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Should NFL teams rest starters before the playoffs?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2016 NFL regular season comes to a close with the last games in two days, some teams will have to make the decision of whether or not to rest their starters. The Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants are two teams in which their Week 17 games is meaningless for their playoff situation. Win or lose, the Cowboys will be the No. 1 seed in the NFC Conference and the Giants will be the No. 5 seed.

So what should teams like the Cowboys and Giants do in this situation: rest their starters or play the game as if it matters? It’s not some simple yes or no question. Just because the game is meaningless in terms of playoff implications, does not mean it has to be meaningless in other ways.

There are situations where resting starters makes sense and is likely the right decision. The Cowboys are in a situation where this makes tons of sense. Ultimately, the reason teams would rest their starters is to prevent injury. The team isn’t looking to win and would rather go into the playoffs as healthy as possible.

The Cowboys are playing great football offensively and defensively. They are the NFC’s best team and don’t need to get better. This is one of the reasons why the Cowboys and the Giants situations differs. While the defense is playing great, New York’s offense has been a mess recently. The argument against New York resting its starters is that the Giants should use Week 17 to try and get their offense on the right page. They have only averaged 15.3 points per game in their last three games. The Cowboys are firing on all cylinders and don’t need the opportunity the Giants get.

Also, rarely do NFL teams have the opportunity to get their backups a chance to play a significant amount of snaps in a game. If, in the playoffs, one of the starters gets hurt, getting backup players some game time could mean the backups plays better. This idea fits with the Cowboys situation in Tony Romo and Dak Prescott. Romo hasn’t played since the preseason due to a broken back and having him get back into a live NFL game could be very advantageous if Romo needs to play in the playoffs due to Prescott getting injured.

Then there are the Pittsburgh Steelers who announced that they will be resting Ben Roethlisberger, Le’veon Bell, and Antonio Brown when they play the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Like the Cowboys, the Steelers have played great. Pittsburgh is in the midst of a six game winning streak which could increase to seven with a win against Cleveland. Some will say that the Steelers should play their starters to keep their momentum going into the playoffs. If the team is good, it won’t matter whether or not Pittsburgh wins or loses Sunday. Momentum, especially in this case is overrated. Anyways, the Steelers will probably win regardless since the Browns are so bad.

In the end, the decision to play or rest starters is unique to each team. If a team is playing well, it probably makes sense to rest the starters. On the other hand, if the team has struggled recently playing the game as if it matters to help the team go into the playoffs playing well may be more important than the risk of injury. 

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