There is absolutely nothing that the Pittsburgh Steelers can gain by winning their final game of the season against the Cleveland Browns. With that being the case, they should go out there and lose it.
Now they should not go out on Sunday and complete a tank job, but let’s just say that some of the important starters should either rest or only get a limited amount of playing time. Mike Tomlin should treat it like a preseason game.
Of course, this would not please the Herm Edwards fan club who says “you play to win the game.”
But come on, what does beating the Browns really achieve?
Does it save you some embarrassment? Yes. But in the end, all that the Steelers would do is achieve an eight-win season, thus avoiding their first losing season under head coach Mike Tomlin.
Not exactly a stellar accomplishment.
These are just meaningless “achievements” that are not going to help the Steelers get better in the future. In fact, they may be worse for it. Instead, they have everything to gain with a loss.
Need evidence? Look no further than the 2003 season.
The Steelers had a terrible season. They were 6-9 and had a nationally televised game against the rival Baltimore Ravens to close out the season. What a better way to end the season than to beat their hated rivals, right?
Pittsburgh put up a good fight, but went on to lose the game 13-10 in overtime. Surely this loss would carry over to the next season and kill any momentum that the team could have built with a win.
All this loss did was lock the Steelers into the 11th spot in the draft, which allowed them to draft a quarterback out of Miami of Ohio.
Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t a bad consolation prize for a terrible season, was he? No, he was much more. That season finale loss was a franchise defining moment for the Steelers. It changed the course of their history and resulted in their best era of football since the 1970s.
Looking back on it now, who would want to trade the opportunity to draft Roethlisberger for a meaningless win against the Ravens? Right, not a single person—well, maybe some Ravens fans, but that is it.
Now look ahead to this weekend. Does 7-9 really sound that bad if it secures the Steelers the chance to draft an elite prospect?
They don’t have the need for a franchise quarterback, but Roethlisberger is on the backside of his career and the Steelers need to take advantage of the four or five good years of football that he has left. That means they must capitalize on grabbing an elite prospect in this draft.
Pittsburgh currently sits at the 14th spot in the draft, but could fall as low as the late teens with a win. With a loss, the Steelers could potentially move up even higher—and the higher the better.
Even if it isn’t good value in the Steelers draft position, the higher they are the easier it would be to trade up. If they elect to trade down, a higher draft pick would provide them with a greater return in a trade. It is a win-win situation.
But if the Steelers lose and stand pat, they will be in great position to add a great rookie to their roster.
One could argue that since the Steelers are a historically good drafting team under general manager Kevin Colbert—particularly in the first round—that draft position shouldn’t matter so much. But it isn’t whether or not they hit on a player, but rather the type of player that they hit on.
The difference in a few draft spots could mean the difference between an elite player versus a very good player. A team prefers an elite player every time.
For example, in 2006 the Steelers could have been in better draft position with another loss, but instead went out and dominated the Cincinnati Bengals in their season finale.
The win meant the difference between having an opportunity to draft Patrick Willis or Darrelle Revis versus Lawrence Timmons.
Timmons is a good player, but Willis and Revis are the best at their positions. Good thing the Steelers got that 8-8 record.
Sarcasm aside, the team is not going to quit and they are going to play hard against Cleveland, but there are some ways that they can set themselves up for success and by that, I mean failure.
The Steelers have already lost five of six games, including one to the Browns, so they may not have to try too hard to lose the finale. Besides this, a number of starters including Ike Taylor and Heath Miller will miss the game.
There are a number of other starters that should either sit or see limited action against the Browns.
Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have all suffered through enough injury issues throughout the season and they can rest or see limited action. That would give the Steelers an opportunity to work a young safety into the lineup as well as give Jason Worilds extensive time at outside linebacker.
The offensive line is already a mess, so there should be no issues there. But with the offensive line struggling, Tomlin may want to consider playing Roethlisberger for just a half and give Charlie Batch one final moment in front of the home fans.
It is time to see what Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward can do on defense, so Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel should be limited.
Resting the starters would also serve a purpose more than putting the Steelers in better position to lose. It would give the coaching staff an opportunity to better evaluate several players for next season as well as keep the key starters healthy.
Last season Max Starks, Casey Hampton and Rashard Mendenhall all suffered late-season ACL tears and Heath Miller suffered one just last week.
But as far as losing on Sunday, even resting the starters may not be enough to avoid beating the Browns.
Cleveland may be without Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy on Sunday, meaning third-string quarterback Thaddeus Lewis could get the start and he may not have Trent Richardson to help him either (via Ohio.com).
However, the way the Steelers have been playing, they may not be capable of beating the Browns regardless of who they have under center.
Win or lose, the Steelers will have plenty of work to do this offseason. A win would be a positive way to end the year, but a loss could mean the type of impact player in the draft that the Steelers need to return to prominence.
In this case, a loss means a win and the Steelers will be better for it.