Like youngsters on Christmas morning, the Steelers‘ gamers gleefully grabbed their AFC North division champion hats and T-shirts after rallying from 17 factors down to beat the Colts on on Sunday. The win not solely erased the stench of a three-game dropping streak, it additionally meant that their Week 17 recreation towards the Browns (who misplaced to the Jets on Sunday) is meaningless so far as Pittsburgh’s division standing is worried.
Given their present lame duck standing, questions relating to who will and will not play on Sunday have been rapidly posed to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin following Pittsburgh’s win over Indianapolis (oddsmakers clearly anticipate the Steelers to relaxation some starters, because the Browns are 7-point favorites at William Hill Sportsbook). Tomlin stated that he would not start fascinated about the Browns till Monday. Tomlin might supply a solution throughout Tuesday’s press convention, or he may resolve to maintain the Browns guessing till kickoff. Relaxation assured that the Browns — who want a win over Pittsburgh to clinch a playoff berth — can be protecting shut tabs on Tomlin’s presser.
Whereas the explanations for resting a few of his starters are apparent, listed here are three the reason why Tomlin ought to take into account enjoying his traditional lineup on Sunday.
1. The Steelers want to remain sharp
After a month of uninspired soccer, the Steelers lastly awoke from their winter slumber throughout the second half of Sunday’s recreation. Pittsburgh’s offense, which was a shell of itself throughout the three-game dropping streak, discovered its rhythm once more after Ben Roethlisberger employed an up-tempo assault. Roethlisberger, together with getting a slew of various teammates concerned within the passing recreation, had success on his deep passes for the primary time in months. His landing go to Diontae Johnson lined 39 yards, whereas JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 25-yard landing go gave Pittsburgh the lead for good.
Defensively, the Steelers have been nearly as quick because the offense, as linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, together with Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, put fixed stress on Philip Rivers. The Steelers’ protection additionally stifled the Colts’ beforehand efficient operating recreation.
One other recreation earlier than the playoffs could be useful for either side of the ball. Pittsburgh’s offense must construct off its second half momentum. It additionally must proceed to iron out points operating the soccer, as Pittsburgh is presently thirty second within the league in dashing. Defensively, the Steelers may use one other dominant efficiency towards a staff that’s among the many league’s finest at operating it.
Whereas some groups have received the Tremendous Bowl after resting starters of their common season finale, that philosophy has way more typically resulted in playoff disappointment. Simply requested the 2019 Ravens, who got here out flat and by no means recovered throughout final 12 months’s divisional spherical exit by the hands of the Titans. Steelers followers can harken again to the 2017 staff, who sleepwalked by way of the primary half of a 45-42 loss to the Jaguars within the divisional spherical. The 2004 Steelers, who rested a slew of gamers towards the Payments in Week 17, performed flat of their divisional spherical win over the Jets earlier than falling aside towards New England within the AFC title recreation. Conversely, the 2005, 2008 and 2010 Steelers performed their starters in Week 17; each groups went onto characterize the AFC within the Tremendous Bowl.
2. Ship Cleveland house
The Steelers-Browns rivalry has undoubtedly misplaced some steam over the previous a number of many years, however there may be nonetheless loads of unhealthy blood between the longtime rivals, particularly following final 12 months’s altercation between Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph. And whereas they will not say it publicly, relaxation assured that the Steelers’ gamers would love to increase Cleveland’s 18-year playoff drought by handing them a Week 17 loss.
Laying down towards a attainable future playoff opponent has price the Steelers earlier than. In opposition to the Chargers within the 1994 common season finale, the Steelers’ determination to take out a number of key starters throughout the recreation contributed to San Diego’s 37-34 comeback victory. Three weeks later, the Chargers, who earned a playoff bye by advantage of their win over Pittsburgh, pulled off a surprising upset win over the Steelers within the AFC Championship Recreation. And whereas that loss is taken into account essentially the most painful in franchise historical past, a loss to the Browns on this 12 months’s playoffs most likely would not really feel too good, both.
The Browns possess one of many league’s hardest go rushers in Garrett, arguably the league’s high operating again duo in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and a younger, brash quarterback who has overwhelmed Pittsburgh earlier than in Baker Mayfield. As a substitute of taking your probabilities with them within the playoffs, the Steelers could be higher off eliminating this explicit risk in Week 17. A Week 17 win would additionally add one other layer to the Steelers’ dominance over the Browns over the previous 4 many years.
The considered laying down towards a rival was unacceptable to John Madden, the Raiders Corridor of Fame coach who confronted an fascinating conundrum heading into the second to final week of the 1976 common season. Whereas a win over the visiting Bengals would get rid of Cincinnati from postseason rivalry, it will give the Steelers — the staff that had defeated the Raiders within the earlier two AFC title video games — a playoff berth. As a substitute of resting his starters and formally ending the Steelers’ reign as world champ, Madden’s staff performed to win, and win they did.
“That is the worst factor you’ll be able to say about somebody, that they misplaced on function,” Madden stated years later. “Only for the sake of the group. Only for the sake of soccer, only for the sake of what is proper. You have to go win.”
The Raiders beat the Bengals 35-20, and three weeks later, defeated the Steelers 24-7 to achieve their first Tremendous Bowl. And sure, the truth that they beat the Steelers within the playoffs made Oakland’s first Tremendous Bowl win ever sweeter.
“That [win over the Bengals] was essentially the most proud recreation that I ever coached in my life. I do not know another option to play, and thank goodness, my gamers did not both.”
The Steelers gained momentum from Sunday’s win over the Colts. Like Madden’s Raiders skilled 44 years in the past, a win over Browns on Sunday would undoubtedly give the Steelers much more momentum and confidence coming into the 2020 postseason, a postseason that might not embrace their longtime rival.