If the Green Bay Packers need a road map as they embark on their NFL playoff journey as a No. 6 seeded-team, they would be wise to follow the path of the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Since the league expanded its playoff field to six teams from each conference in 1990, the Steelers are the only No. 6 seed to win the Super Bowl.
Similarities between this year’s Packers and the ’05 Steelers are striking.
Both boasted a top-5 defense and a top-10 offense.
Both scored at almost the exact same pace: the Steelers averaged 24.3 points and the Packers 24.2.
Both possessed the third-best quarterback in the NFL based on passer rating: Ben Roethlisberger at 98.6, and Aaron Rodgers at 101.2.
Both turned up the heat on opposing quarterbacks and produced identical sack totals (47).
Both needed to win their final two regular-season games to qualify for the playoffs as wild-card teams.
And here might be the strangest similarity of all: both could claim fullback John Kuhn as a good luck charm. Kuhn spent the final five games of the 2005 season on the Steelers’ practice squad, and this year has played a key role for the Packers in the backfield and on special teams.
“It’s easy to make comparisons right now,” Kuhn said this week. “We’re just trying to take it one game at a time.”
Kuhn was speaking in general terms and not specifically about a Steelers-Packers comparison, but his point was well taken. The Packers aren’t worried about what happened five years ago. All they care about is the Philadelphia Eagles, their playoff opponent on Sunday.
But at the very least, the Steelers give the Packers hope that anything is possible, even for a No. 6 seed that must win three straight road games just to qualify for the Super Bowl.
It’s not always the team with the best record, but the one with the hot hand that wins it all.
“We definitely have a sharp edge,” said defensive lineman Ryan Pickett. “We feel like we’ve been in the playoffs the last two weeks. I think we’re pretty much playoff ready.”
The Packers needed victories over the New York Giants and Chicago Bears to receive their invitation to the playoff party. The Eagles, meanwhile, lost their last two games but are more rested after sitting many starters in their regular-season finale.
Is it better to be heading into the playoffs with a full head of steam?
“We’ll see,” said guard Daryn Colledge. “If we get some stuff done then obviously it will be a help but if we’re worn out it won’t be.”
Momentum doesn’t guarantee anything, as the Packers learned last year when they won seven of eight games heading into the post-season before losing a first-round game at Arizona. But that experience should be helpful this week, according to receiver Greg Jennings.
“We’re better poised for success,” Jennings said. “We’ve been in this situation before. We understand the environment we’re getting ourselves into. It’s going to be very hostile, loud and kind of chaotic at times. But we have to have the wherewithal and the resolve to make sure we can keep our poise.”
This is the seventh time receiver Donald Driver has been part of a Packers’ playoff team. He is telling everyone who will listen in the locker room that these opportunities shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“You don’t get this often,” said Driver. “I haven’t gotten to the big show yet. You take this to heart. I tell guys all the time, this is a slim chance to get in and once you’re in you’ve got to try to win it all.”
The Packers need only look to the 2005 Steelers for inspiration.
Mike Vandermause is sports editor of the Press-Gazette.