PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger made a candid admission for the quarterback of a team that has won 28 of its last 35 games and considers itself to be among the NFL's elite.
"This team is an unbelievable football team," Roethlisberger said of the Colts, who won their first 13 games before dropping two of their final three. "They're as good as it gets in the NFL. It's going to take our A-plus game to go out and beat their B-minus game."
Roethlisberger wasn't winking when he made the comment, but no doubt was accentuating the theme of the day inside the Steelers' locker room -- namely, that the whole country is picking against them, and they might as well start packing for their six-month vacation before training camp starts.
"I don't think anybody is picking us to win," Roethlisberger said. "Obviously, they're the best football team in the NFL and we're just the Pittsburgh Steelers. We're going to go in and obviously try to find a way to just put a few points on the board and compete."
The Steelers, accustomed to being a favorite and owning home-field advantage only to falter in the AFC title game, clearly seem to be reveling in this new they-can't-win mode.
"I think it's a really good assessment," All-Pro guard Alan Faneca said of Roethlisberger's remarks. "They've shown all season what they can do offensively and defensively and how well they can do it on both sides of the ball, that it takes a great effort just to play on their level."
No player would say he's glad to be returning to the noisy din of the RCA Dome, where the Steelers were visibly rattled and unnerved during a 26-7 Monday night loss on Nov. 28.
But returning to the road, where the Steelers are 14-3 the last two seasons, hasn't created any ominous air of defeat.
After losing four of five AFC Championship Games at home since the 1995 season, the Steelers almost seem to be welcoming the chance to prove what they can do when they're expected to lose in mid-January.
"I'm not saying you're lackadaisical at home, but if that road team comes out and hits you in the mouth almost from the first play, that's a gut check right there," left tackle Marvel Smith said.
"When you're on top everybody is gunning for you, we found that out last year," right guard Kendall Simmons said. "Now we're fighting our way back into the top level. That takes all the focus off us. Nobody is giving us a chance, and I know we're going to take advantage of it."
The Steelers think that playing before in the rock concert-loud RCA Dome will be a big help Sunday. They also like the balance between the run and the pass they've developed while averaging nearly 30 points during their five-game winning streak.
This statistic might surprise those who consider the Steelers to be a slug-it-out-in-the-trenches team that bogs down when it can't run: Pittsburgh has averaged 29.5 points in its last six games, while the sleeker and supposedly faster Colts have averaged 22.3.
The Steelers also will have Smith back -- he was pulled during the second quarter of the earlier game against the Colts with a sprained ankle -- and Roethlisberger won't be coming off knee surgery and a three-week layoff like he was then.
Also, the Steelers' defense has allowed only 13 points in the second half during their winning streak. To the Steelers, that means if they can hang around, keep the game close and start to frustrate Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James, they have a chance to steal the game.
"We're not going to be able to get behind by so many points and then try to fight back and play well after that," linebacker James Farrior said, referring to last Sunday's comeback from a 10-point deficit in a 31-17 win at Cincinnati. "We need to start off fast and keep it going. When you fall behind this team, it's going to be tough to come back."