Patriots vs Steelers: Has James Harrison’s Move Tilted a Potential AFC Championship Game Towards New England?

James Harrison just left the Pittsburgh Steelers on the eve of a playoff run for a playoff run with one of the team's bitterest rivals.

Harrison’s ex-teammates don’t seem prepared to take that slight lying down.

"He erased his own legacy," Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers’ starting center, told ESPN on Thursday.

Ouch.

Harrison, the 39-year-old outside linebacker who made the Pro Bowl five times and became NFL Defensive Player of the Year after coming out of Kent State undrafted in 2002, claimed in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday that the Steelers had failed to give him as many snaps as he wanted or had agreed to.

“I have to assume when they say you’re going to get 25 percent of the snaps and you get 25, safe to say things didn’t go as planned,” Harrison said. “After the first week of the season, I said to them, it’s clear you want to play your younger guys and I understand, so why don’t you release me. You go on your way and I’ll go on mine. They said, ‘No, no, no, we got a role for you.’”

Harrison also told the Gazette he asked the Steelers to release him on three separate occasions this season, the last of which came after the Week 6 game against the Chiefs in Kansas City. “By then, I had stopped asking them [to release me],” Harrison said.

ESPN quoted an unnamed source who described the situation in a harsher light for Harrison. “Sometimes, Harrison would skip meetings altogether, and when he missed practices for various injuries, player suspicions would rise when Harrison conducted his famous power-lifting sessions the same week or day,” the source told the network.

Harrison was released on Saturday. On Tuesday, he joined the Patriots, adding another layer of intrigue and bitterness to a potential AFC Championship showdown in Foxborough or Heinz Field on Sunday, January 21.

Harrison says his mind was made up to leave the Steelers after he didn’t feature in the 27-24 loss to the Patriots on December 17. The Patriots and Steelers are locked into the one and two seeds in the AFC with identical records. Week 17 results will determine who goes into the playoffs as first and second seeds. Perhaps, if Harrison had joined someone like, oh, the Eagles, the rancor would not have flown so hard and so fast.

But the Patriots? That’s going to rankle, especially if Harrison is on the field and effective throughout the playoffs as the edge rusher Bill Belichick needs. Especially if Harrison affects the outcome of the Steelers’ season.

Pouncey is wrong. Harrison leaves a legacy in Pittsburgh as a terrifyingly dominant outside linebacker. That can't be erased. The next few weeks, though, may end up defining that legacy for better or worse.