The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t typically get much good luck when they find themselves in the position in Week 17 to depend upon the assistance of other teams to either advance to the postseason or improve their draft stock.
One only need look at last season, wherein following a Week 16 loss to the New Orleans Saints, they needed the Cleveland Browns to beat or tie the Baltimore Ravens, or to have the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans tie, in order to advance to the postseason, either as a division winner or as a wildcard.
The Steelers won their game, which was one part of the equation, but the Browns lost to the Ravens late, and of course, the unlikely tie never happened. This year, the most direct path for them is to win and see the Titans lose to the Houston Texans; or tie.
That’s unlikely to happen with the Texans reportedly taking no chances on the injury front. They enter the day slotted as the fourth seed. They could potentially finish as the third seed, but they evidently don’t view that as significant motivation, and that outcome is less likely to happen anyway.
According to Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle, among those whom the Texans don’t intend to play today are quarterback Deshaun Watson, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, left tackle Laremy Tunsil, and cornerback Bradley Roby. Whether certain players are active for the game or not, they are expected to remain on the sideline, with A.J. McCarron getting the start at quarterback.
Texans expected to rest multiple starters against Titans in advance of likely playoff game next Saturday, currently slated to host Bills. Among key players who could be rested: Deshaun Watson, Laremy Tunsil, Bradley Roby, DeAndre Hopkins. A.J. McCarron would step in for Watson
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) December 29, 2019
Meanwhile, the Titans already put all their eggs in this basket. Sacrificing Week 16 in a loss to the Saints, they rested running back Derrick Henry with a minor injury through which he would normally play, knowing that this would be the game that mattered, since it was in-conference.
Generally, when one team that is not a bottom-feeder has everything to play for and the other team has little to nothing to play for, the deck is stacked against the latter. And unfortunately the Steelers’ winning hand almost surely requires the cards the Texans are holding.
Of course, it’s not impossible that the Texans could win while still resting a number of key players. The Steelers have won games while resting starters, after all, in recent years, even if those games were against the Brown. The backups are as motivated to play as anybody else, perhaps even more so, since their opportunities are scarce.
Nevertheless, the Steelers would much rather see Watson and Hopkins out there. It doesn’t look like that will happen. But that was, frankly, to be expected. Houston will try to win the game, sure, but they’ll do so with as many reserves as they can manage.