The Cleveland Browns will have no one to blame but themselves if they don’t make the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Gerry Dulac reported the Steelers will rest three 2020 Pro Bowlers against the Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium: Outside linebacker T.J. Watt, defensive tackle Cam Hayward and center Maurkice Pouncey.
The news comes two days after Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced he would start Mason Rudolph at quarterback instead of Ben Roethlisberger.
In addition to Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers will not play C Maurkice Pouncey, OLB T.J. Watt and DE Cam Heyward against the Browns on Sunday.
— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) December 31, 2020
Meanwhile, the Browns closed their practice facility again on Thursday after two more players tested positive for COVID-19.
As of Thursday morning, the Browns have not announced who specifically tested positive for coronavirus.
Our team will continue to work remotely this morning. pic.twitter.com/6ttbajfnFi
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 31, 2020
🏈Two player positive tests in Cleveland today.
🏈One player positive today was from a player who has been in isolation but was in close contact to someone outside the building.
🏈The four WRs out last week are expected to rejoin the team once it can practice as early as today. https://t.co/bHNl5mTaOx
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 31, 2020
Sports betting website Bovada lists the Browns as a 9-point favorite over the Steelers after they opened as a 7-point favorite.
In Week 17, the Browns can clinch a playoff birth with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers or if the Indianapolis Colts lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Colts are a 14-point favorite over the Jaguars.
The Browns can also make the playoffs if the Tennessee Titans lose to the Houston Texans, the Miami Dolphins win or tie the Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens win or tie the Cincinnati Bengals.
There are a few additional scenarios where the Browns can make the playoffs.
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) December 28, 2020
The Browns (10-5) have not made the playoffs since the 2002 season.
The Steelers (12-3) won the AFC North in Week 16, and have already secured either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the AFC.
Watt is considered the leading candidate to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year at -200.
Headed into Week 17, Watt leads the NFL in sacks (15), sack yards (112), tackles for a loss (26) and quarterback hits (41).
TJ Watt's odds to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year were +1300 at the start of the season.
He's now the -200 favorite heading into Week 17.https://t.co/DHDbBfKMr3
— Odds Shark (@OddsShark) December 30, 2020
“T.J. is a great player,” Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “He’s one of those guys you have to know where he’s at on the field at all times.
“They do a good job moving him around and putting him in spots to create plays because you see teams try and bring extra guys over there to help block. He’s a smart football player first. He recognizes a lot, but his talent just comes up with that. You definitely have to notice where he’s at all times.”
Heyward is a four-time Pro Bowler and Pouncey is a nine-time Pro Bowler.
On Tuesday, Tomlin said the majority of his players other than Roethlisberger would play on Sunday.
In the team’s first matchup this season, the Steelers beat the Browns 38-7 in Week 6.
Mike Tomlin on resting starters: "This is no preseason game where we're playing backups, players 54-75 to evaluate. …
"This is an NFL team that will go play, minus Ben and maybe another player or two."
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) December 29, 2020