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We've finally arrived at Week 17 of the NFL Season. As the playoff picture gets clearer, here are some of the top headlines to close out the regular season.
Roethlisberger, Other Steelers Starters to Rest
The Cleveland Browns can make the playoffs for the first time in 18 years if they win on Sunday against the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Their task got a bit easier on Tuesday as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced that future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would not play. Roethlisberger and other yet-unnamed Steelers starters will sit out since the team already clinched the division. The announcement moved the line all the way up to Browns (-10).
With Roethlisberger out, the Steelers will turn to Mason Rudolph for his ninth career start. Rudolph went 5-3 last year while Roethlisberger was injured, and he has 1,765 career passing yards, 13 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
Rudolph does have some history with the Browns. Last year in a Thursday Night Football game during Week 11, Browns defensive lineman Myles Garrett hit Rudolph in the head with the quarterback's own helmet. Garrett was ejected from the game and suspended for the rest of the season as Cleveland finished 8-8.
The Browns are hoping to have their four wide receivers back in practice on Thursday. All four, including Jarvis Landry, missed last week’s loss at the New York Jets after coming into close contact with a teammate who had tested positive for COVID. They did place safeties Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph along with tight end Harrison Bryant on the COVID list Tuesday, and Sendejo has been ruled out of Sunday’s showdown.
The Browns clinch a playoff spot with a win, and if other results break the right way, they could face the Steelers in the Wild Card round. They can also qualify for the playoffs if the Indianapolis Colts lose on Sunday.
Rams Lose More Playmakers
A day after losing quarterback Jared Goff to thumb surgery, the Los Angeles Rams placed wideout Cooper Kupp on the reserve/COVID-19 list and running back Darrell Henderson on injured reserve. There is a chance they could get Kupp back for Sunday’s showdown with the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals may not have quarterback Kyler Murray available either, and the game is currently a pick ‘em.
With Goff out, the Rams signed veteran quarterback Blake Bortles on Tuesday. Bortles will back up John Wolford, who is set to make his first NFL start. Wofford started all four seasons at Wake Forest, spent the 2018 pre-season with the Jets, and played for the Arizona Hotshots in the AAF in 2019.
The winner of the Cardinals/Rams game makes the playoffs, and both could get in if the Chicago Bears lose to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. If all three teams finish 9-7, then the Rams are the team that will miss the playoffs on a tie-breaker.
NFL Has COVID Plan for Week 17 Officials
Week 17 is unique because all 16 games are played on Sunday, and all 32 teams are in action. In other weeks this season, the NFL has had the flexibility to move officiating crews around or, in some cases, even have officials from Thursday’s game double-dip to a Monday game. The NFL has 17 officiating crews, but this week they will have to tap into the training program if multiple referees are unavailable.
The plan is also to have a crew work with six members instead of the usual seven if the COVID news comes on short notice. That’s the same protocol used when an official gets hurt or sick during a game. At this time, there have not been announcements of COVID-related rescheduling.