With just one week left in the NFL season, and a number of teams already having their playoff tickets punched, it’s time for everyone’s favorite debate: Should your team play its starters or not?
As we all know, this isn’t a simple yes or no question. There are plenty of factors to consider and yell about with your friends and colleagues. Thus far, we don’t know every team’s plans, but we now know a couple team’s fates.
On one side of this argument, you have the teams who decide to keep their starters in and try to maintain any momentum into the playoffs. This season, the Dallas Cowboys will fall on this side of the argument. Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett likes what his offense is doing, particularly with his quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.
#Cowboys Jason Garrett tells us he plans to play Dak, Zeke, starters as normal. "We like the rhythm of our offense and how Dak is playing."
— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 26, 2016
Garrett’s logic makes sense here. His offense is led by two rookies who haven’t been through this process before. You certainly don’t want to mess with what they have going on right now.
But as we’ve seen, this can be a risky strategy. Just look at two teams with playoff aspirations — the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans. Both teams lost their quarterback thanks to their legs snapping like twigs. Imagine the outrage if either Prescott or Elliott somehow get hurt in Dallas’ final two games against Detroit and Philadelphia.
It is difficult to directly compare the Cowboys’ situation with those faced by Oakland and Tennessee. The Raiders are fighting for a first-round bye, while the Titans were very much in contention for an AFC South title until Saturday’s loss. However, it is still a cautionary tale.
This leads us to the argument of teams not playing their starters to avoid injuries. You can put the Pittsburgh Steelers in that category this year. The Steelers defeated the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday to clinch an AFC North title. And with the three seed firmly in hand, Pittsburgh will sit its starters when it takes on the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
In the Steelers’ case, this makes sense. No. 1, they’re taking on the Browns. No offense, Cleveland, but Pittsburgh will still probably win this game with its backups playing. Also, the Steelers have had a tough time keeping Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown on the field over the years. If Pittsburgh wants to make a run at the Super Bowl, it will need those three on the field.
As you can see, there are strong arguments to be made on both sides of this issue. But in today’s talking-head world, you better take one side of it and be prepared to scream about it.