There is a good possibility that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger and running back, Le’Veon Bell won’t play on Sunday in the regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns, even though the #1 seed in the AFC is still up for grabs. Neither practiced on Friday and with the New England Patriots unlikely to lose to the New York Jets, head coach Mike Tomlin may choose to give others a breather as well.
The Patriots are expected to play their starting core of players. It has yet to be said when or if head coach Bill Belichick will pull his starters out of the game. Patriots defensive tackle, Alan Branch, and running backs, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, won’t play due to injuries and others remain questionable.
With that said, it is not a lock for either of these two teams to win given the circumstances. It is easy to understand why the Steelers might slip up if players do indeed sit out, but what about the Patriots? They have slipped up in this position before and playing the Jets doesn’t help given the history which I’ll get into in a second.
So what’s more likely? The Steelers losing to the Browns with guys resting or the Patriots getting upset by the Jets with their starters in there?
The hope is that the Steelers take care of business regardless of who is playing because of how poor the Browns have played this season. The Steelers have only lost to the Browns once since the beginning of the 2013 season. Five of the nine games saw Pittsburgh win by seven or more points.
The latter scenario presented above is more interesting. The Patriots-Jets rivalry is a little different. Since the beginning of the 2013 season (nine games), the Patriots have only won by more than seven once. The Jets have found a way to play the Patriots tough regardless of the circumstances. Bryce Petty being the starting quarterback does significantly hurt the Jets’ chances, but crazier things have happened.
Earlier this season, the Pats beat the Jets 24-17. The Jets had the ball on the 50 with a minute and a half to go in the game, but couldn’t complete the game-tying drive. Josh McCown was starting for the Jets at quarterback, which helped, but the Patriots had all of their pieces and almost faltered. Something about divisional play in the NFL is unpredictable.
In 2015, the Patriots were 12-3 and needed one more win in order to clinch home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Belichick made the decision to start his first line guys including quarterback, Tom Brady and tight end, Rob Gronkowski. The 5-10 Miami Dolphins ended up beating the Patriots, and Belichick’s team wound up being the #2 seed. The Patriots went on to lose in Denver in the AFC Title Game.
The Jets currently sit at 5-10 and the Patriots at 12-3. The likelihood of an upset happening is slim, but many argue that history does tend to repeat itself in professional sports. The combination of the Patriots losing 2 of their last 3 regular season finales and the Jets always giving the Pats a run for their money could beg the question, déjà vu in New England?
Let me be clear. In no way do I think that the Jets will take down the Patriots this Sunday. I think that there is about a 2% chance (don’t ask me how I came up with that number, it’s probably generous). However, it would not be a complete shock to me if it happened. The Patriots have slipped up in this situation before.
There is a small chance, but any chance at all is something for Steelers fans to hope for.