Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had already noted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would be out this weekend against the Cleveland Browns as the team prepares for the playoffs. However, the list of Steelers that will be absent continues to grow. The team will also rest edge rusher T.J. Watt, defensive end Cam Heyward and center Maurkice Pouncey, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Watt is a strong contender for Defensive Player of the Year. The fourth-year player out of Wisconsin recorded 15 sacks, 26 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and one interception in 2020. Heyward has been similarly impactful for the once 11-0 Steelers. He has made 8.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks and one interception.
Pittsburgh will start Mason Rudolph at quarterback. Rudolph and Browns edge rusher Myles Garrett were involved in a helmet-swinging incident that resulted in Garrett's six-game suspension to end his 2019 season. Pouncey was the first on the scene to defend his quarterback. Pouncey, a former first-round pick out of Florida, is in his 11th season with the organization.
Rudolph has completed three of four passes thrown for nine yards this year.
Pittsburgh pulled off a necessary comeback last week against Indianapolis after dropping its previous three games. They secured the AFC North title as well as either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs along with Buffalo. Kansas City remains the top seed and neither the Bills nor Steelers can take that from them in Week 17.
Cleveland, on the other hand, likely needs a victory to secure its first playoff trip since 2002. The Browns lost in the wild-card round to the Steelers that year. The franchise is currently dealing with a potential COVID-19 outbreak and could also be without some key players.
Pittsburgh trounced its rival, 38-7 when the teams met earlier this season.