This week’s game between the Giants and the Steelers could be a Super Bowl preview between two teams with similar DNA on both sides of the ball -- or it could simply be a game between two teams with great potential who will end up missing the playoffs.
Does that seem crazy? If so, which part?
The 8-3 Giants are riding high on a five-game winning streak, but this is their remaining schedule: @Steelers, Cowboys, Lions, @Eagles, @Redskins.
In short, the Giants could very well be 8-8 on New Year’s Day and on the outside looking in when the playoffs start. Am I being pessimistic? No, I’m being realistic. The combined records of their next five opponents is 35-20, and three of those teams -- Cowboys, Lions, Steelers -- currently sit in first place in their divisions. The remaining two opponents are divisional rivals who will either still be playing for their own playoff berths in the last two weeks or will at the very least desperately want to screw things up for the Giants.
But first things first: Pittsburgh.
The Steelers are what the Giants would be if they ever took the governor off their offense and let things ride. Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown is always looking to go deep, no matter the situation. Third and two? Good bet they’re going deep. Fourth and short? Same thing. Contrast that with avowed aggressor Ben McAdoo, who says the Giants are always looking to attack and then punts on fourth and short in Cleveland territory in the first quarter last week.
If Brad Wing or Robbie Gould feature prominently for New York this week, the Giants are going to lose by 100.
Luckily for New York, the Steelers’ defense reminds no one of the 1990s Blitzburgh crew. There are holes throughout this defense, including the huge one Ezekiel Elliott ran through in lifting Dallas to a come-from-behind victory in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago.
Like the Giants, Pittsburgh has the kind of offense that looks unstoppable at times. Want to play safety deep to keep Brown from going over the top? The Steelers can counter with the versatile Le’Veon Bell, the league’s best running back when he’s not serving suspensions for smoking pot.
Pittsburgh’s offense has definitely lost a step with the suspension of Martavis Bryant (who is another herb aficionado) and injuries to Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey. But unlike the Giants, who likewise have an All-Pro wide receiver in Odell Beckham Jr., the Steelers have several All-Pro linemen (center Maurkice Pouncey, guard David DeCastro), so losses in the wide receiving corps are more easily masked.
Let’s face it, if the Giants lost Beckham, they’d be toast. Their entire offense is predicated on Beckham drawing double coverage. For some reason they seem to think that the best way to exploit this is by consistently handing off to Rashad Jennings. It’d be like if the Steelers exploited a double coverage of Brown by running dives with full back Roosevelt Nix.
This game will have a playoff feel because these are two teams with playoff aspirations who are good barometers of how each other will fare for the rest of the season. The Steelers lost to the Cowboys at home -- a team the Giants (and only the Giants) beat, and on the road no less. Can they beat the Giants in Pittsburgh? Maybe. Is this the first of two times the teams will meet this year? Maybe. Could both of those teams still miss the playoffs? You bet.
The Giants are rolling right now, but it’d be inaccurate to call them hot. They’re winning, but they’re not doing it in very convincing fashion. Beating Pittsburgh on the road would convince a lot of people that the Giants are Super Bowl contenders.