We’ve had our Christmas fun already, with the Cleveland Browns winning and maintaining the No. 1 pick due to a 49ers win. Both scenarios made everyone happy, but will the same be true a week from now?
Originally, I assumed the Browns would be demolished in Pittsburgh for Week 17, given the fact that the Steelers were in the midst of a playoff race. With the way that everything shook out in Week 16, though, everyone in the AFC is locked into their seeding already.
The Steelers will be the No. 3 seed whether they win or lose, so they have no incentive when it comes to playing their starters. Given the fact that we’re coming off of a week in which the Raiders lost Derek Carr and the Titans lost Marcus Mariota, Ben Roethlisberger already commented that it doesn’t make sense for them to go all out in Week 17: “If we've got a spot and the 3[-seed] clinched up, I think a lot of guys should get healthy.”
That means the Browns could be facing the likes of QB Landry Jones, RB DeAngelo Williams, and a group of other backups in lieu of Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell, and WR Antonio Brown. Facing backups obviously gives a still-hungry Browns team a chance to pick up their second win in as many weeks, thereby jeopardizing the No. 1 overall pick again.
If you’re wondering about the 49ers, they take on the Seattle Seahawks in San Francisco. Seattle will have a very realistic shot at the No. 2 seed, which means a first-round bye. The odds of them resting their starters is slim to none.
For those who hope the Browns keep the No. 1 pick at all costs, the only comfort I can offer you is this: I’m not sure Cleveland is even good enough yet to beat a Pittsburgh team that has backups at numerous positions.