The Steelers have the AFC North Division title clinched, and they have no chance to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. That means the importance of winning Sunday’s 4:15 p.m. game in Baltimore wouldn’t seem to be a high priority.
The Steelers could give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a chance to rest his aching body, make sure running back Najeh Davenport doesn’t suffer an injury like Willie Parker did last week, give players like Troy Polamalu and Santonio Holmes a week to help further heal their nagging injuries or allow several of the backups an opportunity to see quality game action.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said earlier this week that situations like those are possibilities.
The only hang-up is the Steelers still have a chance to earn the No. 3 seed, instead of No. 4, with a victory over the Ravens and a San Diego loss to Oakland. The Chargers and Raiders will also be playing at 4:15 Sunday. The Chargers would seem to be almost a lock to beat the Raiders, but always expect the unexpected during the 17th week of the NFL.
The difference between seeds No. 3 and No. 4 is a big one.
At No. 4, the Steelers will host Jacksonville in the first round of the playoffs. Everyone knows how much the Steelers were outplayed by the Jaguars a few weeks ago, and now they don’t have Parker.
A victory over the Jags would most likely send the Steelers to unbeaten New England for the divisional round.
At No. 3, the Steelers will host Tennessee or Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs. A victory would send the Steelers to Indianapolis for the divisional round.
The latter is the much better path.
The Steelers right now look like a team that may win only one playoff game, at best. But a victory Sunday, followed by a playoff game against the Titans or Browns could build some momentum that may help them pull off an upset or two.
The ideal scenario Sunday would be for the Steelers to gain a huge halftime advantage, like they did against the Ravens earlier this year, and then sit the starters for the second half.
But if that doesn’t happen, the Steelers should focus more on winning the game than looking ahead to next week.
NFL Week No. 17
Game of the week: Tennessee at Indianapolis, 8:15 p.m. Sunday (NBC). A Colts win puts the Browns in the playoffs, and a Titans win puts them in the playoffs.
Upset special: Miami (+31/2) at home vs. Cincinnati. Dolphins players and coaches are fighting for jobs.
Fantasy tip: Tom Brady and Randy Moss each need two touchdowns to set single-season NFL records. Expect them to try and get those records.
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.