KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The playoffs within the A.F.C. playoffs concluded Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium, and the winners afterward received not a glistening trophy or pristine new caps to wear but a more urgent, less tangible distinction. They earned a coveted title, the Team Most Equipped to Face the New England Patriots, and a chance to assert their legitimacy once more.
The Pittsburgh Steelers won last week in the afternoon chill of their home stadium. They won Sunday night in the ceaseless mist and din of a stadium craving its first postseason victory in 23 years, defeating the Kansas City Chiefs by 18-16.
Behind a postseason-record six field goals by Chris Boswell, the Steelers advanced to play top-seeded New England for the conference championship next Sunday at Gillette Stadium, where they will tote the following credentials: a nine-game winning streak, a snarling defense and a running back, Le’Veon Bell, who, with 30 carries for 170 yards Sunday, surpassed the franchise’s single-game postseason rushing record — a record that had stood for 42 years — for the second time in two weeks.
“I’ve never really felt this way about a team,” guard David DeCastro said, adding: “With everyone healthy for the most part, I’d just be disappointed if we didn’t keep winning. That’s just kind of the expectations I have.”