The New York Giants successfully navigated a few landmines the last two weeks, earning unspectacular wins over the 2-9 Chicago Bears and 0-12 Cleveland Browns.
Now comes the hard part.
Starting with a visit to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers on Sunday, four of Big Blue’s remaining five games are against teams with winning records, and three of the five are against fellow NFC East foes.
At 8-3, winning even three out of five against this level of competition would position the Giants as a Super Bowl contender. But it all starts in Steel City, and here are three keys to the matchup.
Blades of steel
The Steelers (6-5) have perhaps the most talented trio of QB, RB and WR in football.
Ben Roethlisberger is tied for fifth in the NFL with 23 touchdown passes despite missing a game. Le’Veon Bell is sixth in yards from scrimmage despite missing the first three games. Antonio Brown leads the NFL in receptions and is tied for the lead with 10 TD catches.
The Giants defense stepped up in November, with Landon Collins earning NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors. They’ll need to be a well-oiled machine to keep the Steelers at bay on their own turf.
Eli Manning hasn’t thrown an interception in two games. Those games weren’t against very good teams, granted, but it could boost the confidence of a quarterback who had yet to avoid picks in consecutive games this season.
There’s a decent chance that trend continues against the Steelers defense, which has just seven interceptions through 11 games. Look for Manning to target Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard aggressively, especially if left guard Justin Pugh is surprisingly listed as active this weekend to offer added protection and time.
Run it back
During the Steelers’ four-game slide in October and November, they were gashed by opposing rushers Jay Ajayi (204 yards, 2 TDs) of the Dolphins, LeGarrette Blount (127 yards, 2 TDs) of the New England Patriots and Ezekiel Elliott (114 yards, 1 TD) of the Dallas Cowboys.
That’s 445 yards in all. The Giants have gained 874 yards on the ground all season. Rashad Jennings hasn’t surpassed 100 yards in a game this season, but if he does the G-Men should like their chances to win.
Fun fact: The Giants haven’t lost a game this season with Rashad Jennings on the field.