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Healthy Steelers facing depleted Dolphins in rematch

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) runs the ball against Cincinnati Bengals strong safety Shawn Williams (36) in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in Cincinnati. (Gary Landers / Associated Press)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) runs the ball against Cincinnati Bengals strong safety Shawn Williams (36) in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in Cincinnati. (Gary Landers / Associated Press)
By Will Graves Associated Press

PITTSBURGH – The feeling of helplessness remains very real to Le’Veon Bell.

Bell was standing on the sideline in sweatpants each of the last two Januarys, his knees in various stages of repair, the Pittsburgh Steelers trying to soldier on in the playoffs without their do everything running back.

Not this time. When the AFC North champion Steelers (11-5) sprint out of the tunnel Sunday to face the Miami Dolphins (10-6) in the wild-card round at not exactly tropical Heinz Field, Bell will be at the front of the pack: healthy, hungry and totally hyped for his long overdue playoff debut.

“I am obviously going to be excited, anxious and pumped-up, and I need to keep my energy up, have my teammates feed off my energy, and let them know how important this game is to me,” said Bell, who averaged an NFL-high 157 yards from scrimmage in 2016.

Bell’s not the only one. For the first time since their last trip to the Super Bowl six years ago, the Steelers enter the postseason with all their bold-faced names available, most notably wide receiver Antonio Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

“There’s no excuses,” guard David DeCastro said.

And zero concern about the Steelers getting ahead of themselves; call it a byproduct of getting rolled by the Dolphins 30-15 in Miami on Oct. 16. Pittsburgh came in 4-1 and left with Roethlisberger’s left knee in need of surgery and the defense in need of serious repair after Miami’s Jay Ajayi piled up 204 yards on the ground .

“I don’t think there’s any sense of overconfidence,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “We did not play our best. They kicked our butts the first time around. We’re thankful we get another opportunity to rectify that.”

Miami gets a chance to prove its first playoff appearance since 2008 is hardly a fluke even during a season in which the Dolphins were outgained, outscored and often outplayed by quality competitive … save for those dominant three hours against Pittsburgh.

Enter veteran backup quarterback Matt Moore, who will fill in with Ryan Tannehill’s sprained left knee still not quite ready. The Dolphins went 2-1 down the stretch with Moore under center. All due respect to the 24-year-old Bell, the 32-year-old Moore’s wait for this moment has been considerably longer.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity,” Moore said. “There are a lot of guys . some guys go a lot and some don’t get those chances.”

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