Steelers to rest stars; Browns search for momentum in finale

Published 10:46 am Sunday, January 1, 2017

PITTSBURGH (AP) — All things being equal, Le’Veon Bell would rather not take a weekend off. The way the Pittsburgh Steelers running back figures it, he’s already spent enough time in sweatpants instead of his familiar No. 26 uniform during his four-year career.
“I definitely don’t like watching football games,” Bell said. “I feel like I’ve watched a lot of football games over the last couple years.”
Still, Bell — who missed the playoffs in 2014 and 2015 due to knee injuries — understands. The Steelers (10-5) have already locked down the AFC North title and the No. 3 seed in the playoffs is already assured. As dominant as Bell has been during his team’s second-half surge, padding his already impressive resume on Sunday against Cleveland (1-14) in the regular-season finale isn’t worth it.
“If we get to the Super Bowl and win it, I’m not going to be thinking about Week 17 against the Browns and I didn’t play,” Bell said.
Besides, Bell won’t be the only bold-faced name just hanging out on the sideline. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown will join him, a preventative measure by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to make sure his three most vital players will be on the field together in the playoffs for the first time.
It’s the kind of first-world problems the Browns would love to have, though coach Hue Jackson’s trying first season avoided the ignominy of 0-16 when Cleveland held off San Diego last week .
Quarterback Robert Griffin III is expected to play a week after going through the concussion protocol, and beating the Steelers — no matter who’s suited up for Pittsburgh — on the road for the first time in 13 years would give the Browns with a little boost heading into 2017.
OPEN AUDITION?: The game could be vital to the future prospects of both Griffin and Steelers backup quarterback Landry Jones.
Griffin has struggled to stay on the field for Cleveland, which still needs to decide if he’s part of the franchise’s long-term plans. Jones, meanwhile, will become a free agent in March . He’s played well at times while filling in for an injured Roethlisberger, including throwing for 281 yards in a competitive Week 7 loss to New England, but the Browns offer a chance for Jones to show the NFL’s other 31 teams what he can do.
“It’s in the back of your mind,” Jones said. “First and foremost, you want to win the game. There’s nothing that replaces going out there and getting a win. That’s what I’m really focused on.”
ASSEMBLY LINE: Cleveland’s offensive line could have another new look this week.
Because of injuries, the unit has undergone changes all season and Browns coaches experimented with different combinations in practice. One of the possible formations has starting center Cam Erving at right tackle, a position he has never played. Erving, a first-round pick in 2015 who played guard most of last season, started 37 games at left tackle for Florida State.
“It’s definitely a little exciting, just to be able to potentially have that opportunity to go out and play tackle again,” said Erving, who was lost at guard last season. “I’m definitely confident in my ability, regardless of where I’m playing on the offensive line, and I’m still firm on that.”
STAYING CLEAN: While center Maurkice Pouncey will likely sit out, the rest of the offensive line will play while hoping to reach one of the goals the unit set for itself before the year began: allowing the fewest sacks in the NFL. Pittsburgh has given up 17, second in the NFL behind only Oakland (16).
“We’re trying to get the No. 1 sacks, it’s definitely going to be on our menu,” guard Ramon Foster said. “I don’t want to see (Jones) stroking that ball. Get rid of it if he’s not there.”
STAND-UP GUY: Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey never hid from trouble, and there was plenty of it this season.
Kirksey was given the Good Guy award this week by media members for his cooperation during a frightful season. Kirksey emerged as a team leader, and he was the one who stepped up and boldly predicted the Browns would not go winless. Kirksey was always there to answer questions — loss after loss.
“Being a professional athlete, you can’t run when things go wrong,” he said. “You just have to face it.”

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