Most of Pittsburgh's season hinged on its performance when it played at Cincinnati in Week 7. A road game, a sagging defense and a befuddled offense gave way to a solid four-quarter performance in picking up a cathartic win over the Bengals.
The Steelers followed that up with an outstanding performance in a 27-12 win over Washington in Week 8, turning Top 10 draft pick thoughts into legitimate playoff aspirations.
In reality, Week 9 against the Giants will be even more crucial for the Steelers. Regardless of the weight of wins over NFC opponents vs. AFC opponents, the Steelers, sitting at 5-3 with back-to-back prime time home games (against Kansas City and Baltimore, mixed in with another game with the Ravens, and a pair against the Browns and Chargers) could mean a big win streak.
That is, of course, if they can get past the defending champs on the road.
It's just that easy, right?
When the Giants have the ball
New York is about as balanced as any team in the league offensively, based on their statistical achievements in their first eight games. Top 12 in rushing (114.2 yards per game), sixth in passing yards (282.1) and third in scoring (29.3), the Giants can and have scored on some of the game's best.
It starts with quarterback Eli Manning, but his receiving corps is going to be the group to watch in this game. Look for the Giants to force plays outside the numbers - getting the Steelers to commit to a cover-2 look, but not let them funnel the coverage inside, the way they did with Washington a week earlier.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, the Giants have far more playmakers on the field other than their quarterback, which isn't true of Washington. Receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are probably the best rivals to the supposed crowns worn by Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.
Play for play, there isn't a better duo in the NFL, and their strong-armed quarterback can and will get them the ball, even at the risk of a deep interception.
The Giants will have running success in this game, mostly due to the respect the Steelers safeties will have to give over the top.
When the Steelers have the ball
With two-week hero Jonathan Dwyer reportedly sitting this one out with a quadriceps injury, Isaac Redman re-ascends the throne he allowed Dwyer to take away from him earlier this year. The Steelers will likely face a lot of a three-safety nickel defense the Giants will use in the third-and-mid situations the Steelers have dominated this season.
Take away third down conversions, beat the Steelers. Using Brown, Phillips and Antrel Rolle will give the Giants the flexible secondary the Steelers have not seen this season. They will need to run the ball successfully and not be afraid to do it on all downs if they want to continue controlling the clock they way they have in each game this season.
It's not impossible to exploit the Giants defense, though. Counters and traps in the running game can exploit a hard-rushing front four and an average linebacking group will struggle against the Steelers' sub packages (think posse - 3WR, 1RB 1TE - in this game).
This has more indications of a shootout than a defensive match, and perhaps two of the better quarterbacks of the last 10 years in the fourth quarter will simply do battle until the end.