Going into week 17, the Cleveland Browns were in a unique situation: They were not guaranteed a playoff spot, but not yet eliminated; however, their game was almost entirely meaningless. Allow me to explain.
Because of how the tiebreakers work, the Browns came into Week 17 as the #6 seed, but, even with a win, could have fallen to #7. In fact, their playoff matrix was as follows:
- If the Browns won (they did), they needed the Tennessee Titans to lose or tie.
- If the Browns lost or tied, they needed the Titans to lose.
In other words, the only gain the Browns received by winning in Week 17 is that, in the off chance that the Titans and Colts were to tie tonight, the Browns make the playoffs.
As ties are rather rare in the NFL, it's fair enough to say that the Browns game had almost zero impact on whether the Browns would make the playoffs. Or, in other words, the game was "meaningless."
In typical meaningless situations with playoff implications, the playoff-bound team rests its starters to some degree. We all understand this thought process.
It seems that this situation -- the weird tie outcome notwithstanding -- is identical to the situation the Jacksonville Jaguars are in. Win or lose, the Browns outcome is sealed: They'll be watching the Titans/Colts game to see if they go home or to (as it turns out) San Diego. So, why bother risking Derek Anderson to injury (as ocurred) and having to start untested Brady Quinn under center? Seems pennywise and poundfoolish -- especially given that Quinn and others could probably beat the Chris Weinke-lead San Francisco 49ers anyway -- or, at least, more often than the Titans and Colts would play to a tie.
Nevertheless, I think most of us would have a visceral, negative reaction if Romeo Crennel decided to do what I suggested (and would have this morning, I promise). Why is that? Is there a moral obligation to play a game that doesn't matter as if it does? And if so, why is the Browns' situation different than that of the Pittsburgh Steelers?