PITTSBURGH -- The NFL is different once the playoffs start. Win or go home adds emotion, pressure, can boost or take away a player's skill. Fortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a secret weapon.
When it comes to the "tournament" as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin calls it, not everyone knows how to handle the stage.
"There are a lot of guys that don't understand what it's about," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "I get it. When I was a young guy people tried to explain to me that take advantage of this, that and the other. You're thinking I am young; I'll get back. It's not guaranteed."
Which is the advantage Pittsburgh holds.
Prior to the end of the regular season, the Steelers held a "players only" meeting to address the changes that come with the postseason. In the midst of losing four of their last five, Pittsburgh knew they needed to turn their attention to the playoffs and the adjustments they will all need to make to assure them they're ready.
"I think guys took it to heart, I hope they did," Roethlisberger said. "The sole intention was just to let guys know that, like we do every year about this time, if we are getting ready to get in the postseason or the last couple of games of the season, just how important every game is, every play is, every rep in practice."
Then, the Steelers held another one.
"I felt like today was another time we could reemphasize that and just let people know how special it is," Big Ben continued. "Half of the teams in the NFL aren't playing this week so it's an honor to have the opportunity."
The Steelers have the better record, home-field advantage (even without fans) and the experience. Names like Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey and others have been to this stage before - won on this stage before.
Maybe experience doesn't hold the highest ground for an NFL team this weekend. No one will win without talent and living up to that talent. Not even the Steelers.
"How I see it is if you've ever played 'Call of Duty,' it's called 'Search and Destroy' -- pretty much get one life," wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. "Once you get eliminated, you're eliminated for that round. How I see it is this round, everyone gets one life. We have to go out there, dominate. Whoever wins, they move on to the next round. There's a lot of people who don't get many chances to get where we're at today.
"I've been here for four years, and this is only my second time making it. We don't want to be the team that depends on the other team if we make it or not. We want to control our own destiny. Now that we're here, the preparation of your mind, studying, your plays, make sure you're on your P's and Q's, constantly studying your playbook. When we go out there, play physical, play strong, play fast."
Having a young group of players means you need to take extra steps. The Steelers have done so, and because of it, they bring confidence. Not only from their head coach, who can really care less about who's played in the postseason or not but from their younger players - and the group that's leaning on Roethlisberger and the veterans to guide them through the next four weeks.
"I think all of the veteran guys as we are winding down our careers, we understand we don't know what is next. If there is going to be a next for some guys," Roethlisberger said. "We just want to make the most of our opportunity and we just keep trying to tell those guys and emphasize to them how important this time is."
The Steelers' leadership is about as strong as it comes in the NFL. And come Wild Card Weekend, that added preparation can be the difference.
"I just remember it being a whirlwind," Roethlisberger said, adding the veterans on that team also called a players-only meeting. "Telling myself, 'Don't screw it up for these veterans. Do everything you can to play good enough to help you win.' That is one of the messages I preach to these guys. No one has to be great. You just have to be good. When we're all good, we're great together."