Rare feat indeed

Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, only two teams have won 14 games and not earned the top seed in their conference playoffs.

But the way things currently stand in the AFC, either the Steelers or New England Patriots have a very good chance of joining the 1998 Atlanta Falcons or 1986 Chicago Bears as 14-2 teams that just weren't quite good enough.

With a win Sunday against the Jets or a loss by the Ravens in Baltimore against the Giants, the Steelers will lock up their third division title in the past four seasons.

Next up will be securing home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

And even though the Steelers have failed to reach the Super Bowl in the two times they've owned home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs under head coach Bill Cowher - falling short in 2001 and 1992 - securing it once again is what Cowher wants.

"History has proven (home field advantage) is certainly the highest percentage way of getting to the Super Bowl," said Cowher. "I think everyone is striving for that, so there's no question you want to play at home. It's big. There's no question you can feed off the crowd and it's a decided advantage for your defense when you have that noise being a factor for you, just in terms of getting off on the ball. Offenses will be late off the ball in pass protection or late off the ball in the running game. It can be a decided advantage for you."

In that respect, Cowher is correct. Seven of the past 11 Super Bowl champions were teams who held home field advantage throughout either the AFC or NFC playoffs.

As for those 1998 Falcons and 1986 Bears, they didn't fare quite so well. The Falcons, who finished second in the NFC to 15-1 Minnesota, went on to win the NFC Championship, but were destroyed in the Super Bowl by Denver. The 1986 Bears, meanwhile, were upset in the first round by the Washington Redskins.

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