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Old 12-21-2008, 08:02 AM   #1
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Default Sowing the seed

Sowing the seed

Mike Bires
Times Sports Staff

At this stage of the season, the Steelers have accomplished virtually everything they set out to do.

Basically, there are only two things left on their to-do list. One: Enter the playoffs playing well and healthy. Two: Enter the playoffs as the AFC’s No. 1 seed.

Right now, the Steelers are definitely on a roll. Going into today’s game at Tennessee, the AFC North champs have won five straight. Only the red-hot Indianapolis Colts, winners of seven in a row, are playing better.

The Steelers are also healthy. If defensive end Brett Keisel returns as expected from a sprained knee, the Steelers’ top-ranked defense will have all its first stringers in the lineup for the first time since Week 2.

That brings us to the subject of the coveted No. 1 seed.

Do the Steelers really need it?

If the Steelers lose to the Titans, they will enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed. But if they beat Tennessee and then handle struggling Cleveland (4-10) next week at Heinz Field, they’ll secure the AFC’s top seed.

That would be impressive. But might it also be a curse?

Since the NFL implemented its current seeding system in 1990, the Steelers have been the No. 1 seed four times. In each instance, they failed to reach the Super Bowl.

Since 1990, the Steelers have made it to the Super Bowl twice, once in 1995 as the No. 2 seed and then again in ’05 as the No. 6 seed.

So, is being the No. 1 seed and the home-field advantage it brings overrated?

“No, no, no,” Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward says. “You definitely want to take the easiest way and there’s naothing easy about going on the road and beating a team in their backyard.

“What we did in ’05 and what the Giants did last year, that was probably something like the first time in history that a five and a six seed went all the way. You definitely want to take the easiest path and getting that No. 1 seed, you have two games at home to try to go to a Super Bowl. You really can’t ask for anything more. We would love to have that No. 1 seed to play two games here in Heinz Field for the opportunity to go down to Tampa.”

“Historically, it is proven to be a big advantage to play at home (in the playoffs),” added strong safety Troy Polamalu. “It is important for us to win, and as a result of that to get the No. 1 seed.”

In the 18 years in which AFC and NFC playoff teams have been seeded one through six, 18 top seeds have made it to the Super Bowl.

In the NFC, the No. 1 seed has especially been important as 11 of the 18 top seeds have made it to the Super Bowl.

In the AFC, only seven of the 18 No. 1 seeds advanced to the Super Bowl.

“The reality is that the 12 teams that will be in the playoffs are all capable, good football teams capable of winning,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

“You like to be able to do it at home in front of your fans. That’s one of the things that’s most exciting about trying to secure home-field advantage. You want that for your fans. You want to be able to perform in front of them. But ultimately a ticket in the tournament is a ticket in the tournament and anyone is capable of winning it.”

That’s what the Steelers did in ’05. After winning three straight playoff games on the road, they became the first and only No. 6 to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

Last year, the New York Giants also won three road playoff games and became the first No. 5 seed to win the Super Bowl.

“I don’t know if it is so important to have the No. 1 seed,” Keisel said. “We’re excited (if we can), mainly because we just want to keep rolling. We want to win games and go into the playoffs on the rise. Right now we have a little win streak going, and we don’t want to have any distractions toward that. We want to keep wining on to the playoffs and on to the Super Bowl.”

Still, most Steelers would rather be at home if they advance to the Jan. 18 AFC Championship.

“If you have a mature team, you can handle it on the road,” defensive end Aaron Smith said. “Still, you want people to come into your house because it is tougher to play on the road. And we do have the best fans. So it’s a big advantage.”

Since 1990, the Steelers are 8-6 in the playoffs when playing at home and 3-3 on the road.

“We’re just trying to win as many games as we can,” Tomlin said. “We play a good team in the Tennessee Titans this week. They are the No. 1 seed (right now). If we should happen to play them again in the playoffs, I would prefer to play them in Pittsburgh.”
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Old 12-21-2008, 11:53 AM   #2
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Default Re: Sowing the seed

It's great to see us getting healthy and playing really good football at the right time of the season. And that makes us a very dangerous team.
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