Steelers rematch with Jacksonville would be Roethlisberger's choice for playoff opponent
It's no secret which of the three possible playoff opponents Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would like to face in the divisional round Jan. 14 at Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger was asked Tuesday on his weekly 93.7-FM radio segment whether he has a preference between the Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I'll give you guys one guess who you think I want to play,” Roethlisberger said.
That, of course, would be Jacksonville, which beat the Steelers, 30-9, on Oct. 8 when Roethlisberger threw a career-high five interceptions. Those were four fewer interceptions than he threw over the other 14 games he started this season.
“Any game that we are going to play anybody is going to be a difficult opponent,” Roethlisberger said. “For me, personally, I'd love to prove that five interceptions wasn't me in that game.”
The Jaguars accounted for one of three losses on the Steelers' record this season. If Jacksonville beats Buffalo on Sunday in the wild-card round, the rematch would be set for the following weekend.
The Steelers also could play Kansas City or Tennessee, a pair of teams they defeated in the regular season. The week after the loss to Jacksonville, the Steelers defeated the Chiefs, 19-13, at Arrowhead Stadium, handing Kansas City its first loss of the season. On Nov. 16, the Steelers produced their highest-scoring game of the season when they beat Tennessee, 40-17, in a Thursday night matchup at Heinz Field.
“We've got no control over who we play going into the next round,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We better be ready for whoever it is. That's my mentality.”
Despite an extra week of preparation, Tomlin said the Steelers will not begin formulating a game plan until their opponent is identified after this weekend's wild-card games.
“We probably wouldn't even if we hadn't (played all three teams),” Tomlin said. “The fact we've seen the possibilities creates a level of comfort and at least an understanding that next week we will be working (toward) something that is somewhat familiar.”
The divisional round matchup will be the first game in three weeks for some Steelers starters. Tomlin held Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell, guard David DeCastro, center Maurkice Pouncey and defensive end Cam Heyward out of a 28-24 win over the Browns in the regular-season finale. Wide receiver Antonio Brown hasn't played or practiced since Dec. 18 because of a calf injury.
Could rust be a concern?
“There's always things that are capable of concerning you this time of year,” Tomlin said. “You are capable of being concerned about rust. You are capable of being concerned about injuries if you had to play a game this week.
“I prefer the rust equation. We get an automatic pass to the second round and get to do so with all of the people on our roster. We will deal with the rust element. We'll work and prepare and hopefully get better in the process.”
Pressed further about potential rust, Tomlin said, “I don't buy into it. We've been playing ball since July — every day. We'll be fine.”
When the Steelers returned from the regular-season bye week, they fell behind by 14 points in the second half at Indianapolis before rallying for a 20-17 victory on a last-second field goal.
“It's a warranted concern, if you will,” Roethlisberger said. “But it's the postseason. Nothing against Indianapolis and the regular-season game we played. This is the postseason. You've got to be fired up, ready to go. Obviously, we'll be coming in relatively healthy.
“If it takes a while to knock some rust off, hopefully it's just a play or two.”
Tomlin created a schedule this week that mirrors one from the regular season. The players had Tuesday off and will practice the next three days before getting the weekend off.
“The structure in which we work is good to have,” he said. “I think it's good to have continuity in that area, the rhythm. Guys know what time their cars need to pull up in that lot, what time we will be walking through those doors to the practice field. What we do will be very specific.”
The Steelers will use this week for some self-evaluation with an emphasis on “technique and skill development.”
“When you get a bye, you look at tendency-related things,” Tomlin said. “Some schematic things in an effort to stay in front of the posse.”