Assuming that the Cleveland Browns win on Sunday against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is likely to include a number of reserves in the starting lineup—quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has already been announced as not playing, to nobody’s surprise—there exists the real possibility that those two teams will be playing each other again—very soon.
A win over the Steelers would guaranteed the Browns a playoff spot, at least the seventh seed. If the Buffalo Bills, who are playing to retain the second seed, defeat the Miami Dolphins, then Cleveland would be the sixth seed.
And then the Steelers would host the Browns in the first round of the postseason, with the second seed hosting the seventh, the third hosting the sixth, and the fourth hosting the fifth. Will the very real possibility that these two teams play twice in a row impact head coach Mike Tomlin’s approach to the games?
“It does not factor in whatsoever”, he told reporters on Tuesday during his pre-game press conference when he was asked this very question. “We are singularly focused on this opportunity that we face this week and the variables associated with it. We’re going to worry about the playoffs when we get there”.
Among the Steelers’ other possible first-round opponents is the Baltimore Ravens, though they may be more likely to end up as the fifth seed. Only a Dolphins win over the Bills would knock them out of the fifth seed, provided that they win against the Cincinnati Bengals. It would take a series of unlikely results to get them into another seed.
Outside of the Dolphins, all of their potential first-round opponents are teams that they have already faced this season, and beaten, with the other two possibilities being either the Tennessee Titans or the Indianapolis Colts, depending upon who ends up winning the AFC South.
In other words, chances are high that whoever the Steelers face this year in the first round of the playoffs is a team for whom they have already gameplanned in 2020, and against whom they won. A season finale against a Browns team with whom they are very familiar really shouldn’t be a factor.
And really, nobody should be expecting the Steelers to start breaking out some exotic things in what will be a largely meaningless regular season finale that will involve likely multiple integral starting players watching from the sidelines.