View Full Version : NEWS: No. 1 seed in AFC still significant for Steelers

12-16-2008, 08:07 AM
No. 1 seed in AFC still significant for Steelers
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By rights, or at least by history, the Steelers should want their conference's No. 1 playoff seed about as much as they want cheerleaders on their sidelines.

The enduring moment of their experience with cheerleaders occurred in the 1960s when they set off a cannon in the end zone right in the face of Steelers receiver Buddy Dial. And that's about how the No. 1 seed has treated them -- powder burns to their kissers.

The Steelers played AFC championship games at home after the seasons of 1994, 1995, 1997, 2001 and 2004. They lost four of the five, advancing to just one Super Bowl, where they lost to the Dallas Cowboys. Their biggest success occurred when they slipped into the playoffs as the last (sixth) seed, won three playoff games on the road and then won Super Bowl XL.

Yet, here they are, with the No. 2 seed in their pocket as they head to Nashville, Tenn., and a chance to move up to No. 1 with a victory against the Tennessee Titans. And they would like to earn it!

"This is another big opportunity for us," linebacker James Farrior said. 'We're not trying to showcase this first game and having to go back there [for the AFC championship]. We want to be able to go play there, win the game and make them come to us next time.

"That's what we're fighting for, that No. 1 seed. It's right there in front of us and we just have to go out there and play as a team as we did [in Baltimore], and I think we can do it."

Early lines have Tennessee favored by 1, and the Titans have some history of their own to lean on -- they have lost only once to the Steelers in Tennessee since they moved to that state in 1997. The Steelers are 1-7 in Tennessee and have lost three in a row since their only victory in 2001.

A Steelers victory Sunday would give both teams 12-3 records, and the Steelers would then claim the No. 1 seed with a victory against Cleveland at Heinz Field in the regular-season finale Dec. 28, based on the first tiebreaker, head to head.

"That would be nice, have everything come through our home field would be real nice," defensive end Aaron Smith said. "I don't like flying much."

Tennessee would claim the No. 1 seed with a win Sunday.

"We clinched a first-round bye. We have another big game," Hines Ward said. "We would love to have that No. 1 spot, and try to get the easiest path there. But in the AFC, I don't think there is any easy way."

Among the teams the Steelers beat, Baltimore and New England remain very much in the thick of the playoff chase. And Indianapolis, a team that beat the Steelers in Heinz Field, has the lead on one of the two wild-card playoff spots.

"Baltimore has a great team, and we might even see them again," Ward said. "But all in all, it's all about the Steelers right now, and we're AFC North champions."

Of course, they were all of that last season too, Mike Tomlin's first as coach. But the Steelers lost three of their final four regular-season games to finish 10-6, then lost at home in the first round of the playoffs to Jacksonville.

Now, they won't play in the first round, and they are much healthier and playing better down this stretch than they did a year ago.

"Yeah, I think so," Aaron Smith said. "I think we were kind of banged up last year at this time, too. I was injured, Troy [Polamalu] was injured. It was just a matter of guys being banged up.

"It just seemed like we kind of limped into the playoffs last year."

They have won five in a row to go 11-3 and can tie for the franchise's third-most victories in a regular season. They also were 13-3 in 2001, and went 14-2 in the NFL's first 16-game schedule in 1978 and 15-1 in 2004, their top three winning seasons.

"Getting a home playoff game in front of our fans is very big," Tomlin said. "Winning our division is a prerequisite to being the kind of team that we want to be. We're excited about those things. Hopefully, there's hardware that we picked up along the way to the ultimate prize that we pursue."

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.
First published on December 16, 2008 at 12:00 am