The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Question: How much will some of the Steelers’ key starters play in their meaningless regular-season finale against the Browns?
As you no doubt know by now, the Steelers’ victory on Sunday over the Ravens gave them not only the AFC North and the third seed in the division, it also placed them in a position in which they can in no way help or hurt their playoff standings in their 16th game of the regular season. In other words, whether they beat the Browns on Sunday or lose to a 1-14 team, it will not affect the playoffs in any statistical way.
What the Steelers are likely looking to do is to prevent that game from affecting the playoffs in any physical way, by taking care of some of their key players. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger already expressed in the hours after the game the hope that the team chooses to give some of its key veterans rest.
Roethlisberger is probably the most obvious choice. He is unlikely to play against the Browns, and may not even dress. Running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown are other prime candidates to sit this one out. Bell suffered an injury in Week 17 in 2014 that knocked him out of the playoffs. He also missed the team’s postseason run a year ago, and has yet to play in a postseason game.
Among the offensive line, the only player likely to be given the opportunity to sit might be center Maurkice Pouncey, who is their most valued, but also most injured player have pulled him out of blowout games before.
Defensively, Lawrence Timmons is the most likely among healthy players to get a game off, even if he may not want it after starting 100 consecutive games. Stephon Tuitt, who is recovering from a knee injury, will almost assuredly not even dress.
Ladarius Green, recovering from a concussion, may not even clear the concussion protocol in time for the game. Sammie Coates is coming off of a hamstring injury. Injured players are almost guaranteed not to play. But it will be interesting to see just how many players get rest in the finale, or whether they opt for the ‘momentum’ and ‘chemistry’ arguments for not skipping a week.