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Last year the Steelers realized how big of a difference there is between a No. 1 seed and a No. 2 seed

The Steelers narrowly lost out on the top seed a year ago. As it turned out, that probably altered their playoff destiny.

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into Week 17 of the 2007 season, the Steelers already had the AFC North title wrapped up, and the only question remaining was whether or not they’d be the AFC’s No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the upcoming postseason dance.

Given that neither seed offered Pittsburgh that all-important bye into the divisional round of the playoffs, I didn’t think it mattered all that much. Neither did Head Coach Mike Tomlin, apparently, as he sat quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, while veteran backup Charlie Batch got the start against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

In fairness to Tomlin, he undoubtedly thought rest was more important for his most indispensable piece — as was avoiding yet another devastating injury on a roster that had already been hit with far too many.

That’s right, heading into the final regular season game, the Steelers were missing invaluable defensive end Aaron Smith; running back Willie Parker, the leading rusher in the league through 15 weeks before being lost for the season with a broken leg; and Ryan Clark, a safety who may have actually garnered more star power if he wasn’t playing alongside the ultra-bright shining star that was Troy Polamalu.

They were also down to their second-string left tackle, Max Starks, who was now starting in place of an injured Marvel Smith.

Anyway, as I watched Baltimore jump out to a 27-7 lead on the way to a 27-21 victory, I didn’t really care all that much.

Again, third seed, fourth seed, what was the difference?

But two days later, when Tomlin announced that Trai Essex would start the AFC Wild Card Game against the Jaguars in place of a now injured Starks, I kind of cringed a bit.

How many injuries were too many?

Still, though, it was the Jaguars, and despite a 29-22 home loss to Jacksonville in mid-December, a game in-which running back Fred Taylor rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown, I didn’t see the Steelers losing twice at Heinz Field to the same team in the same season.

I didn’t give Pittsburgh much of a chance a week later in the divisional round--a presumptive rematch with the Patriots at Gillette Stadium — but injuries aside, I anticipated the Black-and-gold would give me an entire week to get my hopes up.

You no doubt remember that the Jaguars marched into Heinz Field and jumped out to a big lead before holding on for a 31-29 victory.

The next day, as I watched the Chargers handle the upstart Titans in the AFC’s other wild card game, I thought, “Hmmm, I guess there really is a huge difference between the third and fourth seed.”

As it turned out, the Jaguars were just a bad matchup for the Steelers, and it would have been in their best interests to try and avoid them at least through the first round of the playoffs.

Fast-forward to last December 17, and that controversial reversal of the Jesse James touchdown that ultimately led to a heartbreaking and AFC-altering loss to the Patriots at Heinz Field.

I can’t remember the last time I was so upset over the outcome of a Steelers game. But while the reversal of James’ touchdown all but guaranteed New England would get the AFC’s top seed, the second seed was still in play. And as far as I was concerned, the all-important bye that came with it was the true postseason prize.

The Steelers wrapped up the second seed in Week 16 with a convincing 34-6 victory over the lowly Texans on Christmas Day.

The top seed was still on the table heading into Week 17, and with Pittsburgh facing the winless Browns at Heinz Field, plus the Patriots facing the downtrodden Jets at Gillette Stadium, would Tomlin go all-in and play his starters or would he play it safe and try to avoid any serious injuries?

Tomlin played it safe.

But unlike 10 seasons earlier, the outcome of the final regular season game — this time a 28-24 victory led by backup quarterback Landry Jones — ultimately didn’t matter, as New England also defeated its lowly opponent.

The cool thing about your team having a bye is you go into the playoffs not really knowing who you’ll face in the divisional round.

The smart money was on No. 3-seed Jacksonville, but the fourth-seeded Chiefs and the fifth-seeded, upstart Titans were also in play as possible opponents.

The Jaguars survived a playoff-starved Bills team to advance to the divisional round, thus ending the suspense.

Pittsburgh would have to face the same team that came into Heinz Field during the regular season and had its way in a 30-9 drubbing.

I was pretty confident, and I chalked up that regular season loss as just a bad day for Roethlisberger, who threw five interceptions — including two that were returned for scores. But there was the matter of the stat cited by controversial talk-show host Colin Cowherd during the week about teams that win by 21 points or more during the regular season having an overwhelming winning percentage against that same opponent in the postseason.

There was also that devastating injury suffered by Ryan Shazier, the defense’s most invaluable weapon.

Saturday night, as I watched the Patriots handle those upstart Titans, I thought, “Hmmm, it sure would have been nice to play Tennessee in this spot.” (The Steelers defeated the Titans by 20 points in November.)

As you know, much like 10 seasons earlier, the Jaguars jumped out to a huge early lead before holding on for a 45-42 victory.

Since that day, everything from lack of preparation to Tomlin’s interview with Tony Dungy to social media trash talking has been blamed for the loss to the Jaguars.

But nobody wants to admit that it was just a plain-old bad matchup for Pittsburgh.

If matchups weren’t important, 99.9 percent of Steelers fans wouldn’t have been rooting for the Chiefs to defeat the Titans in the wild card round. Why were we all rooting for the Chiefs to defeat Tennessee? Because Kansas City has matched up quite well against the Patriots in recent years, including a 42-27 victory at Gillette Stadium that kicked off the 2017 regular season.

The biggest difference between 2007 and 2017 were the stakes — the Steelers were a much more dangerous Super Bowl contender a year ago.

But the lessons learned in both seasons remain the same.

Lesson one: there’s a reason why higher seeds are so valuable.

Lesson two: the matchup usually makes the match.