Steelers and Eagles both look to keep riding regular season hot streak in 2014

Joe Sargent

They were the two best teams in the NFL over the second half of the year record-wise. With some defensive improvements added to offenses that showed success over the final eight games, both teams look to make noise in 2014.

The notion of momentum in sports has been, for the non-dreamers, disproved.

There isn't any kind of tangible property that shows the quality plays a team makes building through a certain time, giving them any kind of distinct advantage over their opponent.

But there's still something to be said about the idea of playing much better at the end of a season when the beginning of a season was a nightmare.

Whatever sciophites want to call it, the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers were different teams over the second half of 2013 than they were in the first half. The Eagles (7-1) had the best second-half record and the Steelers (6-2) had the second-best. The two teams combined to go 5-11 in the first half of the year.

Can they carry the mythical momentum into the 2014 season?

The Eagles added all-purpose machine Darren Sproles to an offense that exploded over the second half of the season. Head coach Chip Kelly's squad won eight of nine regular season starts with Nick Foles under center, and the league watched their hyped offense really take flight in that time.

The Eagles were the league's best rushing team, and they may have gotten even better.

The Steelers, without the same level of dedication to the hurry-up offense, looks to take a chip off their block by increasing their rushing prowess, upping the tempo of their offense through the increased use of a no-huddle offense and hoping to get enough plays out of their defense to let them grind out wins in the second half through fatigue and constant rushing.

Can the teams from Pennsylvania carry their hypothetical momentum into 2014? Both appear build to do exactly that. Their offenses, to varying degrees, likely won't be silenced often but the question for both with lay on the defensive side of the ball. Pittsburgh struggled stopping big runs in 2014 - 55 yards to Matt Forte in Week 3, 60 to Adrian Peterson in Week 4 and 93 to Terrelle Pryor in Week 8, 55 to Daniel Thomas and 48 to Ryan Tannehill in Week 14. Those five runs comprised of 17 percent of the Steelers' rushing yards allowed in 2013. Without them, the Steelers gave up 1,538 rushing yards, good enough for the fifth-least in the NFL.

This isn't to suggest those five runs should not count. Clearly, the're the most important aspect of the story of this team's defense in 2013, but in a game in which one play can make all the difference (Pryor's 93-yard scamper on the first play of the game being the most glaring example, the Steelers otherwise held Oakland in check that game), the big ones are even bigger.

Just limiting those plays, and an increased level of success in the Steelers' no-huddle approach will boost both sides of the ball, and take this team out of the 8-8 funk in which they've been mired the last two seasons.

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