Are You Ready for Some Playoffs?

There's one thing most of the teams who earned a spot in the AFC playoffs have in common: They're coming in on a roll. <br><br> That was one of the things the Steelers wanted to continue Sunday, when they rallied to defeat the Baltimore Ravens, 34-31, at Heinz Field. They'll see if that momentum carries them through when they host the Cleveland Browns (9-7) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field. <br><br>

Even though the Steelers (10-5-1) knew Sunday's game against the Ravens was meaningless as far as the division standings were concerned and they needed a doubtful loss by Tennessee against Houston to improve their seeding, they wanted to enter the playoffs on a winning note.

They squeezed out the victory, rallying from 11 points down in the fourth quarter to win for the fifth time in their last six games.

And the one loss in that streak was a 24-6 defeat at the hands of Houston, a game in which the Steelers held the Texans to 47 total yards, the fewest in NFL history for a winning team.

"I thought in that Houston game we did a lot of good things," said Steelers head coach Bill Cowher. "I thought (Sunday's) game was important because of the way the game unfolded and the way those guys came back at the end. There is a lot to be said. There is no give up in this team. There is a lot to be said about that mentality every time you walk out on the field."

"We didn't play well, but we wanted to win to keep things going in the right direction," said Steelers linebacker Joey Porter. "We didn't want to go into the playoffs coming off a loss."

None of the teams in the AFC backed into this season's playoffs and all six teams enter on a winning note.

Of those, second-seeded Tennessee is probably the hottest team, having won five straight and 10 of its past 11. Oakland, the top seed, has won seven of its past eight, while Cleveland has won five of its last seven, and the New York Jets have won seven of nine.

In fact, of the six teams to make the AFC playoffs, only the Indianapolis Colts could be considered a struggling team, having split their last four games.

"It's important to go into the playoffs on a winning note," said Steelers' wide receiver Hines Ward, who broke the team record for receptions (112), while tying the team mark for touchdown catches with 12.

"You're looking for any kind of advantage you can get at any time because it's a one-game shot. You win; you keep on going. You lose, you go home."

The Steelers, who went 4-2-1 against playoff teams during the regular season, won both of their games against the Browns this season, beating them 16-13 in overtime at Heinz Field, and winning 23-20 in Cleveland.

Those two victories were two of 12 games the Browns played this season that were decided in the contest's final minute. Cleveland was 6-6 in those games.

Here are some other thoughts from a sports writer who thinks the Steelers will relish the underdog role they've been given:

-If you look at what the national reporters are saying, they're ranking the Steelers as having the fourth-best chance to win the AFC.

Cowher will use that, you can bet on it.

-Records of AFC playoff teams against playoff teams: Tennessee 5-2; Steelers 4-2-1; Oakland   3-2; Cleveland 3-4; Indianapolis 2-4; N.Y. Jets 1-2.

-Many feel that there is some significance to the 422 yards and 31 points the Ravens put up against the Steelers defence Sunday, but I don't put much credence into that.

The Steelers were playing without starters Chad Scott at cornerback and James Farrior at inside linebacker. And when you factor in that the game would probably wind up being meaningless for them and they were coming off a very emotional victory Monday night, the letdown signs were apparent.

-Many people feel Sunday's game against the Browns will be a close one.

I'm not one of them.

The Steelers' first win over the Browns this season was when they were still struggling defensively and Tommy Maddox had to come off the bench to win the game.

The Steelers dominated the second matchup, holding on at the end to win 23-20 in Cleveland.

But those kind of games happen on the road.

Remember, the Browns played the Steelers close twice during the regular season in 1994 and then were spanked, 29-9, in the playoffs.

-I must not be the only one who thinks the Steelers are going to beat the Browns handily. The game opened in Las Vegas with the Steelers as 8 1/2-point favorites.

-The Steelers need a healthy James Farrior in the playoffs. Mike Jones can't get it done any longer and is just a body.

-Ditto Kendrell Bell. The Steelers may have dodged a pretty big bullet if Bell wasn't seriously injured Sunday, which appears to be the case. Bell makes their defense special.

-Is it just me, or did Jerame Tuman finish with more holding penalties this season than catches?

They always said Tuman has good hands, I just didn't know they were talking about his ability to clutch and grab.

-The pass Maddox threw to fullback Dan Kreider that was intercepted Sunday because Kreider juggled the ball should raise a red flag for offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.

The fewer passes they throw to the fullback, the better.

-That being said, it's what the Ravens were giving them, as they bracketed both Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress with a corner and a safety pretty often Sunday.

That's why the running game was so successful and the Steelers threw so many passes underneath.

-I don't think there has been a more overrated player in the 10 years I've been covering the Steelers than running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala.

Just because the guy has a name you like to yell in a drunken state doesn't make him any good.

-Note to Fu: Do you have to run out of bounds, spike the ball, and play to the crowd after every run?

-Note to self: He's probably just doing that because's he's happy he didn't get injured on the carry.

--Dale Lolley




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