We’ve finally come to the final week in the NFL. An NFL season that, at one time, was in question due to the lockout, has provided Steeler Nation with ups, downs, and all the ranges of emotion. Now it’s time to handle business. The Steelers travel to the Mistake on the Lake to take on the Brownies with the hopes of ending the season with a win and if all the stars align, a first round bye in the playoffs. To think some fans have to worry each season whether or not their team will make the playoffs or finish above .500, Steeler Nation worries about seeding and home field advantage. So many themes are going on with this game; who will play and who will sit, will Harrison be flagged for everything he does, will the Brownies exact “revenge” on Harrison for essentially knocking their starting quarterback out for the rest of the season, and can the Bungles take care of the Ratbirds?
Roethlisberger and Pouncey completed full participation in practice on Wednesday most likely signifying that both will start after sitting out the last week, each nursing a high ankle sprain. I’m not trying to start the “Should Ben Play?” debate over again, but I’ll just add that I’m in favor for all healthy players getting at least some playing time for this game. The date of the next game is beyond the Steelers total control, so every man needs to be prepared for any circumstances. When I say “healthy players” I mean players that are able to practice fully the entire week. We all saw how effective Ben was on the Monday night game against the 49er’s after practicing barely 1 day that week leading up. No matter how late in the season it is, practice is still important. I hope that Batch is getting considerable reps with the first team so he has what he needs in place for his preparation.
LaMarr Woodley sat out of practice again and likely won’t play Sunday at the Browns. His hamstring injury was perhaps more severe than even he was willing to admit. Having a healthy Harrison and Woodley on the field at the same time in the playoffs will be invaluable, so I’m all for resting Woodley another week. I’m not quite sure what to make of Pouncey’s ankle, however. As valuable as Ben’s ankle is to his mobility, Pouncey’s ankle is just as valuable in his blocking. The o-line performed tremendously last week without Pouncey and Legursky, but Pouncey is definitely the key to the success of this offensive line. I say treat Pouncey with kid gloves for the game, the slightest tweaking or issues with the ankle and take him out of there.
Colt McCoy has yet to pass any of the NFL-required concussion tests and will most likely sit out the season finale. Whether that’s completely due to the hit to his facemask delivered by Harrison, or because the Brownies coaching staff in their infinite wisdom decided to put him back in the game without even testing him for a concussion after Harrison was flagged for the helmet-to-helmet hit. Will Harrison be targeted by the refs, the Brownies, or both? Football isn’t exactly like baseball where when a player gets hit by a pitch it’s almost a guarantee a batter on the other team will get hit by a pitch the next at bat, but I’m not naïve enough to think that the Brownies players are going to buy Harrison some flowers before the game. Personally, I wouldn’t pick a fight with James Harrison. He looks like friggin Darth Vader with that shield on his helmet. I know he’s not the evil dirty player the NFL wants to portray him as, heck I’d let him babysit my niece, but I sure as hell wouldn’t pick a fight with him. Browns WR Josh Cribbs was asked if the Browns “owe” Harrison and he responded with,
“I would say so. But we’re not going into this game thinking about getting even with him. We’re going into this game trying to win it. It’s nothing personal with him. We’d like to knock their guys out as well, but within the whistle, according to the rules.”
Across the lovely state of Ohio in a stadium that smells of cat piss, the other two AFC North teams will be battling it out with playoff implications at stake. The Bungles are facing a “win and you’re in” situation and the Ratbirds are playing to secure their playoff seeding. After a skillfully executed sales tactic of offering tickets Buy 1 Get 1 Free, the Bungles were able to secure one of their only sell-outs of the year for this game. The Ratbirds are 3-4 on the road but took care of the Bungles in their first meeting. I know all of Steeler Nation will be keeping a close eye on this game but don’t get it twisted, just like Tomlin said in his press conference this week; all of the playoff scenarios that are being discussed for the Steelers involve them winning their game in Cleveland. Unfortunately thanks to the 92 yard drive that made Flacco look like a much better quarterback than he really is, the Steelers do not control their own destiny as far as playoff seeding.
Steeler Nation will be keeping their remotes handy, or jockeying for prime positioning between the TV’s at their favorite Steelers bar this Sunday afternoon. A whole lot is on the line with this game, the key players need to survive the game no worse off than they entered it, Harrison doesn’t need to be facing anymore disciplinary actions heading into the playoffs, and a chance for a bye and a home playoff game is at stake. We can’t fool ourselves; the Steelers haven’t been the greatest road team this year so a home playoff game is just as valuable as the bye would be. Besides the fact that this conference is wide open with no clear favorite lock to go all the way. The Patriots haven’t won a playoff game since January of 2008 and their defense has more holes than your 2002 AFC North Division Champs t-shirt you’re still rocking. It’s a bit unnerving that the Ratbirds have those 2 wins over our heads, but we all know when it comes to the playoffs, that won’t mean a thing. I wish all of Steeler Nation a happy and safe New Year’s Eve; let’s start 2012 with a Steelers win! Go Steelers!
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