PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest advantage in Sunday’s AFC playoff game against Cincinnati is obvious.

Number of Steelers who have appeared in a playoff game for Pittsburgh: 40. Number of Bengals who have appeared in a playoff game for Cincinnati: 0.

Steelers coach Bill Cowher wasn’t willing yesterday to claim that as a major edge for his team in its first road playoff game since a divisional playoff loss to Tennessee three years ago. But he said no one — especially his own players — should think it will be like a regular season game.

“We understand what it’s like to play in the playoffs,” he said. “It goes up even further. The speed of the game is faster, the magnitude of each play becomes greater. Certainly our play this week has to indicate that.”

What Cowher likes is that his team has been in a playoff-like mode since a 38-31 loss to the Bengals (11-5) on Dec. 4 forced the Steelers (11-5) to win their final four games to reach the playoffs.

There wasn’t a playoff atmosphere associated with those four games — certainly not in a sloppily played 35-21 victory Sunday over Detroit — but each game represented a win-or-be done situation. Cowher said his players responded exactly how they should, calling their improvement over the last four games “pretty dramatic.”

While the Steelers were scoring a combined 76 points in their last two games, the most they’ve had in consecutive weeks since 1997, the Bengals were allowing 74 points in poorly played losses to the Chiefs and Bills.

“We had to fight very hard to get into this tournament,” Cowher said. “We’re in it. It’s single-elimination and we’ve kind of been in that the past few weeks. But we have to play better than we did last week. We have to play better than we did the last time we played these guys.”

And, as Cowher knows, one big play early in a game, a turnover, a drive that is not converted, can reverse any edge in experience and accentuate the home-field advantage by getting the crowd even more involved.

The Steelers will start the playoffs about as healthy as possible, with only two players listed as questionable: linebacker Andre Frazier (hamstring) and defensive lineman Travis Kirschke (back).

The difference is, for the first time in their last eight playoff appearances, they cannot play a home game. To reach the Super Bowl, they must win three road games against higher-seeded teams in as many weeks, a significant challenge to a franchise that is 0-3 in road playoff games under Cowher.

The Steelers haven’t won a road playoff game since beating Houston in 1989 under former coach Chuck Noll. They also won’t have a week off before their first playoff game, as they did for three of the last four times they reached the playoffs.

However, the Steelers have the same record on the road (13-3) as they do at home the last two seasons, and they have won their last four in Cincinnati.

“Everybody’s starting 0-0,” Cowher said. “I don’t think you’re going to sit there and look at what you do in previous weeks. Only 12 teams make the playoffs, six out of each conference, and they got there for a reason.”

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