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The Steelers clinched the AFC North with yesterday's, 28-24, victory over the Indianapolis Colts and are now guaranteed a playoff game at Heinz Field for the wild-card round. The Kansas City Chiefs have locked up the No. 1 seed and the Steelers will be either the No. 2 seed or the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. They are currently the No. 2 seed, but the Buffalo Bills have the tiebreaker over the Steelers due to beating them in Week 14, and they play tonight against the New England Patriots.
The Steelers don't have anything to play for in Week 17 other than seeding, so Mike Tomlin might rest a good amount of starters in the regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns. Tomlin hasn't announced his plans for Sunday yet, but the oddsmakers are expecting a slew of starters to rest against the Browns.
According to CBS Sports, the Browns have opened as a seven-point favorite, which is the first time since 1989 that the Browns have been a favorite of seven or more points against the Steelers. In Week 6 of the 1989 season, the Browns were a 10-point favorite over the Steelers in a game they would lose 17-7. The Browns blew out the Steelers 51-0 at Three Rivers Stadium in Week 1 that season.
The Steelers had an unexpected bye in Week 4 due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Titans' organization. Their bye was originally scheduled for Week 8. With the early season bye, the Steelers have played 12 consecutive games without a break and played three games in 12 days due to their Week 12 game against the Baltimore Ravens being postponed three times because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the Ravens' organization. They played the Ravens on Dec. 2 at 3:40 p.m., which was a Wednesday, then had a game against the Washington Football Team on Monday at 5 p.m., and then lastly a meeting against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night.
The Steelers lost two of the three games during the 12-day span and then laid an egg against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night in Week 15, losing to a Cincinnati team, who was 2-10-1 at the time, 27-17.
The Steelers simply looked like a tired football team. That's why it's plausible that Tomlin rests some key starters this week in Cleveland with nothing really to play for. His 38-year-old quarterback could use the week off the most to recharge the batteries and get ready for the playoffs.
The Steelers are 9-1-1 straight up in their last 11 games against Cleveland and the total has gone under in 15 of Pittsburgh's last 20 games on the road, according to Oddsshark.com. The Steelers are also 1-5 against the spread in their last five games.