I have no doubt that on Sunday the Cleveland Browns players will be trying to win as they’re somewhere near a touchdown underdog on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I don’t believe that players and coaches involved in an NFL schedule think about the NFL draft or anything other than doing their jobs and maybe trying to have fun as they play out their schedule. The Browns might not win this weekend in Pittsburgh, and they might even be generally unmotivated, but it won’t be “tanking” if they lose.
In a violent game like NFL football, we’ve seen what can happen to a quarterback who gets lazy in pursuit of the safety of out-of-bounds lines and take an unnecessary hit. In a game where players get hurt all the time while trying their hardest, the injury rate has to be even higher when players are laying off and only half playing. There’s no way of measuring this, of course, but it makes loads of sense.
What does this mean for the Browns game this weekend? I have no real idea other than it will reflect on Rob Chudzinski and the Browns’ leaders in the locker room. Regardless of outcome, we’ll know in the first quarter if these guys have shown up to play hard or not. We’ll know if they have any pride left to drop on this year’s lost NFL season. Will they be content to just ride it out, or are they truly motivated to beat their fans’ biggest rivals and decimate what little playoff hopes the Steelers have?
Yes, the Steelers still have some playoff chances. At 7-8, the Steelers need some help, but according to ESPN’s calculations, the Steelers have a 9.1% chance of making the playoffs. They can do so, by beating the Browns first and foremost, while seeing Baltimore, San Diego and Miami all lose. Baltimore is on the road against the Bengals, the Dolphins are at home against the Jets, and the Chargers are at home against the Chiefs. It’s remote, but it’s possible.
That’s what makes the NFL so tough to predict. How do you predict motivation? Will the Browns be motivated by their first-year head coach? Will the Steelers be unmotivated if they happen to catch the Ravens vs. Bengals score at halftime and the Ravens are leading by three scores? None of us can possibly predict all those things.
One thing that I can predict though, the Browns won’t be actively tanking for draft picks. Players and coaches work in mysterious ways, but I truly don’t think they work like that.