The Pittsburgh Steelers are entering their final game of the regular season today, facing the lowly Cleveland Browns, who are coming off just their first win of the season following 14 consecutive losses. Every win means a great deal to the Browns, despite the fact that they have long ago been eliminated from playoff contention—and the fact that they have more to lose in terms of draft placement than to gain with a win.
The Steelers, meanwhile, have no significant incentive to win this game, as it has no bearing on their playoff seeding, nor their draft position, since the pecking order of playoff teams is determined by how they finish in the playoffs relative to their seeding, and they can’t help or hurt themselves in that regard.
That means that this game is pretty meaningless for the Steelers as a team, which will result in them resting some of their most important players. But that is not to say that this game doesn’t have a great deal of meaning for many other players, particularly those who have not had many opportunities lately and who are either looking toward the playoffs or free agency. That, to me, frankly, makes this a pretty interesting game, and gives it plenty of reasons to watch for.
It starts with the quarterback position, with Landry Jones expected to make what is potentially his final start in Pittsburgh. The former fourth-round draft pick is headed for unrestricted free agency in 2017, and with a strong showing today, he may just find somebody willing to pay him a few million, and maybe even put him in the mix to compete for a starting job. Hey, crazier things have happened.
Meanwhile, veteran running back DeAngelo Williams has missed something like half the season, and even when he has been healthy, Le’Veon Bell doesn’t come off the field. Williams returned last week, but the only snap he took was in the victory formation at the end of the first half. He wants to show people that he still has the same abilities as he did last year, and at the start of this season. He won’t take for granted any opportunity to start a game, even though he will be spelled, perhaps liberally, by Fitzgerald Toussaint, who could also use the work.
Then there is the wide receiver position, and, frankly, I want to get a look at a lot of these guys. Sammie Coates has been in and out of the offensive picture for most of the season, but missed last week with a hamstring injury. Darrius Heyward-Bey has been out for a long time. Last week, he returned—on special teams. Then there is Demarcus Ayers, who, as I wrote earlier today, has a big opportunity to show something today.
The tight end group gets another opportunity to show they can step up in Ladarius Green’s absence. The defense gets to continue to sharpen its rookie starters before the games become win-or-go-home. Plus, it’s a football game. And that’s always a good reason.