|Division, playoffs clinched, but Steelers still face important game|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 24 December 2007 10:39|
The rest of the week, including Sunday in Baltimore? Forget it, despite the fact the Steelers are AFC North champions for the first time since 2004 and are guaranteed a home playoff game Jan. 5 or 6.
That's because regardless of what happened during Monday night's Broncos-Chargers game, the Steelers won't know going into Sunday's late afternoon game what their final playoff positioning will be.
Even if the Steelers win, the Chargers' superior conference record would assure them of being the third seed in the AFC playoffs if they win their final two games. But if the Chargers (9-5) split against the Broncos and Oakland Raiders and the Steelers win, Pittsburgh will be No. 3.
``We are going to play to win,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Monday. ``I'm sure they (his players) were hopeful that the division will be riding on this game, but it will not. But it will still be a hotly fought battle.''
Tomlin doesn't seem to care if the Steelers are No. 3 or No. 4 - after all, they were No. 6 two years ago and became the only last-seeded team to win three in a row on the road and the Super Bowl.
Still, there could be a very big difference between the seeds, and the Steelers know it.
If they're the No. 3 seed, the Steelers would play either Cleveland (9-6) or Tennessee (9-6) in the wild-card round, then would travel to Indianapolis (13-2) a weekend later.
If they're No. 4, the road to the Super Bowl becomes filled with even deeper potholes.
First up in the postseason would be Jacksonville (11-4), which won at Heinz Field 29-22 only last week and might be playing as well as any team not named the Patriots. Jacksonville, as a wild card team, can't be seeded higher than No. 5.
Then, even if the Steelers beat the Jaguars, they would travel to New England (15-0) the following weekend, unless a wild-card team upsets San Diego in the first round.
Cleveland/Tennessee, then Indianapolis? Jacksonville, then New England? The choice seems obvious.
``If we have an opportunity to get the three-seed, we are going to do that,'' Tomlin said. ``It's significant between three and four, saying that if you win your first game then it tells you where to go. So there is definitely at least some significance there.''
While Tomlin is promising the Steelers will go all out to win, he isn't guaranteeing that all of their not-fully-healthy starters will play. Among those being monitored in practice will be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (ankle) and safety Troy Polamalu (knee).
``We are in the tournament, bidding for the Lombardi (Trophy) like others, and if we have some injury issues and people are dealing with injuries then, yes, we will make sure they get healthy,'' Tomlin said.
Left tackle Marvel Smith's status remains uncertain and it seems likely he won't play Sunday. Smith has missed three of the last five games, creating the strong possibility Max Starks will start during the playoffs.
The Steelers also made certain Pro Bowl running back Willie Parker won't play again this season by placing him on injured reserve. They re-signed Verron Haynes, primarily their third-down back from 2002-06 before being cut during training camp.
Parker needed surgery to repair his broken right fibula, an injury that occurred during the Steelers' 41-24 win Thursday in St. Louis.
With Najeh Davenport now the starter, Gary Russell becomes the backup despite carrying only once previously for 1 yard. Carey Davis becomes the third-down back.
``We have a stable of guys we are going to move forward with,'' Tomlin said. ``It's going to be a running back by committee.''
Notes: Of the AFC North title, Tomlin said, ``It's just hardware you pick up along the way.'' Cleveland's 19-14 upset loss Sunday in Cincinnati assured Pittsburgh of the division title. ... The Steelers have lost their second game against Baltimore each of then last two seasons and three times in four years. ... The Steelers won their final regular season game each of the last three seasons and six of the last seven seasons. The last time they lost that game but won at least once in the playoffs was 1997. ... Sunday's game will start at 4:15 p.m., rather than the previously scheduled 1 p.m. ... Tyrone Carter will start again at safety in place of Anthony Smith, who, Tomlin said, ``is letting the ball get behind him.''