It happens every year in the days leading up to Week 17: NFL teams that have nothing to play for playoff-wise must decide whether to play or rest their starters. While both schools of thought have merit, there is no right or wrong answer.
“I think it depends on a couple factors,” NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “One is experience of your quarterback – and experience of your team in general, but really your quarterback. Your quarterback is the key figure of your team. If he has done it before and he’s playing well and the team is playing well, then it makes no sense to play him. Big Ben is already going to be out. I doubt Eli plays more than a drive just to keep his streak going. But if you look at Dallas, the situation is kind of unprecedented. Dak is a rookie. Even though he’s playing well, he’s still a rookie. He didn’t play well against the Vikings or the Giants, but he’s played well the last two weeks. I think it makes sense to play for him a half. I don’t think you play him the whole game, but you keep him in his groove.”
While the Cowboys have already locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Cleveland Browns (1-14) are one loss away from locking up the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Browns, who started 0-14, finally got in the win column this past Sunday, beating the Chargers, 20-17, in Cleveland.
“Winning is the only thing that’s really fun about the NFL,” Schwartz said. “It’s tough. Your bodies go through a lot, you have long days, training camp is rough, mentally its stressful, you spend a lot of time away from your families, you’re constantly getting rehabbed, you’re lifting, you’re working out – so winning makes everything better. It makes everything better in the facility from top to bottom, from the front office to the people in the administration, the cooks – everyone just feels better when you win. For a team not to win like the Browns is devastating. I went 2-14 one year, but we spread out our wins so we didn’t go terribly long with losing. But they were emotional. Guys were crying in the locker room after one win. They’re 1-14, but I’m glad they won a game. You never want anyone to go 0-16. That’s miserable. I’m glad they could end on a good note this year. Pittsburgh’s not playing their starters, so it’s possible that they win this game but they might lose the No. 1 pick, so I’m not sure if they really want to win the game or not.”
Regardless of who the Browns draft next year, they desperately need stability in their organization. Cleveland has had six head coaches since 2008. Schwartz’s brother, Mitchell, played for the Browns from 2012-15 before signing a five-year deal with the Chiefs in March.
“He had three different head coaches, he had four offensive coordinators and four offensive line coaches,” Schwartz said. “You can’t win that way. Every year it’s a new system. Every year you have to learn the way the coach communicates with you. You have a new practice schedule. You have a new meeting schedule. You might have new nutritionists, a new strength coach. The way you do things is going to be different now. I’ve been a part of two offensive installs where we had a new coach when I was with Andy Reid in Kansas City – it was his first year – and then in New York the following year when it was Ben McAdoo’s first year. It takes 10 regular-season weeks to start clicking on offense, so if you do that every year, you’re never going to be good. I think sometimes the attitude of win-now makes sense – there’s a lot of money involved in it – but sometimes you have to give the coach time to get better and get his team where it needs to be. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s tough in these situations where you give a coach only two seasons or three seasons. That’s not enough sometimes.”