Ben Roethlisberger should keep his helmet off Sunday in Cleveland.
This could be his last year in a Steelers uniform, and with all he's accomplished in Pittsburgh, he deserves to start Sunday.
I'm talking about Charlie Batch, not Hines Ward. The Steelers' veteran receiver could benefit, however, if the Steelers do what they should do and start Batch at quarterback Sunday.
The Steelers should give Ben Roethlisberger another week to rest his ankle, so he's as healthy as possible for the playoffs.
Steelers fans take for granted Roethlisberger's ability to play through injuries. He's been like Stretch Armstrong. No matter what opponents do to his body, it won't break.
But there's only so much a human body can take, and Roethlisberger's high-ankle sprain is the most severe non-concussion injury of his career.
Watching Roethlisberger hobbling around in San Francisco was as uncomfortable as watching Terry Bradshaw in "Failure to Launch." Yeah, I'm talking about one scene in particular.
That ankle needs as much rest as possible. Roethlisberger would have at least 19 days of rest between the 49ers game and the Steelers' first playoff game if he sits out Sunday.
Yes, the Steelers really could use a first-round bye in the playoffs, and that's not going to happen if they lose Sunday in Cleveland.
However, Roethlisberger's health is just as important as a first-round bye. I doubt Roethlisberger would be as mobile as he could be if he plays Sunday. That would put him at risk for further aggravation of the ankle or maybe a new injury.
I'd rather see the Steelers play a wild-card game in Denver or Oakland with a rested and relatively healthy Roethlisberger than a home playoff game with Roethlisberger even more banged up than he is now.
The Steelers need more than a victory over the Browns to win the AFC North and get a first-round bye. They also need the Ravens to lose in Cincinnati. Why risk further injury to Roethlisberger, and impede his ankle's progress, when beating the Browns might not even matter?
It also would be different if the Steelers needed to win Sunday to get into the playoffs. But they're in the playoffs, and even if they're the No. 5 seed, they're better than every team in the conference except the Ravens. They just have to do their job and show it.
Having said that, the Steelers should do all they can to get that first-round bye, and Batch is more than capable of leading the Steelers to a win in Cleveland.
Batch has a history of answering the call in Roethlisberger's absence during Super Bowl seasons.
He went 2-0 as a starter when the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2005. He helped the Steelers go 3-1 last season when Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games.
This year, Batch's rescue is coming later in the season. In the Steelers' 27-0 win over the Rams on Saturday, the 37-year-old Batch completed 15 of 22 passes and showed a Big Ben-like knack for escaping the pass rush.
Sure, that was at home against the 2-13 Rams. The training wheels would come off on the road against a division rival.
The 4-11 Browns, however, likely won't have their starting quarterback. Colt McCoy still hasn't been cleared to practice after suffering a concussion Dec. 8 against the Steelers. It probably will be Seneca Wallace starting Sunday.
So the Browns won't have any edge at quarterback even if Batch starts. And they are, after all, the Browns. An 11-4 Steelers team should be able to beat the Browns regardless of the circumstances.
The Steelers aided Batch last week by taking advantage of the Rams' run defense, ranked last in the NFL. Rashard Mendenhall gained 116 yards and Isaac Redman added 35. As a team, the Steelers averaged better than six yards a carry.
The Browns' run defense is ranked 30th in the league. So the Steelers again should turn Mendenhall and Redman loose.
Resting Roethlisberger will give the Steelers the opportunity to dust off their running game and give it a bit of a workout.
When Roethlisberger plays, the Steelers get hooked on throwing the ball like a gamer gets hooked on the Xbox. Meanwhile, the running game is like the old Atari in the back of the closet.
Hey, when you have a quarterback like Roethlisberger and receivers like Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, you throw the ball.
Who should start at quarterback Sunday for the Steelers?
However, the ability to run the ball might come in handy during the playoffs if the Steelers want to win in bad weather or just hang onto a lead in the fourth quarter.
Also, the Steelers' defense could help out Batch by, you know, forcing some turnovers. The Steelers are suffering a relapse of their early-season turnover futility. They haven't had a takeaway since their win over the Browns.
Christmas is over, Steelers. Time to stop giving and start taking.
It looks like any turnovers the Steelers force Sunday will put the ball in Roethlisberger's hands, not Batch's.
Roethlisberger practiced Wednesday, albeit with a brace on his left ankle. He says he wants to play and it looks like he will play.
Of course Roethlisberger wants to play. He wants to be there for his teammates.
He will be there for his teammates in the playoffs—and he'll be a lot healthier—if he rests another week.