Opportunity knocks for Steelers’ Week 17 Z-Factor

The Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3) and Cleveland Browns (0-15) are set for a regular season finale for the ages. Will Pittsburgh end up with the number one seed in the AFC playoff picture? Will Landry Jones have a repeat performance of last year’s stellar week 17 game? Will Hue Jackson jump in that lake? Okay, I may be slightly exaggerating the amount of hype surrounding this game, but it’s still a divisional game nonetheless with some playoff implications, possibly.

If the New England Patriots lose and the Steelers win, a good old-fashioned flip-flop would go down. Pittsburgh would then take over the number one seed and New England would fall to second fiddle. Sounds like a plan, right? The only problem is the Patriots are going to “battle” with the Bryce Petty-led New York Jets. Now, in the National Football League any team can win on any given gameday (I shouldn’t have to tell Steelers fans that), but if I’m being realistic and honest with the people, it’s pretty unlikely the Jets beat the Pats on Sunday. But anything can happen.

New England and Pittsburgh play at the same time on Sunday; 1:00 p.m. ET. So there is sure to be some “scoreboard watching” that takes place. Scoreboard watching is exactly what it sounds like. It is when an NFL team pays close attention to the scoreboard at their particular stadium, but not to memorize the score of their own game. The team is watching the scores from around the NFL, in hopes to see that some team in particular may be losing. The Steelers will be keeping an eye out for the Patriots game, you can be sure of that.

If all things go as anticipated, the Patriots should have the Jets game steadily in hand by halftime, maybe earlier. And if that’s the case, expect Pittsburgh’s starters to slowly start finding their way to the bench Sunday afternoon. There is no point in risking injuries to the big guns if there is nothing to gain, which would be the case if New England won their game. However it is being largely assumed that running back, Le’Veon Bell, will hardly see any snaps regardless, if any.

Last week versus the Houston Texans, Pittsburgh got a chance to see what they had in recently acquired running back, Stevan Ridley. Ironically, Ridley played his best seasons in New England (1,263 yards rushing in 2012). The seven-year pro was added to Pittsburgh’s roster when rookie running back and immediate backup, James Conner, was designated to injured reserve after needing knee surgery. At first I was skeptical of the signing, mainly because of two objections:

  1. DeAngelo Williams was available, albeit he has not played a down of football all year. But he has performed above the line for Pittsburgh in the recent past.
  2. Stevan Ridley’s former fumbling problems (8 in a two-year span) make me wary, especially after Fitzgerald Toussaint put the ball on the grass in the 2016 playoff matchup vs. the Denver Broncos, ultimately costing Pittsburgh the game.

Last week, against the Texans, Ridley was given an opportunity to show something, and I thought he played rather well. There was nothing Ridley did to write home about, but he showed burst and acceleration with each of his nine carries, and kept the ball high and tight. This weekend against Cleveland, I expect Ridley to get double-digit carries, along with a handful of receptions.

Pittsburgh has to feel comfortable in their No. 2 back should something happen to Bell, heaven forbid. The Steelers clearly like what Ridley can bring to their offense in theory, or I believe they would have signed Williams back onto the squad. Sunday will be Stevan Ridley’s chance to prove Pittsburgh right and grab his time to shine as Week 17’s Z-Factor.

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