On The Steelers: Earning No. 2 seed has been super fortunate for Steelers
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With the bye week and a home playoff game Jan. 15, it looks like deja two for the Steelers. They have been here before with the No. 2 playoff seed in the AFC, and they did well with it.
They entered the 2008 playoffs as the No. 2 seed and won three in a row to claim their sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy.
They were the No. 2 seed in the 1995 playoffs and won two games to reach their fifth Super Bowl, where they lost to Dallas, 27-17.
On both occasions, they also caught a break by playing the AFC championship game at home when the top-seeded AFC team lost its first game -- Baltimore won at Tennessee in the playoffs after the 2008 season and Indianapolis won at top-seeded Kansas City in the 1995 playoffs.
They also were the No. 2 seed in 1997 and again caught some luck when top-seeded Kansas City lost its first playoff game but then the Steelers lost to Denver in the AFC championship game at Three Rivers Stadium.
This is the eighth time the Steelers have earned a bye as one of the top two seeds since 1992. If they advance to the AFC championship game, it would be their fifth in the past decade.
New England has been established as a prohibitive 2-1 favorite to win its fourth Super Bowl. The Steelers and Atlanta Falcons are second-favorites, each at 11-2 odds, according to Bodog.com.
"It's been like that every year for the Steelers," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "The year we won the Super Bowl it was the Titans. So they always count us out."
The Steelers will open against Indianapolis, Kansas City or Baltimore at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at Heinz Field. They cannot play the New York Jets in that first game. The highest-seeded team to survive this weekend will play the Steelers, with the lowest seed playing at New England.
The Patriots and Steelers have met twice previously in the AFC championship game, both at Heinz Field after the 2001 and '04 seasons, and both won by New England.
"They're a great team," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "They've got a lot of weapons. We'll see how it all pans out. They've worked hard to get that No. 1 seed and they'll be a tough team to beat."
The Steelers, of course, also won a Super Bowl after the 2005 season when they were the first sixth seed to do so, winning three postseason games on the road and then beating Seattle in Detroit for their fifth NFL championship.
They say they appreciate this playoff spot a little more after what happened to them last season, when -- like this one -- they started out 6-2 as the defending champions and then collapsed, losing five in a row and missing the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
"It's great to bounce back after we had a year like we had last year when we went on that skid in the second half of the season," Keisel said. "It's great to finish strong in the second half of the season this year. We're proud to do that."
"Last year," Woodley said, "our fate was in other people's hands. We needed some teams to lose for us to get in, we put ourselves in that situation. This year we took control of our own situation."
Steelers players apparently became so upset with all the fines that were levied on them, with the idea that the NFL had "targeted" them, that they refused to fully cooperate with the crews from NFL Films when they entered their locker room immediately after games.
Linebacker James Harrison, who had his $125,000 on four fines scaled back to $100,000 by the NFL last week, said the fines helped team unity in a locker room that has always been tight.
"I won't say that's what led to this team doing what it had done, but my teammates were definitely behind me," Harrison said. "We definitely stuck together. The NFL Films would be in here after games. That's another reason why we don't talk around them; we keep everything in team."
They had nothing against the crews from NFL Films, Harrison said, but explained the players' reluctance to cooperate because "they're just part of the NFL."
"I don't want to say nothing I might get fined for," Harrison said. "Just how they come into the locker room after the game, it's hush-hush, 'We got visitors in here, keep your comments to yourself.' "
Harrison said he also has a long memory for those media members in Pittsburgh who sided against him because of the fines.
"Some of you all tried to hang me out to dry, too, when this stuff was going on. I know who you are. Don't think I forgot."
Rashard Mendenhall became the first running back to lead the Steelers in scoring since Franco Harris scored 66 points on 11 touchdowns in 1977. Mendenhall scored 78 points on 13 touchdowns, one touchdown short of Harris' team record. He's the second non-kicker to lead the team in scoring since 1977. Hines Ward led them with 78 points on 12 touchdown catches in 2002, the last season before this one in which the Steelers had two kickers.
First Published January 4, 2011 12:00 am