Mike Tomlin would be wise not to gamble Steelers' playoff health against Browns

Night net null null Approaching the final weekend of the 2017 Night net regular season, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin addressed questions about what sort of lineup he would field by responding, “We will play to win that football game.”Given that the opposition for that game is the Cleveland Browns, who have won once in their past 31 games, that left open the possibility Tomlin might send out the varsity 11 from Pine-Richland High to protect his regulars from the possibility of injury. WEEK 17 Night net PICKS: Against the spread | Straight up This is Tomlin's predicament as the Steelers prepare for a Sunday afternoon visit from the Browns. He has not employed a reasonably healthy squad for any playoff run since, perhaps, the team’s last trip to the Super Bowl, in 2010. However, there also is the remote possibility the Steelers still could grab the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs away from the Patriots. Which means the Steelers-Browns game isn't entirely without meaning.It is mostly without meaning, though. For the Steelers to gain home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, the Patriots would first have to lose a home game to the Jets. The Pats have won six of the last seven, 11 of the last 13 and six in a row at Gillette Stadium. They are favored by 15 1/2 points.Gamblers might decide that getting more than a two-touchdown head start might be worth a buck or two on the Jets. It would not be wise, though, for Tomlin to gamble his Super Bowl plans on such an underdog."Who we choose to employ or utilize or activate, we are in the process of discussing," Tomlin said Tuesday. "The expectation will be what it is. The people we put on the field will be expected to play and play winning football."The Steelers have been eliminated from the playoffs the past three seasons without at least one of their elite offensive weapons being available to participate.— In 2014, running back Le’Veon Bell suffered a hyperextended left knee in the final game of the regular season, a game the Steelers had to win to secure the division championship, on a low hit by Bengals safety Reggie Nelson. The Steelers lost to the Ravens in the playoffs.— In 2015, Bell was lost on the first Sunday in November when he injured his knee on a hit by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict and did not return for the rest of the regular season. The Steelers won a playoff game in Cincinnati, but wide receiver Antonio Brown was left with a concussion after a blow to the head by Burfict and was unavailable for a road playoff game against Denver. The Steelers lost that one when reserve running back Fitz Toussaint fumbled late in the game, fueling a Broncos comeback.— In 2016, Bell was limited to six carries in the AFC championship game before leaving with a hamstring injury, and the Steelers were beaten by the Patriots, 36-17.They lost, as well, to the Patriots earlier this month with Brown missing most of a game that quite likely established New England as the AFC's No. 1 seed.Night net PLAYOFF PICTURE, WEEK 17: Current seeding | Clinching scenariosIt would be reckless to risk a repeat of any of these scenarios by putting key players on the field and exposing them to the possibility of injury. The Steelers already will be down their most important defender, linebacker Ryan Shazier, who suffered a spinal injury on a hit early in a game against the Bengals in the first weekend in December. Why take a chance on another?This is not the same as a college football player sitting out a bowl game to protect himself for the draft; the odds of a career-altering injury in a bowl are miniscule. The odds of an injury in the Night net that might knock a player o

ut for a couple of weeks or more? Across the league, it happens several times each week.This is why Bell should be inactive. Let Stevan Ridley, signed as a free agent following the season-ending injury to backup James Conner, get up to speed with the Pittsburgh offense. It's why Ben Roethlisberger should be the team’s backup quarterback, with veteran Landry Jones starting in his place.Even offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro and defensive lineman Cameron Heyward should get as few snaps as possible. None, if it can be managed. Brown already is injured and unavailable, so no decision must be made with him.Should the Steelers look up in the third quarter and Jones is playing terribly and the Steelers are behind and the Jets miraculously are beating the Patriots, then make the switch. Otherwise, keep the No. 1 QB safe on the sideline.Night net PLAYOFF SEEDING: Best, worst possible matchup for each teamBell has not been able to finish a playoff run with the Steelers yet, and this is his fifth season in the league. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley told ESPN in June that most of Bell’s injuries have been “oddball” type of situations, even the hamstring deal that took him out of last year’s Patriots game.They all occurred in the course of playing football, though.That means the best way to assure Bell is around to play in this season’s biggest games is not to expose him to the danger of playing in the smallest.