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Bowls: Steelers may not be ruined by Big Ben's absence; VIEW FROM THE STATES.

Byline: By Phil Agius

IT'S easy to see why the bookmakers don't quite know what to make of tonight's big NFL opener in Pittsburgh.

But despite the loss of appendicitis victim Ben Roethlisberger, it is puzzling to see Super Bowl champions Pittsburgh as underdogs in places at home to Miami.

The Dolphins missed the playoffs last year but are being hotly tipped in some quarters to make a concerted push to reach the post-season this time around.

The signs are good that head coach Nick Saban will build on the six wins his side ended last season with, but the suspicion is that there has been an overreaction by the layers and there remain question marks about the Floridian side's offensive line and defensive secondary.

Roethlisberger battled back amazingly fast from multiple injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash only to be ruled out by an emergency appendectomy last weekend.

He will be replaced at least for this week by experienced journeyman Charlie Batch, who has been around long enough to successfully operate an offence as strong as Pittsburgh's.

Most of the Steelers' Super Bowl squad are still around, although Jerome Bettis may be missed inshort-yardage situations and receiver Antwaan Randle-El has left.

Given the potential weakness of Miami's defensive backs, a unit which is set to be diluted further by the likely absence of starting cornerback Travis Daniels, Super Bowl hero Hines Ward is a fair shout to score first.

Recommendations

Pittsburgh +1

1pt 9-10 Bet Direct

H Ward first TD scorer

1pt 9-1 Bet365, Totesport

MATCH FACTS

Venue Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

TV Live on Sky Sports 1, 1.30am tonight

Surface Grass Weather Clear, 70F, very little wind

DOLPHINS

Probable starting offence (2005 rank: 14)

LT L Shelton 70, LG J James 78, C R Hadnot 66, RG B Anderson 63, RT V Carey 72, WR C Chambers 84, M Booker 86, RB R Brown 23, FB F Beasley 40, QB D Culpepper 8, TE R McMichael 81.

Probable starting defence (2005 rank: 18)

LE K Carter 93, DT K Traylor 94, V Holliday 91, RE J Taylor 99, LB D Spragan 59, Z Thomas 54, C Crowder 52, CB W Allen 25, A Goodman 29, SS T Tillman 26, FS R Hill 24.

STEELERS

Probable starting offence (2005 rank: 15=)

LT M Smith 77, LG A Faneca 66, C J Hartings 64, RG K Simmons 73, RT M Starks 78, WR H Ward 86, C Wilson 80, RB W Parker 39, FB D Kreider 35, QB C Batch 16, TE H Miller 83.

Probable starting defence (2005 rank: 4)

LE A Smith 91, DT C Hampton 98, RE B Keisel 99, LB C Haggans 53, J Farrior 51, L Foote 50, J Porter 55, CB I Taylor 24, D Townsend 26, SS T Polamalu 43, FS R Clark 25.

TEAM NEWS

Miami

Daunte Culpepper starts his first game as the Dolphins quarterback. Cornerback Travis Daniels (ankle) is questionable.

Pittsburgh

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (appendix) is out, so Charlie Batch starts. Tight end Jerame Tuman (hamstring) is d oubtful.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 7, 2006
Words:510
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