On Friday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Troy Polamalu is unlikely to play against the Jets this weekend. Today, Adam Schefter and John Clayton reported on espn.com that the Steelers are planning on resting Polamalu for the final three games of the regular season in preparation for a playoff run.
However, the Steelers have not completely ruled Polamalu out for Sunday. Officially, Polamalu's status is listed as doubtful on the injury report.
On his AFC North Blog on espn.com, James Walker wrote, "Polamalu has been dealing with an Achilles injury for several weeks, and the ailment was getting progressively worse." He also wrote, "The final straw was the 45-yard interception return for a touchdown last week against the Cincinnati Bengals. Polamalu finished the game, but he had a noticeable limp."
By all accounts, the Steelers seem to be planning on sitting Polamalu for precautionary reasons. The injury is obviously hampering Polamalu and the team will need him in the playoffs. However, the Steelers aren't guaranteed a spot in the playoffs as of yet. A win against the Jets will clinch at least a wild card spot.
The Steelers' destiny rests in their own hands. Providing that the Steelers are able to defeat the Jets, they would almost surely be a shoo-in to win the division with their last two games against the Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns.
According to Schefter and Clayton's report on espn.com, "[Polamalu] could be rested for the remainder of the regular season, unless the Steelers need to win one of their final games to wrap up the division title." Does this mean that Troy Polamalu might actually play against the Jets?
He didn't miss a single defensive snap against the Bengals, even after aggravating his injured achilles tendon. The Steelers obviously want to be cautious with their All-Pro safety. However, the game against the Jets is an important game. It will be easier to get wins against Carolina and Cleveland without Polamalu than it will be to get a win against the Jets without Polamalu.
If Polamalu were to play against the Jets and the Steelers win the game, he could rest the final two weeks of the season and possibly the first week of the playoffs. The Steelers currently sit in the driver's seat to earn a first round bye.
Troy Polamalu's injury status might not have as much impact on the game as some other key injuries. The New York Jets currently have injury problems at safety as well. Starting strong safety Eric Smith is ruled out and his back-up, James Ihedigbo, is listed as questionable.
This could be a favorable set of circumstances for Pittsburgh if Heath Miller, who is also listed as questionable, is able to return against the Jets after missing the game against Cincinnati.
With Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis trying to take away Hines Ward and Mike Wallace as options in the Steelers' passing game, Heath Miller could be a key target for Roethlisberger. Matt Spaeth just isn't as dangerous as Miller when passing the ball.
Both the Jets and Steelers have been struggling on offense. However, the Jets' problems may be worse than the Steelers'. The Jets' quarterback, Mark Sanchez, has been struggling. In today's NFL, it is hard to win with poor quarterback play.
The Steelers offensive struggles are due mostly to poor offensive line play. When the line isn't giving up sacks, they are amassing penalties. As serious a problem as this is, it might just be easier to overcome than New York's quarterback problem.
The Steelers have been finding a way to generate just enough offense to win despite their problems whereas the Jets are riding a two game losing streak into Pittsburgh because of their offensive woes. New York lost a very winnable game against Miami last week because they could only generate 6 points.
You can guarantee that the Jets aren't going to just roll over and give up. They certainly don't want this losing streak to continue. This game is more important to their playoff lives than it is to the Steelers, and that may be just enough motivation for the Jets to earn a win.
They are unlikely to win their division at two games behind New England for the lead in the AFC East. A loss to Pittsburgh would drop them to 9-5 and put them in danger of missing the playoffs altogether.
Expect this game to be a tough victory to earn for either team. With two of the league's best defensive units and struggling offenses, this game could be one of the lowest scoring pairings of the season.