Steelers embrace bye week
Good bye or not?
Since the NFL went to its current divisional setup in 2002, five times a team not receiving a first-round bye advanced to the Super Bowl. Three won the championship
2003 - Carolina (NFC 3rd seed, lost to New England in SB XXXVIII)
2005 - Steelers (AFC 6th seed, beat Seattle in SB XL)
2006 - Indianapolis (AFC 3rd seed, beat Chicago in SB XLI)
2007 - N.Y. Giants (NFC 5th seed, beat New England in SB XLII)
2008 - Arizona (NFC 4th seed, lost to Steelers in SB XLIII)
For Ben Roethlisberger, it's a been-there, done-that situation.
Five years ago, the Steelers took the path of most resistance in claiming the Super Bowl XL title. The Steelers won three consecutive road playoff games before beating Seattle to claim their fifth world title.
Two years ago, they took the path of least resistance — a first-round bye and two home playoff games before winning Super Bowl XLIII.
"Either way is fine for me if you are winning Super Bowls," safety Troy Polamalu said.
The Steelers will try the easier path again this year with the AFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. They will play Jan. 15 in the divisional round against Kansas City, Indianapolis or Baltimore.
"You get an easier path to the Super Bowl," Wide receiver Hines Ward said. "That is the reward for getting the bye week."
That may have been the case in the past, but recently it has proven that it doesn't make much difference if a team gets a bye. Without one, a team still has decent odds of advancing to the Super Bowl.
In four of the past five years, a team that played on wild-card weekend has advanced to the Super Bowl. Three times that team has won the Super Bowl.
That's a big contrast from the early days of the current NFL playoff format. When the league went to two first-round byes in each conference in 1990, 16 of the 18 teams not playing the opening weekend eventually advanced to the Super Bowl.
The Steelers have done it both ways.
"The first Super Bowl we won, it would've hurt us if we had a bye week because we were in such a rhythm and such a focus," Polamalu said. "The second time, it would've been irrelevant because we were playing so well."
The Steelers historically have played well in the divisional round after getting a first-round bye. They are 6-1 lifetime, winning six in a row since a 1992 loss to Buffalo, 24-3, in a divisional round game at Three Rivers Stadium.
"It probably depends on if you have done it before," Roethlisberger said. "If you have been there, is your team a veteran group, have they been to the playoffs, have they not• We have an older group, a veteran group, and I think this is the best thing for us to let some of those guys get rested and healthy."
The Steelers are approaching the bye week as a reward and a chance to get healthy. Mike Tomlin has given days off to veterans such as Flozell Adams, James Farrior, Ward and Polamalu.
"It's great to have a bye week," Ward said "To be able to get that chance of sit back and get guys healthy ... you can sit back and watch the other four teams beat up on each other."
That's exactly what the Steelers did two years ago when they were the No. 2 seed. The Steelers played Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game and took on a fatigued Ravens team that had played 17 consecutive games before the title game because of a scheduling conflict that forced a Week 2 game in Houston to be postponed, thus making it their bye week.
The Steelers won the AFC title game, 23-14, and claimed Super Bowl XLIII two weeks later.
"That made a whole difference," Polamalu said.
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