Steelers could get No. 2 or No. 6 seed
A win Sunday in Cleveland would give the Steelers a third division title in four years and earn a first-round bye in the playoffs.
A loss to the team that dashed their postseason hopes a year ago would make things a lot more complicated, not to mention difficult, for the Steelers.
Assuming the Ravens don't stumble Sunday against the Bengals at home, a Steelers loss to the Browns will put them in Kansas City, Indianapolis or Jacksonville on the second weekend of January, one that they hope to be taking off.
Put another way, the difference between a win and a loss Sunday is the difference between Morton's and McDonald's.
That is why the Steelers will take a postseason mentality into the 1 p.m. game at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"I told the guys before we played Carolina that our playoffs started that Thursday night," Steelers outside linebacker James Farrior said Monday. "We're playing (Sunday) just like a playoff game. We know what we're fighting for, and we definitely don't want to give that up, so we've just got to go out and take care of business."
If the Steelers win, they are guaranteed at least one home game.
Just as significant as playing at home in the middle of January is the rest that would come with a first-round bye. It would give an extra week for injured players such as Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu to get healthy.
Polamalu has missed the last two games because of a lower leg injury. He is unlikely to play in Cleveland and would benefit as much as anybody from the Steelers getting a first-round bye in the playoffs.
If the Steelers didn't have enough incentive to win Sunday, they also have a score to settle with one of their biggest rivals.
The Browns upset the Steelers, 13-6, last season, essentially leaving the latter's playoff aspirations at the bottom of Lake Erie.
The loss was the Steelers' fifth in a row during a mind-boggling stretch. It came against a team that doubled its win total on that frigid December night that the Steelers have not forgotten.
"We weren't ready to play, and they were," said Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace. who returned to work with his teammates yesterday following a three-day weekend. "This time we won't let it happen again. Everybody knows what's on the line here, so we shouldn't have any surprises, anybody not ready because if you were here last year you know exactly what happened."
The Browns (5-10) are only one of two teams to beat the Patriots this season. They also beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Saints in New Orleans.
The Browns have lost five of their last seven games after beating the Patriots in early November, which marked the high point of their season.
"They're still playing hard, and when you're playing in the division, you're playing hard anyway no matter what the record is," Farrior said. "I know those guys are going to be gunning for us, trying to knock us out of that second seed, so they've got something to play for too."Additional Information:
The Steelers have already qualified for the AFC playoffs. Here is how they will be seeded depending on what happens in the AFC this week.
If the Steelers beat the Browns:
• They win the AFC North and get the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and a first-round bye. They are also guaranteed at least one home game in the playoffs.
If the Steelers lose to the Browns:
• They still win the division and No. 2 seed in the playoffs if the Ravens lose to the Bengals.
• They get the No. 5 seed and play on the road the following weekend if the Jets lose to the Bills and the Ravens beat the Bengals.
• They get the No. 6 seed and play on the road the following weekend if the Jets beat the Bills and the Ravens beat the Bengals.
If the Steelers are the No. 5 seed:
• They play at Kansas City if the Chiefs lose to the Raiders and the Colts beat the Titans.
• They play at Indianapolis if the Chiefs beat the Raiders and the Colts beat the Titans.
• They play at Jacksonville if the Jaguars beat the Texans and the Colts lose to the Titans.
If the Steelers are the No. 6 seed:
• They play at Kansas City if the Chiefs beat the Raiders.
• They play at Indianapolis if the Chiefs lose to the Raiders and the Colts beat the Titans.
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