mistake. Roethlisberger faces a sexual assault allegation in Milledgeville, Ga., and Pittsburgh teammate Holmes has a civil suit from a woman who says a drink was thrown at her.
The severity of the incidents varies, but Goodell probably will hand out suspensions in some, or all, of these cases. The commissioner's decisions will have a major impact on the AFC North, because each player in question has a significant role with his respective team.
Losing Roethlisberger and/or Holmes at the beginning of the 2010 season would be a major blow to the Steelers' offense. Rogers is arguably Cleveland's most dominant defensive player, and when Maualuga fractured his ankle late last season, Cincinnati's defense didn't look the same without the hard-hitting linebacker.
Neither the Steelers, Browns nor Bengals asked to be put in this position. But this is the reality of the situation entering the 2010 season. It will be interesting to see which AFC North team is best suited to handle these unusual circumstances.