PITTSBURGH -- The New England Patriots sailed through the NFL season with a 14-2 record, securing the top seed in the AFC playoffs and it would seem, based on various projections from coast to coast, a direct path to the Super Bowl.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, often overlooked because of a midseason four-game losing streak, are doing their best to interject themselves into the Super Bowl conversation.
And the way they're playing -- with an offense that has multiple ways to get the ball into the end zone and a defense that is creating turnovers and havoc with relentless pressure -- suggests that a New England advance to the Feb. 5 Super Bowl in Houston is far from certain.
The Steelers extending their winning streak to eight Sunday, beating up on the Miami Dolphins 30-12 in an AFC wild-card game to advance to next Sunday's AFC divisional game at Kansas City, a team they beat 43-14 earlier.
While it was only the Steelers' second playoff win since they lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the 2010 Super Bowl, there are many reasons to think this team is equipped to make the franchise's ninth trip to a Super Bowl, even if their playoff path runs through Foxborough, Mass.
Second, the Steelers are healthier than they've ever been in the playoffs under coach Mike Tomlin. A year ago, Brown and Bell were injured and out for a divisional playoff loss at eventual Super Bowl champion Denver.
Third, the Steelers possess the kind of offensive and defensive balance they last had in the postseason while winning the Super Bowl during the 2008 season.
"It was exciting," Brown said of all the Steelers' key offensive regulars playing together. "You got a glimpse of it today. We're excited to keep it moving and keep it rolling."
As they walked off the field, coach Mike Tomlin grabbed Brown and said, "Business is booming!"
And there's this: The Steelers aren't likely to be intimidated playing the Patriots.
Pittsburgh lost at home to New England 27-16 on Oct. 23, but Roethlisberger was injured and out for that game. Backup Landry Jones played quarterback. And the Steelers are a much better team, obviously, with Roethlisberger running an offense led Sunday by two record-setting players.
Brown became only the fourth NFL receiver to catch two touchdown passes of 50 yards or longer in the postseason, and he did it in the first quarter. And Bell's 167 yards rushing were a team playoff record, breaking Franco Harris' 42-year-old record of 159 yards.
"We had the big three rolling," Tomlin said.
And the defense was Steel Curtain-like, with five sacks, two fumbles forced, an interception and nine quarterback pressures.
"It was difficult most of the day," Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore said.
The Steelers have proved throughout their winning streak that they're capable of making it difficult on most any team they play these days.
"We're excited for next week," Brown said.
The way they're playing, next week might not be the final week of this Steelers season.
"We think we can be better," Roethlisberger said. "(This game) was a little bit of a false positive because we went down and scored the first three series, and we were doing pretty much what we wanted to. ... We had some little things after that.
"I said before, the 'My bads' are usually not good (this time of the season). You usually can't correct the 'My bads.' You can't have them. The second half we had a little too much of that."
But the Steelers were way too much for the Dolphins before that. And there was very little bad during a day that suggests this is a very, very good Steelers team.