The New York Giants put their six-game winning streak on the line as they travel to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that could feature two of the most intriguing teams in the NFL when it comes to making noise in the postseason this year.
The Giants in particular are hoping to keep pace with their division rival Dallas Cowboys this week and enter with the second-best record in all of the NFC. While they did struggle a tad before pulling away against Cleveland last week, this Sunday’s game represents an opportunity to show folks that they’re a Super Bowl contender in head coach Ben McAdoo’s rookie season. The offense gets all the attention with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr., but it’s the defensive resurgence that has put New York in position to keep things rolling.
Looking to get back into the playoff picture is a dangerous Pittsburgh team that has been improving steadily since getting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back from knee surgery. The team throttled Indianapolis on Thanksgiving night as Antonio Brown caught three touchdown passes in a game that wasn’t as close as the 28-7 final score indicated. Brown enters the week leading the league in receptions and is tied for first with 10 touchdown catches — numbers sure to cause a bit of heartburn for the Giants’ defensive staff.
New York leads the overall series between the two historically successful franchises 44-29-3 but the Steelers have won two of last three meetings. Pittsburgh has uncharacteristically struggled a bit at home and haven’t won in the Steel City since early October against New York’s other team in the Jets. The Giants, however, suffered two of their three losses away from home making Sunday’s matchup a fantastic one.
New York at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 4 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Steelers -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Potent Pass Rush
Pittsburgh’s offensive line has given Ben Roethlisberger time to throw this season and has allowed only 14 sacks coming into the week but will be tested by a fearsome front from New York. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is the ringleader and having a great season, hitting the seven-sack mark on the year after collecting a career-high three last week that also included a scoop and score off a fumble. He’s not the only one to be aware of however, as free-agent acquisitions Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison are providing plenty of push as well. How well the Steelers’ line — especially left tackle Alejandro Villanueva — handles the front seven on third down will go a long ways toward determining the eventual winner.
2. Taking Advantage of Turnovers
As good as New York’s season has been, the one area where they are surprisingly behind in is the turnover department at minus-5 on the year to rank in the bottom third of the league with the likes of San Francisco and Carolina. A lot of that has to do with the offense — and Eli Manning’s 10 picks in particular — turning the ball over a whopping 19 times already. That negates all the good the team’s defense has done in allowing just 10 scores in 2016 and racking up 10 interceptions. Pittsburgh is on the opposite end of the turnover spectrum at plus-4 despite some struggles when Roethlisberger was out of the lineup. The Steelers have split their takeaways evenly between picks and fumble recoveries at seven apiece and have held onto the ball extremely well with Big Ben in the lineup. Whichever team wins the turnover battle on Sunday will definitely have a leg up given the prolific units involved on either side of the ball.
3. Quarterback Shootout
The 2004 NFL Draft will go down for one of the best in recent memory given the number of future Hall of Famers it produced, including the two quarterbacks who went early in the first round that play for these two teams. Manning, of course, went first overall in a draft day trade and has brought two Lombardi Trophies to the city that never sleeps. Roethlisberger has two of his own rings with the Steelers and has proven himself to be in the same company. Both have been playing really well as of late, with Manning throwing for five touchdowns the past two weeks (and no picks) while Roethlisberger has six scores in mistake-free play over Pittsburgh’s last three. Both have fantastic receiving corps with a wideout that can lay claim to being the best in the league while their ground games are really picking up after good outings in November. Now we get to see both of these quarterbacks square off once again and see which one can put up the biggest numbers in a win.
In a week full of interesting but not overwhelmingly fascinating NFL games, New York’s trip to Pittsburgh stands out for the sheer number of storylines it presents. There is of course the fact that both teams are fighting hard to remain in their division races while looking for a decent seed in the playoffs. There’s the Eli Manning vs. Ben Roethlisberger quarterback angle too. And you can’t forget about the showmanship that is surely coming between Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown. With both franchises known for their defenses, don’t overlook the rebuilt units on each side of this game either.
It should make for a fascinating matchup in the late afternoon window on Sunday for a contest that should be rocking with the Terrible Towels as part of a fun atmosphere at Heinz Stadium. The Steelers need a win in this one far more than the Giants and you can bet that Roethlisberger, Brown and tailback Le’Veon Bell are all excited at the prospect of getting back on track and announcing they’re still dangerous in the wide-open AFC. Linebacker James Harrison and company might have a little to say on the subject as well.
New York is no pushover though and easily represents one of the toughest games on the slate for Pittsburgh this season. The Giants’ defense has been getting after quarterbacks with one of the better pass rushes in the league, while the secondary led by Landon Collins and Janoris Jenkins also has turned into something best to be avoided. The offense has responded as of late with Beckham providing seven touchdown catches during this six-game winning streak.
More than that, this team has completely flipped the script from last season and started to win close games instead of blowing leads late. While things haven’t been pretty at times, Manning and his squad have still come out on top against several playoff contenders the past few weeks and are looking to add another win to their collection. This one figures to turn into a bit of a shootout, but Ben McAdoo’s Giants will wind up escaping with a victory in a close one in Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Giants 31, Steelers 30
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.