Standing at 8-3, things really could not be going much better for the G-Men than they are now. For the first time since 2012, the New York Giants will finish a season with at least a .500 record. And for the first time in a long time, they are genuinely viewed as contenders.
However, the road to the playoffs will get a lot tougher beginning this week. The Giants will face a tough test in the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the NFL’s most explosive teams. Although Pittsburgh is just 6-5, they have hit their stride recently and have a boatload of talent.
The can’t-miss game will take place Sunday at 4:30 on FOX.
New York Giants: Offense
Despite the high-profile names that make up the Giants’ offense, they have yet to reach their full potential when they have the ball. Eli Manning is having a fine statistical season, but he has also missed a few too many deep passes of late. Odell Beckham Jr. has put his early-season struggles behind him, as has the improved rushing attack.
Even the offensive line has stepped up in spite of some key injuries. Manning has only been sacked 13 times in 11 games, which has been a huge boost for the offense. The Steelers do not have a tremendous run defense, which could bode well for the Giants’ rushing attack.
The Giants will need a complete effort from their offense to beat the Steelers’ hard-hitting defense.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Offense
The Steelers have the NFL’s finest collection of triplets by a long shot: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, and wide receiver Antonio Brown are simply impossible to stop. Roethlisberger is built like a linebacker yet can extend plays with his feet; he rarely has a bad game. Bell is the most elusive running back in football, as well as the best running back at catching passes. And there is no one in the NFL like the superlative Brown, who has caught 33 touchdown passes since the start of 2014, tied for the NFL lead with Odell Beckham Jr.
The Steelers also have some sneaky x-factors on offense. Shifty rookie Eli Rogers is becoming a quality slot receiver, and big targets Sammie Coates and Cobi Hamilton have the size advantage over opposing corners. Tight end Jesse James is also a red-zone threat.
New York Giants: Defense
The Giants’ defense has been a top-10 unit all season long, but they have yet to face an opponent like the Steelers. Teams cannot possibly stop the Steelers’ triplets, but they can contain them by stopping the run and applying pressure to Roethlisberger.
Thus, the Giants’ front-seven will have to be on their A-Game on Sunday. The defensive line has been on fire recently, with Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, and Jonathan Hankins wreaking havoc. The Giants have accumulated 21 of their 25 sacks over the past 6 games. Although Roethlisberger is tough to bring down, the Giants have the right men for the job.
The key matchup to watch though will be found in the secondary, though. Janoris Jenkins has been outstanding for the Giants this season, but he will go up against the best receiver in the NFL in Brown. He will likely need some safety help over the top from Landon Collins to try and limit Brown’s production.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Defense
The Steelers may not be the “Steel Curtain” defense any more, but they are still a force to be reckoned with. Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, and James Harrison are sound linebackers, and veterans William Gay and Mike Mitchell lead the secondary.
The Steelers have just 24 sacks on the season, but they remain aggressive blitzers. Odell Beckham Jr. will likely receive double coverage (much like Brown will from the Giants), which could leave the Giants’ secondary receiving options open.
The Steelers are always tough on defense, but they are a little weaker now than they ever were in the past. Here’s to hoping that Eli Manning and co. can take advantage.
New York Giants: Special Teams
The Giants’ special teams will be in flux on Sunday. Kicker Robbie Gould has missed 3 extra points already, which could become a major issue in the future. Usual return man Dwayne Harris has been banged up, which could result in more opportunities for Odell Beckham Jr. in the return game.
Lost in the shuffle has been the stellar performance of punter Brad Wing, who has become a field-position weapon for the Giants.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Special Teams
The Steelers’ special teams cannot be overlooked either. Kicker Chris Boswell has missed 4 kicks himself, but is usually solid. Punter Jordan Berry is a Brad Wing clone: a left-footed, Australian punter that broke into the NFL with the Steelers.
Interestingly, the Steelers use their best player, Antonio Brown, as their primary punt returner. He risks injury on every runback, but is a threat to go the distance on every play.
These are two very evenly matched teams on paper. The Giants are coming into this game on an all-time high, but the Steelers are also playing at home, where they rarely lose. This game has the look of a toss-up through and through, which makes for one tough prediction.
In the end though, I think that the Giants could pull out a close win. The Steelers haven’t fared well against true contenders this year, and the Giants have no shortage of confidence. Regardless of the outcome, this will certainly be one fun game to watch.
31-27 Giants (Record picking Giants games: 9-2)