It’s the final week of the 2017 NFL season, which means it’s the final chance for the Cleveland Browns to get a win this year. Turning the “0” in “0-15” to a “1” won’t fix everything that ails the team but will at least allow them to end the season on a relatively higher note. The only problem is that the 12-3 Pittsburgh Steelers stand in their way, and though the AFC North champions have a playoff spot and a first-round postseason bye locked down, there’s still enough for the Steelers to fight for to make things difficult for the Browns on Sunday.
Typically, a team in the Steelers’ situation would consider resting its starters for at least half of, if not all of, the Week 17 contest. But the No. 1 seed in the AFC is still up for grabs, and will belong to Pittsburgh should the Steelers win and the New England Patriots fall to the New York Jets. While that latter scenario doesn’t seem likely, the fact that both games are taking place at the same time can no doubt be something the Steelers must take into consideration when preparing for the Browns this week.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin discussed the subject when speaking to the media on a conference call Wednesday. At this point, according to Tomlin, no decisions have been made on whether starters will or will not play on Sunday, nor for how long. He said Sunday’s plans for the players is “really undecided and really unimportant... Some of that stuff can be 11th-hour decision making. That has kind of always been our mentality regarding that,” adding when pressed that “those are things we can ponder later in the week.”
Of course, beyond the Patriots factor there are other reasons for the Steelers to take Sunday’s game seriously; namely, not being the one team that loses to the Browns this season. Cleveland’s record, though, is not something much on Tomlin’s mind, which makes it seem like it won’t be much of a factor, if any, on what the Steelers decide to do with their snaps distribution this week. Essentially, the Steelers are preparing for this game as they do any other, or at least that is how Tomlin has framed it:
“What has happened for [the Browns] in the previous 15 or for us in the previous 15 is irrelevant. We are looking at ways that they can beat us, things that we need to do to beat them. Very rarely does their record even come up in conversation or thought. We just try to look at their weapons and work to minimize them. We look at the things that they do schematically well and look to minimize those things, and hopefully, minimize the things that they perceive as opportunities for them.”
Tomlin did allow himself to get a little personal when speaking on the Browns’ situation, but in a way typical to his coaching demeanor. While he said that, “on a personal note, you obviously understand the position that [the Browns] are in, but they are keeping it competent and professional.” Tomlin added that he is “not going to be disrespectful to them in anyway by feeling empathy or things of that nature. We are all fighting week in and week out to win. I am sure they still are.” In this case, one can assume Tomlin meant “pity” where he said “empathy,” and at the very least shows that Pittsburgh’s head coach is not approaching Sunday’s game as an easy out, a joke or anything but another day at the office for which one must be as prepared as always.
Still, it does not change the fact that the Browns’ chances for a win in Pittsburgh on Sunday hinge on what the Steelers choose to do with their starters and who plays for how long. Tomlin has made it clear that he will not reveal that information publicly just yet, which makes strategic sense—he’s not going to tip his hand to his opponent, no matter who they are or their record—but also means we’ll have to wait and see what the Steelers have planned for the Browns.