Mason Rudolph will start at quarterback on Sunday, Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin announced Tuesday afternoon. It was expected that the Steelers (12-3) would rest some of their key starters in Week 17 after clinching the AFC North division for the first time since 2017 last weekend. The new NFL playoff format leaves little to gain for Pittsburgh with the Kansas City Chiefs locking up the top seed in the AFC (and a bye week) at 14-1. Long-time starting QB Ben Roethlisberger, 38, despite not being as effective as in years past, possesses years of postseason experience that could prove to be invaluable for a relatively young Steelers team moving forward. With Roethlisberger’s history of injuries in years past, it is no surprise that Tomlin does not want to risk losing their veteran starter in a game with minimal value.
Rudolph is not without experience as a starter, starting eight games in 2019 where he threw for over 1700 yards and 13 touchdowns. His last start against Cleveland occurred on November 14 of last year, a game that the Browns won 21-7 in an affair that will go down in infamy for an intense brawl at the end of the fourth quarter in which Browns’ DE Myles Garrett struck Rudolph in the head with a helmet, resulting in a large fine and suspension for Garrett and simply adding to the already high level of animosity present between the two teams.
Despite Sunday’s game carrying little impact on the Steelers, it could not be more important for the Browns’ playoff implications. After losing to the Jets with a skeleton crew in Week 16, the Browns squandered their best chance of clinching the playoffs prior to the final week of the season. Even with the loss, the Browns still possess the third Wild Card spot thanks to their Week 5 win over the Colts. A win versus Pittsburgh would allow them to hold onto their Wild Card spot and end the longest active playoff drought in the league while a loss likely means elimination. Myles Garrett insisted that fans should not let the incident in 2019 define him as a person and it will be essential that the he and the entire Browns team play a clean and disciplined game if they hope to prove themselves moving forward.
(Stats via Pro Football Reference.)
(Photo via Dawgs By Nature.)