PITTSBURGH - To demonstrate how a parity-crazed NFL can derail expectations, look no further than this afternoon's showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ravens in Baltimore.
This looked like it would be a pivotal point, the second matchup of AFC North powers in three weeks. For the Steelers, the candy center in that hard Baltimore shell was last week's visit to Cleveland.
But the Steelers fumbled that one away, which rendered today's game a lot less important than it should have been. The Steelers have pretty much surrendered the division, but they're still in reasonable position to grab a wild card spot.
There are four games after today. Three are at home, and they would all appear to be against beatable teams, if such a thing exists in a season where the Steelers have lost to Oakland, Tennessee and Cleveland. The NFL has a few dominant teams and a few awful ones. Everyone else is in the middle, and the Steelers are stuck in that cluster.
The Pirates' two-year, $17 million investment in free agent catcher Russell Martin suggests two things: They will spend money to fill a specific need, and they don't seem to have much confidence in former No. 1 draft pick Tony Sanchez.
If Sanchez's career had followed a normal arc, he would have been in Pittsburgh last season. Instead, the Pirates spent $4 million on Rod Barajas, and Sanchez started the year with the Curve.
If there was an expectation Sanchez could step in this season and claim part of the job, they wouldn't have gone so big for Martin. They've now spent $21 million on catchers who aren't Sanchez.
Add in the $2.5 million signing bonus Sanchez got in 2009, and this is getting expensive.
The NHL has invited locked out players to meet with the owners without union leader Donald Fehr present.
That sounds like a divide-and-conquer strategy the players would be wise to avoid. Meanwhile, with 30 percent of the season wiped out and no end in sight, Sidney Crosby is said to be contemplating playing overseas.
That ought to send some shudders through the Pittsburgh Penguins' offices. The Pens have a lot of money and most of their future invested in Crosby. They should be frightened at the idea of his playing somewhere else.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.