Before the season began, many pundits picked the Pittsburgh Steelers to make it to the Super Bowl this year. By about Week 9, most of them had changed their minds to the New England Patriots.
Part of that was because of the 39-26 pounding the Patriots had just given the Steelers. New England put up 17 points more than any other opponent did in a single game against the Steelers this year.
Another part of it was because of Tom Brady's dominance in a near certain MVP-winning season.
But, the Patriots choked against the Jets, and didn't even become an obstacle the Steelers had to overcome to make it to the Super Bowl.
Here are the 10 biggest obstacles the Pittsburgh Steelers overcame to get here.
The Steelers overcame close games this season by going 5–2 in games decided by seven points or less.
In Week 1, they beat Atlanta by six points. In Week 7, it was Miami, by just one point. In Week 9, Cincinnati by six. In Week 12, they beat Buffalo by three, and in Week 13, beat Baltimore by three.
If the Steelers had lost even one of those games, they would have lost the division, to Baltimore, and ended up the No. 6 seed behind the New York Jets.
Then, they would've had to go into Indianapolis and New England in back-to-back weeks to start the playoffs.
The Jets showed it's possible to win there, but it's a lot less comfortable than having a Wild Card bye, then playing at home for the division and conference championships.
The Steelers were inexplicably poor at home this season, with a 5–3 record, including a 2–2 start before going 3–1 to close the season.
Their biggest loss of the season came at home, against New England, when they gave up 39 points, and their biggest margin of victory was away from Heinz Field when they visited Cleveland Week 17.
It's the worst home record the Steelers have had since 2006, when they were also 5–3, but just 8–8 overall.
Luckily for them, they went 7–1 on the road this year, their best since going 7–1 in 2004.
The Steelers have been without one of the NFL's elite 3–4 defensive ends since October 24, due to a torn triceps.
Smith was limited to six games this season, but has an outside chance at playing in the Super Bowl this weekend.
Unfortunately for Smith, he suffered a similar fate last season, when he tore his rotator cuff in Week 5 and had to miss the rest of the season.
Starting left tackle Max Starks was lost for the season on November 8, when he suffered a disc injury in his neck that required surgery.
Starks was a key part of the Steelers' offensive line that has suffered a lot of injuries this year.
He's since been replaced by Jonathan Scott.
Starks injury was even more significant because of...
The Steelers lost starting right tackle Willie Colon to a ruptured Achilles tendon before the season even began.
Colon suffered the injury while working out, and the recovery time is about nine months.
Flozell Adams has done a good job replacing Colon, but Colon is a player the Steelers would love to have in the lineup.
Steelers fans will never forget Santonio Holmes' miracle catch to win the Super Bowl against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
Now, Holmes is with the New York Jets, and had a 45-yard touchdown against the Steelers in the AFC Championship.
Mike Wallace and Hines Ward have been good for the Steelers this year, but the third threat that Holmes used to bring isn't there anymore.
Holmes put up 746 yards receiving this year in just 12 games, which the Steelers could have used.
Not many people expected the Jets to get past the Indianapolis Colts, and almost no one thought they had a chance against the New England Patriots, but they pulled off those two upsets en route to meeting the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship.
The Steelers came out dominating, and had a 24–0 lead before the first half was over. Then, the Jets decided to start playing, and got to within five points.
The Jets got stopped on a fourth-and-goal from the one while they were down 14, and had another touchdown after that. If they'd scored, they could've been looking at a tie game.
Instead, down 24–19, the Jets kicked it away, and the Steelers got two first downs to close out the game.
The Jets put up a better fight than most expected, and could have won the game, but the Steelers stepped up when they had to, and got it done.
The Steelers were down 21–7 at the half of the divisional championship against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens had only given up more than 30 points once this season, and didn't look like they had any interest in doing it this game.
The Steelers stormed back in the third quarter, putting up 14 points to tie the game. Then, in the fourth, Pittsburgh went ahead 24–21 on a 35-yard field goal with 12:21 left.
The Ravens marched down the field and tied the game with a 24-yard field goal with 3:58 to play.
Then, with just 1:39 left, Rashard Mendenhall punched it in from two yards out to put Pittsburgh ahead 31–24.
On the Ravens' final possession, Joe Flacco threw incomplete on 4th-and-18 from the Baltimore 44.
The Steelers superstar safety Troy Polamalu has been battling injuries all season, but the most serious one came on an interception return for a touchdown in Week 14 against the Bengals.
Polamalu's Achilles/ankle injury forced him to miss Weeks 15 and 16, and even today he's still listed as just "probable" for the Super Bowl.
If a player as tough and as good as Polamalu isn't listed as definitely playing, then you know his Achilles/ankle is still bothering him a lot.
When Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for (originally) six games last summer for violating the league's personal conduct policy, many people wondered if the Steelers would still be in the playoff race when he returned.
The suspension was later reduced to four games because of Roethlisberger's adherence to the league-imposed program, including counselling.
Still, the question was whether the Steelers could win without Big Ben. The question was answered with a resounding yes, when the team went 3–1, including a Week 1 win over the eventual NFC–leading Atlanta Falcons.
The Steelers only loss without Roethlisberger was a 17–14 defeat at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle of the Steelers' season is yet to come, in the form of Super Bowl opponents, the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers are favored by one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half points, and their big-play offense could test Polamalu's injured Achilles/ankle.
The Packers had the second best defense in the league (behind the Steelers), and have a very potent offense, led by Aaron Rodgers.
Now that the Packers seem to have also developed a run threat in James Starks, they will certainly be a challenge for the Steelers defense.
Enjoy what should be a great Super Bowl!