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Pass rush, offensive line play major keys for Steelers in tilt with Giants

The Steelers look to get on a trademark December hot streak with a home win over New York

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In a year in which a dead gorilla became world famous and Donald Trump won the presidency, the most unbelievable happening might just be the fact that the New York Giants are 8-3.

Even stranger is the fact that these Giants might be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ key to a postseason run.

During Mike Tomlin’s nine-year tenure as head coach of the team, the Steelers have been notoriously good in December; 30-13, in fact, including a 3-1 record last season. At 6-5 and winners of their last two games, Pittsburgh is still tied (or trailing, more accurately, due to a head-to-head loss to the Baltimore Ravens) for the AFC North lead. In order to put some distance between themselves and Baltimore and, more importantly, to begin a potential postseason run on a hot streak, the Steelers could certainly use a trademark win.

Enter the 8-3 Giants.

This season, New York has proven that you don’t need a run game (ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing) or fiscal responsibility (committed over $200 million to free agents last offseason, including $85 million to DE/OLB Olivier Vernon, who has just 5.5 sacks so far this season) to be successful in the NFL.

The Giants are in the midst of a pretty impressive winning streak of their own, though, like Pittsburgh, those wins have come against mostly inferior teams. Then again, 8-3 is 8-3, and records are the only thing that matters when it comes to playoff seeding. Given the competitive nature of the NFC East, its safe to say the Giants would enjoy winning out, as well.

Obviously, stopping Odell Beckham Jr., who is right on Antonio Brown’s heels with 915 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, is going to be a major concern for the Steelers, who will enter Sunday’s game having allowed the seventh-most yards to opposing receivers and the fifth-most touchdowns.

However, the Steelers have been generally decent against star receivers so far this season, with the notable exception of Cowboys WR Dez Bryant, who caught six passes for 116 yards and a touchdown in a Week 10 victory. Credit much of that success to rookie Artie Burns, who has been a pleasantly surprising addition to Pittsburgh’s defensive backfield.

New York’s secondary has been similarly porous this season, which should allow Brown, as well as Pittsburgh’s other ancillary receivers, to have a solid outing.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Sunday’s game will be each team’s ability to protect their respective quarterback or, inversely, tackle the other one, as Pittsburgh and New York are virtually identical in terms of sacks allowed (both have allowed 14, which is the second-fewest in the NFL) and sacks generated (New York has 25 this season to Pittsburgh’s 24). Given that both team’s offensive lines have been excellent all season, it seems more than likely that both Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning should have plenty of time to operate against highly pedestrian pass rushes.

Therefore, I’m guessing that Sunday’s game is going to be relatively high-scoring, which should play slightly into Pittsburgh’s favor.

Then again, if the Giants are simply a bad team pretending to be a good team, maybe the Steelers are in trouble after all.