By BOB LABRIOLA
Steelers.com Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell has been roasted by the media and fans for resting Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark for the second half of a game against the New York Jets that ultimately spoiled their undefeated season.
New England's Bill Belichick and Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis are being scrutinized for how they may approach their games on Sunday, because the Patriots and Bengals both have clinched division titles and are locked into playing a Wild Card Game on the weekend of Jan. 9-10.
In Pittsburgh, the Steelers are a team needing a win on Sunday over the Miami Dolphins, plus help from at least two other teams in order to qualify for one of the AFC's six playoff spots.
There are three primary scenarios in which the Steelers will qualify for the playoffs: A Steelers win over the Dolphins, plus a Raiders win over the Ravens and a Patriots win over the Texans; a Steelers win over the Dolphins, plus a Patriots win over the Texans and a Bengals win over the Jets; and a Steelers win over the Dolphins, plus a Bengals win over the Jets and a Chiefs win over the Broncos.
In all, there are 18 different combinations to settle the final two playoff spots in the AFC.
"We're not talking a lot about some of the playoff scenarios and things of that nature. Truth be known, we put ourselves in this situation, and we're going to deal with it the best way we know how," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "What we are going to do is focus on the things we can control – and that is our preparation and ultimately our play this upcoming Sunday in Miami. All of the scenarios include us winning if we are to get into the playoffs, and so that's our focus."
When questioned at his news conference about his opinion on coaches resting starters after their teams have clinched a playoff position, Tomlin refused to second-guess the decisions of his peers.
"I really have no opinion," said Tomlin. "I really trust that those coaches are going to do what they feel is best for their football teams. I'm going to do what's best for mine. Very rarely do I pass judgment on the decision-making of other coaches with regards to their team because I don't have a pulse of their group, what they need."
In the 2008 regular season finale against Cleveland, Tomlin played the starters, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, even though the Steelers were locked in as the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Roethlisberger was injured in the game against the Browns, but it was sufficiently minor that he was fine for the Steelers' playoff opener, against the San Diego Chargers following a bye week.
"I think we're all competitors and we play to win. I know I do," said Tomlin. "Anytime we come out of that tunnel, that's the intent. The ramifications of that in regards to other people really is irrelevant to me. It's more about the people I come out of the tunnel with, and our commitment to this organization, our fans and our community. So when we come out, we come to play to win."
There is a scenario in which the Bengals could be in direct control of the Steelers' playoff chances, based on whether they defeat the Jets in a game due to begin at 8:30 p.m.
If the Patriots win, then the Bengals (10-5) are locked into the fourth seed, but if the Texans win, the Bengals could get the third seed if they beat the Jets. If both the Bengals and Patriots lose there is a very small chance that the Bengals could get the third seed. New England has the edge based on strength of victory.
"It will be another Sunday for us," Lewis said. "I'll make those adjustments and so forth later in the week and as we go. We're going to approach it as a game we need to win."
There also is a scenario in which a Bengals win over the Jets could set up a third game against the Steelers, in the Wild Card Round at Paul Brown Stadium, but taking the same scenario and substituting a Bengals loss would mean the Steelers are locked out of the postseason.
Would the Bengals play to win a "meaningless" game to win and set up a third matchup with the Steelers, or would they rest their front-line players to set up a possible rematch with the Jets in Cincinnati in the first round of the playoffs?
"I could care less how the Bengals approach what it is they do," said Tomlin. "It's our bed, we're going to lay in it. We created the situation. What we are going to do is control what we can control, and that's our preparation and play in the game (against the Dolphins). We're not going to cry over spilled milk. If there's any level of disappointment in terms of how this thing unfolds, it'll be on us."
Tomlin: We put ourselves in this situation
By BOB LABRIOLA