Used to be that home-field advantage was just short of essential to winning playoff games in the NFL. Not so much anymore, as Wild Card weekend showed once again.
In the 2010 version of the Wild Card Round, visiting teams won three of the four games, with the only host able to protect their home turf being the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks who did it by eliminating the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. Go figure.
And it's not like those results were some aberration.
In last season's Wild Card games, the visiting teams in the AFC were 2-0; in the 2008 Wild Card games, visiting teams were 3-1, and then in the Division Round in those same playoffs, visiting teams were 3-1.
"I would not necessary read too much into that," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "Those road teams that won are very good teams. I think everyone understands that, and I don't think anyone is shocked by those teams winning. If given an opportunity, I'll play at Heinz Field in front of Steelers Nation, no question."
Well, if home-field advantage isn't as important as it used to be to winning playoff games, a team having its key people healthy and available and playing well has come to mean more than the site of the game.
The Baltimore Ravens had a healthy Todd Heap and a healthier Ray Rice in their lineup, and those two guys were integral in their 30-7 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, whose passing attack suffered from receiver Dwayne Bowe being less than 100 percent. Injuries also had removed some of the weapons from Peyton Manning's arsenal, and injuries had just about neutered the Saints' running attack. Philadelphia's defense was unable to stop Green Bay from scoring touchdowns in the red zone, and having three veteran defensive backs on injured reserve probably didn't help the Eagles in that endeavor.
Fresh off a weekend watching other teams go at each other, the Steelers now are preparing to jump into the fray. As Tomlin said, they are happy to be playing at home despite what happened during the Wild Card games, and they will take the field against the Ravens in decent shape from a health standpoint.
"I think that we have a pretty good bill of health here from a football team standpoint," said Tomlin. "Aaron Smith is going to get scanned again at some point this week to see where he is, and that will be a guide for us as we move forward. Troy Polamalu appears to be in pretty good shape, and like always we will limit him during the early portions of the week and get him the necessary work at the end of the week so he can be in the best shape possible on Saturday.
"Bryant McFadden appears to be progressing nicely. He may be limited at the early portion of the week, but that will not limit him in terms of play. Some of the other guys who had bumps and bruises in our last game, Jason Worilds and others, appear to have a clean bill of health. So we will be able to kick this thing off with a normal, in-season preparation for Saturday's game."
The situation with Smith is the most uncertain, but Tomlin was clear that there have been no setbacks in the process/
"We are going to scan him weekly," said Tomlin. "It's kind of going according to plan. We will see where this information takes is. It has been good to get him back out on the field, at least for me personally. I like seeing Aaron in a helmet and giving him a hard time."