Steelers’ Woodley: Pats, Bengals will ‘lay down’

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley predicts the New England Patriots and

Cincinnati Bengals will “lay down” for their virtually meaningless

games Sunday because they don’t want the Super Bowl champion

Steelers to make the playoffs.

The Steelers (8-7) would reach the postseason for the fifth

time in six seasons if they beat Miami, the Patriots defeat

Houston, and the Bengals beat the New York Jets. There are other

combinations that would get them in, but all include either a New

England or Cincinnati victory.

Pittsburgh’s problem: The Patriots (10-5) and Bengals (10-5)

have little at stake other than which team will be seeded No. 3 in

the AFC. With a wild-card playoff game awaiting both teams next

week, New England and Cincinnati are expected to rest some starters

to avoid possible injuries.

New England coach Bill Belichick hasn’t revealed who will

play. Woodley, last week’s AFC defensive player of the week and a

Pro Bowl alternate, thinks he knows already.

“All of them lay down,” Woodley said Wednesday. “No one

wants to see Pittsburgh in it. That’s just how it is. Everybody

knows we’re a dangerous team once we get into the playoffs, no

matter how we played the whole year. Once we get into the playoffs,

the Pittsburgh Steelers is a playoff team.”

The Steelers were No. 6-seeded in 2005, only to win three

consecutive road playoff games and the Super Bowl. One of those

road victories was in Cincinnati; now a Bengals loss to the Jets

(8-7) could help keep Pittsburgh out.

“Cincinnati is probably going to go into New York and lay

down for the Jets and not play them hard just because they’re not

going to want to see Pittsburgh in it,” Woodley said.

Woodley emphasized the Steelers played their regulars during

a season-ending 31-0 win over Cleveland last year, despite having

nothing to gain other than staying sharp. Quarterback Ben

Roethlisberger sustained a concussion but, after a bye week,

returned for the playoffs.

“We definitely wouldn’t lay down because it’s a pride thing

with us, going out there winning ballgames and shutting teams

down,” Woodley said.

Woodley was a lone voice among the Steelers’ players, none of

whom said they agreed with him. Safety Ryan Clark laughed off the

notion Cincinnati doesn’t want to play Pittsburgh again. The

Steelers have lost five of their last seven.

“To say Cincinnati doesn’t want to face us, that would kind

of be a little dumb, being that they beat us twice this season,”

Clark said. “So I’m sure they have a lot of confidence if they do

have to play us.”

The Steelers beat the Ravens twice in 2008, Clark pointed

out, then won again a third time in the AFC championship game.

“I think when you say that (teams will lay down), it calls

into question the character of the players on their team. And I

think all those guys are character football players and

competitors,” Clark said. “Now if it were last year’s (Steelers

team), yeah, they probably wouldn’t want to play us. But this

year’s team, I don’t think strikes fear in anyone.”

Several players said the Steelers need to focus on beating

the Dolphins (7-8) rather than worrying what the Patriots and

Bengals do.

“They’re a team you can’t look past at all,” right tackle

Willie Colon said. “They’re going to have pride and they’re going

to be ready for us to get after them.”

Nose tackle Casey Hampton and running back Willie Parker will

understand it if New England and Cincinnati rest their starters in

what Parker called “a game you don’t need.”

“Coaches have to do what’s best for their team,” said

Hampton, who laughed when told of Woodley’s remarks. “Being healthy

going into the playoffs, I think, is their main focus. If the game

doesn’t mean anything, why risk getting hurt?”