The Keystone rivalry returns Sunday in Pittsburgh as the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Steelers. Sounds enticing, I know, but in actual fact this isn't the most crucial game on Philadelphia's schedule. If teams are going to lose, they might as well do it on the road against out-of-conference foes.
So with that in mind, I've softened the blow for my forthcoming prediction.
What Philadelphia must do to win, offensive edition
Feature LeSean McCoy. In the past, the Eagles have struggled to utilize McCoy appropriately. They appeared to fix that last week against the New York Giants, and now I'm requesting that they take it one step further in an attempt to protect Michael Vick from a suddenly healthy and always-dangerous Pittsburgh defense.
What Philadelphia must do to win, defensive edition
It's pretty simple against the Steelers: Prevent Ben Roethlisberger from catching fire with his speedy receivers. The Eagles have the personnel to do that, but will they deliver?
How Philadelphia can lose
If they lose the turnover battle against Pittsburgh, they're unlikely to stand a chance.
Five most important non-quarterbacks
Brandon Boykin, Demetress Bell, Todd Herremans, LeSean McCoy, Trent Cole
It's not ideal that the Eagles' most important defensive player is a rookie, but Brandon Boykin will undoubtedly be tested often in the slot. I'm not as worried about Nnamdi Asomugha or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Demetress Bell and Todd Herremans will be charged with helping Michael Vick stay upright against a Steelers' defense that is getting Troy Polamalu and James Harrison back. McCoy has to relieve that pressure by keeping that D on its heals, while Trent Cole is crucial to controlling Roethlisberger and easing pressure on the secondary.
Injury analysis, Eagles edition
King Dunlap is questionable, but Bell has supplanted him anyway. Still, the depth would be nice. The Eagles won't have Akeem Jordan again, but I'm thinking they'd be better off using two linebackers—Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans—while remaining in nickel. Force Rashard Mendenhall to beat those guys.
Injury analysis, Steelers edition
As I mentioned, the bye week helped the Steelers, who are likely getting Harrison, Polamalu and Mendenhall back. Injuries won't be a factor for this team Sunday.
B/R NFC East Blog prediction
I don't trust the Eagles right now on offense, especially against a defense like Pittsburgh's, at home, and with two weeks to prepare. Sorry, but I've got the Giants and 'Skins winning and Philly losing, giving us a three-way tie atop the NFC East.
Steelers 24, Eagles 20