Approaching the final weekend of the 2017 NFL 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.
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.
I feel like they’re not going anywhere, and I definitely feel like we’re not going anywhere, Alabama cornerback Anthony Averett said. It may be like that, we’re definitely two teams that are very dominant, very consistent, very good coaches. We’re good all over the board.
If these two teams do meet for a fourth time in a bowl game, they would be making history. No teams have ever met four consecutive years in the postseason. As it is, this marks just the second time two teams have played each other in three consecutive years (USC and Ohio State met in the Rose Bowl every year from 1972 to ’74).
So what will both teams look like in 2018? Alabama might have a tougher road because of all the players it has to replace. The Crimson Tide lose 21 seniors, but also must await decisions from underclassmen Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ronnie Harrison, Da’Ron Payne, Calvin Ridley and Bo Scarbrough.
Clemson, on the other hand, loses just six seniors but also must await decisions from underclassmen Austin Bryant, Deon Cain, Clelin Ferrell, Mitch Hyatt, Kendall Joseph, Ray-Ray McCloud and Christian Wilkins.
Everybody’s talking about the trilogy like someone’s fixin’ to die or something, Swinney said Monday after the Sugar Bowl. We’ll be back. They’ll be back. We’ll have more of these.