Like you, I looked at the Steelers’ matchup against the 8-3 Giants — who were on a six-game winning streak — and initially saw it as the first true test since the Steelers lost a heartbreaker to the Cowboys several weeks ago. I wanted it to be so, I really did.
Then I ran the numbers.
In doing some research for the Giants’ offensive preview film room session, something dawned on me: their six-game winning streak was a house of cards.
They had some tough draws in their first five games; in that span, they went 2-3. Their wins were a one-point road win over the Cowboys, who were just learning whether Dak Prescott could throw a pass, not whether he could become a franchise quarterback; and a home win over the Saints, who are typically not a very good road team. Then they lost three straight to the Redskins, Packers and Vikings — all playoff teams in 2015.
Their winning streak began with a home game against a Ravens team that didn’t play a truly impressive game until Sunday afternoon against the Dolphins. They followed that up with a road win over Los Angeles -- because, really, who doesn’t beat Jeff Fisher’s Rams? — as well as home games against the Eagles, Bengals and Bears; and a road win over the Browns. If you’re keeping score, the Ravens, Eagles, Bengals and Bears are a combined 4-20 on the road this season, while the Rams and Browns are 1-10 at home. That’s not shooting fish in a barrel; that’s shooting the barrel with a Howitzer.
That’s not to say there isn’t any talent on this Giants team. Eli Manning is no Peyton, but he’s a serviceable franchise quarterback with two Super Bowl wins. Odell Beckham Jr. may be sprinting past diva and hurdling the wall into prima dona territory but there is no denying his ability. Victor Cruz is no slouch, and they have a strong run defense.
But the underlying numbers aren’t pointing in their favor. Even now, at 8-4, they are only at a +8 point differential. The Steelers are 7-5, but are at +54. For further comparison, the 11-1 Cowboys are +105. And, as I pointed out Sunday morning, they have a hard time controlling the ball and sustaining long, clock-draining drives. That’s not a good sign for any team, and is incongruous with a team boasting a then 8-3 record. It’s likely to come crashing down as the season winds to completion, as they welcome the NFC East-leading Cowboys and the NFC North-leading Lions in the next two weeks, before heading to Philadelphia and Washington to close out their season with intra-division road games. 9-7 may be possible, but 8-8 — with a five-game losing streak — is looking more and more likely.
But don’t let that detract from the Steelers’ victory. The Giants may not be the quality opponent many thought they would be, but we may be looking back on this game as the moment this Pittsburgh defense truly and finally arrived. Save for a garbage-time touchdown on the final, pointless drive, the Giants had managed all of 172 total yards of offense. The video will tell the final tale, but all signs pointed toward the Steelers completely dominating the Giants in just about every facet of the game.
But let’s let this be a lesson: there’s more to an opponent than record and streaks. Sometimes, you have to dig a little deeper to find out the truth.
The truth, tonight, is the Giants aren’t as good as we thought. But maybe the Steelers finally are.