If the report from yesterday is true—and it was already disputed by the source of the information after the fact—then the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking a gamble by resting a number of their key starters for the season finale against the Cleveland Browns, regardless of the fact that there is still an opportunity to improve their seeding.
It has been reported via media outlets that right tackle Marcus Gilbert said the team doesn’t intend to have at least quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le’Veon Bell on the field on Sunday, and if they rest, chances are fair that a couple of others will as well.
It was different last year when they rested. There was a game a week later. This year, the Steelers have secured a bye week. And head coach Mike Tomlin has acknowledged that they have struggled to come out and play well in recent years after having time off.
We are now facing the prospect of Roethlisberger and Bell going three weeks between their last games, and Antonio Brown even longer than that, though the latter is due to necessity because of his calf injury. It is easy to imagine how that long layoff could affect the on-field product.
And it is quite likely that the team they will be hosting in the Divisional Round will be the Jacksonville Jaguars, who dominated them on their own field back in Week Five, intercepting Roethlisberger five times, returning two of them for touchdowns.
The offense managed to score just nine points in that game against the Jaguars’ tough defense, which leads the league in receiving yards allowed and sacks, and is second with 21 interceptions. Their passer rating allowed of 67.5 is the lowest in the NFL, and they are allowing just six yards per pass attempt.
This is the team that they are most likely to face in the Divisional Round, the team only team that dominated them during the regular season, and they could be entering that game while not having played in three weeks. This is a risk that they are accepting while having previously acknowledged issues coming off of rest.
This is not exactly Tomlin failing to live in his fears. With the potential to secure the number one seed still in play—albeit unlikely to be attained—his decision to rest key starters clearly represents that fact, reducing their chances of winning the game while assuring that they will not get injured.
It is fine, of course, to occasionally ‘live in your fears’, but it’s not a good look when it’s one of your catch phrases that you do not do that. This is all assuming that this is how the season finale ends up playing out.