On The Steelers: Tomlin happiest playing at home
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Among the rewards the Steelers earned for achieving the No. 2 seed in the AFC was a bye into the divisional round of the playoffs and a home game.
But are home games worth much these days?
The first weekend of playoffs in the NFL left three home teams at home permanently as Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Kansas City lost in their own stadiums. And that does not even take into account what the Steelers have done at home this season.
They were 5-3 at Heinz Field, 7-1 on the road. They lost to Baltimore at home and won at Baltimore. The Ravens had the opposite record, 7-1 at home and 5-3 on the road.
"I wouldn't read too much into it. Those road teams that won were very good teams," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Monday. "I think everyone understands that, and I don't think anyone's particularly shocked by those things."
He, of course, is happy to be playing Saturday at home.
"If given the opportunity, I would play at Heinz Field in front of Steeler Nation, no question."
The Steelers have reached their most recent Super Bowls both ways. In 2005, they won three playoff games on the road before beating Seattle in Detroit in Super Bowl XL. In 2008, a bye and two home playoff victories launched them to Tampa, Fla., and Super Bowl XLIII, where they beat Arizona.
Yet after the Steelers became the first in history to win three on the road and then a Super Bowl, the Giants duplicated that feat two seasons later. Now, Baltimore and the New York Jets are trying to do the same thing after the fifth and sixth seeds advanced over the weekend with victories.
The Steelers are 4-4 at home in their past eight postseason games starting with their loss to Denver in the 1997 AFC championship game
New sod was placed on Heinz Field after the Winter Classic hockey game, the third sod field this season, and the temperatures have mostly been below freezing since then.
Additionally, forecasts for heavy snow and temperatures below freezing all week could make for an interesting field surface Saturday.
Do coaches take into account possible weather conditions and playing surface when they formulate game plans?
"I do more of that in the stadium, in terms of in-game adjusting, than I do from a preparation standpoint," Tomlin said. "I don't pay too much attention to weather forecasts. Those guys got great jobs -- '50 percent chance of rain,' you know?"
Another benefit of getting the bye for the Steelers was getting players healthy -- not to mention not risking further injury.
"I think we got a pretty good bill of health," Tomlin declared.
Troy Polamalu, who played a full game Jan. 2 after missing the previous two with an Achilles-related injury, did not practice last week and will be held back again in the early practices this week "so he can be in the best shape possible on Saturday," said Tomlin, who pronounced his Pro Bowl safety "to be in pretty good shape."
Cornerback Bryant McFadden, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury, also will be limited in practice early this week but is "progressing nicely," according to Tomlin.
Defensive end Aaron Smith, 34, will have another scan to check his triceps but will not play Saturday. Although Tomlin has not declared him out, Smith has not practiced since his injury Oct. 24, although he has been running with a helmet on early in practice.
"You know, it's been good to get him back out on the field, at least for me personally," Tomlin said. "I like seeing Aaron in a helmet and giving him a hard time."
Jason Worilds, the team's top backup outside linebacker and special teams player, has a clean bill of health after missing the Jan. 2 game with a knee injury
• The Steelers are 8-0 in the postseason against division opponents since the 1970 NFL merger, 2-0 vs. Baltimore. The only time in their history they have lost a postseason game against a division opponent came in 1947, when they and the Philadelphia Eagles tied for first place in the Eastern Division of the then-two division NFL. Philadelphia won the playoff, 21-0, to determine which advanced to the championship game.
• Over the previous five seasons, the Steelers won seven of their eight postseason games, losing only to Jacksonville at home in their 2007 playoff opener.
• Formulating a game plan against an opponent as familiar as Baltimore is "different," Tomlin said.
"It just presents a different set of difficult circumstances. Knowledge of one's opponent and your opponent's knowledge of you creates a different set of circumstances than the unknown. All are challenging, just different."
First Published January 11, 2011 12:00 am