With the AFC wild card race coming down to a tightly contested final week, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Lamar Woodley feels that New England and Cincinnati might just try to set up the playoff matchups the way they want.
Woodley has predicted the Bengals and Patriots will "lay down" in week 17, allowing their opponents (the Houston Texans and New York Jets) to win in an effort to prevent Pittsburgh a chance at a playoff berth.
"All of them lay down,'' Woodley stated, "No one wants to see Pittsburgh in it. That's just how it is. Everybody knows we're a dangerous team once we get into the playoffs, no matter how we played the whole year. Once we get into the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers is a playoff team.
"Cincinnati is probably going to go into New York and lay down for the Jets,” Woodley went on, “and not play them hard just because they're not going to want to see Pittsburgh in it.”
Lamar Woodley maintained that the Steelers held more integrity, emphasizing last year’s final game where Pittsburgh kept all of its starters in for a somewhat meaningless 31-0 victory over Cleveland. What was not mentioned was the concussion Ben Roethlisberger suffered, though it did not keep him from any playing time in the playoffs.
Most of the team disagreed, or at least shaded around such direct statements.
"To say Cincinnati doesn't want to face us, that would kind of be a little dumb, being that they beat us twice this season,'' Safety Ryan Clark said. "So I'm sure they have a lot of confidence if they do have to play us.''
Clark also pointed to the 2008 playoffs where the Steelers topped the Ravens twice, then played them in the AFC championship and won a third time. History just might favor Cincinnati on that front, after a pair of regular season wins against Pittsburgh this year.
The Bengals are struggling, but have plenty of reason to be confident against either AFC North opponent, as they went 6-0 in their division this year. New England has far less experience with the AFC North, facing only one team (Baltimore) but winning that game.
Star nose tackle Casey Hampton took a more moderated stance on the idea of resting starters, "Coaches have to do what's best for their team,'' said Hampton, when told of Woodley's remarks. "Being healthy going into the playoffs, I think, is their main focus. If the game doesn't mean anything, why risk getting hurt?''
Presently, Pittsburgh will need to focus on its own matchup, a tough fight with a 7-8 Miami Dolphins team that nearly made a run at New England’s division lead just a few weeks back. Even if they win, they will need a lot of help, holding few tie-breakers in the race for one of the two wild card seeds. Miami itself could possibly eke a sixth seed if all the 8-7 teams falter, that motivation despite an array of crippling injuries across the season make them a dangerous opponent.