The Pittsburgh Steelers are on the brink of making the playoffs, but they’ll go into their crucial Week 17 matchup without their top running back and offensive lineman.
The team announced on Friday that tailback James Conner and center Maurkice Pouncey will not play Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. Both players exited last week’s game against the New York Jets with injuries and have not practiced this week.
Conner is down with a quad injury after previously dealing with knee and shoulder injuries this season. This will be his sixth missed game this season. Pouncey suffered a knee injury in the third quarter of the Jets game and will miss his third game of the year after serving a two-game suspension for his involvement in a brawl with Myles Garrett.
The timing could hardly be worse, since the Steelers badly need a win. While they can still make the playoffs with a loss or miss the playoffs with a win, the absences of Conner and Pouncey will be noticeable.
How will the Steelers replace Conner and Pouncey?
Fortunately, Pittsburgh has already dealt with the absence of these players before. And oddly enough, they’ve won all five games with Conner and/or Pouncey absent. Sure, the 8-7 Los Angeles Rams are the only winning team that they played in the group, but that’s still a welcomed development.
Rookie Benny Snell Jr. is expected to carry the load at running back. After seeing his first significant action in Week 6, he has picked up 305 yards on 84 carries in seven games. His efficiency hasn’t quite been there yet at 3.6 yards per carry, but he was a star at Kentucky before the Steelers drafted him in the fourth round. Jaylen Samuels should also see touches and is more of a threat in the passing game.
B.J. Finney will take over at center, where he will earn his fourth start of the year. Unfortunately, he botched one snap last week, and any continued struggles could see him ceding time to J.C. Hassenauer, who was recently promoted to the active roster after Mason Rudolph landed on the IR.
What are the Steelers’ playoff scenarios?
The Steelers are tied with the Tennessee Titans for the second wild card at 8-7 and one game ahead of the Oakland Raiders and Indianapolis Colts, but the playoff scenarios are fairly convoluted.
The easiest way Week 17 could play out is that the Titans make the playoffs with a win. The Steelers, meanwhile, would advance with a win and Titans loss.
Should Tennessee lose and the Colts win, however, the Colts would leapfrog the Titans in the AFC South due to tiebreakers. Since the Steelers and Raiders already beat the Colts, Indy cannot make the playoffs. At that point, if the Steelers lost, the Raiders could make the playoffs with a win or send Pittsburgh to the postseason with a loss.
Got all that? These four games will all be playing at once, so things will be pretty hectic. Life will be much easier on the Steelers if they win, though, and they can count their lucky stars the Ravens already clinched home-field advantage and will rest most of their best players.
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