Saturday, June 16, 2018
Tampa Bay Storm

Even for NFL also-rans, motivation is there

LOS ANGELES — Can the Cincinnati Bengals be spoilers?

Can the Pittsburgh Steelers be stealers?

Can the San Diego Chargers maintain the status quo?

As the NFL season enters the homestretch this holiday weekend, several teams are jockeying for playoff position while others are seeking comfort in consolation prizes.

For the Bengals, who are eliminated from the playoff picture, there would be a measure of satisfaction in winning at Houston, where the Texans are looking to hold off the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts to win the AFC South.

Even though he'll miss the playoffs for the first time in his six-year career and his team is playing only for pride, Bengals receiver A.J. Green is determined to return today after being sidelined for more than a month because of a hamstring injury.

"I'm not the type of guy to shut it down just to bail out on my team because we are not having the season we wanted to have," Green told reporters. "That's a cowardly move to me. If I'm healthy, I'm going to play. And I feel like I'm healthy enough to play this week."

Similarly, the eliminated Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. the Titans) and Chicago Bears (vs. Washington) want to be wet blankets for teams that still have a pulse. Minnesota is barely alive, but the Vikings could be a big headache for the rival Green Bay Packers by winning at Lambeau Field today, seeing as Aaron Rodgers & Co. are just hanging on as the NFC's projected sixth-seeded team.

"We're out here to play football, we're out here to have fun," Vikings guard Alex Boone told reporters. "And if anything, we're out here to ruin everybody else's season."

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is hoping to hang on to its narrow lead in the AFC North and heist the hopes of division rival Baltimore. In the earlier of the two Christmas Day games — the other pits the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs at Kansas City — the Steelers will look to reverse a recent trend.

The Ravens have won four in a row against the Steelers, six of the past seven meetings and nine of 12 since 2010. In what used to be the NFL's most competitive rivalry, Ravens-Steelers has been hopelessly lopsided of late.

Even last season, when they finished 5-11, the Ravens swept the Steelers.

"Is it a rivalry if you've dropped a few like that?" Steelers guard Ramon Foster asked in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "To win this one is big, it has a lot of implications in it. They're going to come in here with their heads high, they're going to come in wanting to spoil our Christmas Day at home."

Pittsburgh would clinch a division title and at least a first-round home game with a victory. A loss could keep the Steelers out of the playoffs. Baltimore would win the division by sweeping its final two games, including its finale at Cincinnati.

The Chargers want to maintain the status quo in that they don't want to be the first team to lose to the Cleveland Browns. The Browns are two losses away from joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to finish 0-16.

San Diego at Cleveland is one of two games this weekend in which both teams have been eliminated from playoff contention. The other is the San Francisco 49ers against the Los Angeles Rams at the Coliseum.

"I have respect for the Browns team and those players," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers told reporters. "You watch the tape, and they could easily be sitting at 5-9 like we are."

It's hard to make the playoffs in the NFL, and even harder to find pity.

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