NFL Fact or Fiction: New York Giants Will Face Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl

Michael WillhoftContributor IIIOctober 25, 2011

NFL Fact or Fiction: New York Giants Will Face Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl

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    At first glance, it might seem ridiculous that the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers could be the teams playing in Super Bowl XLVI. But upon further review (NFL pun clearly intended), it might not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

    The Giants have somewhat quietly taken over the lead in the NFC East, while the Steelers are percentage points behind the Ravens for first place in the AFC North as I write this sentence. (Even if the Ravens win against Jacksonville and improve their record to 5-1—as expected— Pittsburgh is still in position to claim a wild card spot.)

    Neither the Giants nor the Steelers have been invincible over their first six and seven games, respectively; despite the inconsistency each team has displayed so far, there are signs that both teams might be rounding into form as we move deeper into the NFL season.

    Then again, the mediocrity put on display by New York in underwhelming losses to Washington and Seattle is a cause for concern. Not to be outdone, Pittsburgh’s offensive line has repeatedly shown a lack of blocking ability, for which quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has paid the price.

    Red flags have been raised for both teams which might prevent New York and Pittsburgh from meeting in the Super Bowl. Both sides can be argued, which is exactly what I’ll attempt to do. Seeing as how there are still three-plus months until the game is actually played, what better time is there to debate the likelihood of a Giants/Steelers championship matchup?

    What follows is the separation of fact from fiction as I try to explain why the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers will meet in Super Bowl XLVI. Or why they won’t.

    Let’s figure it out.

FACT: The Giants Have a Brutal Upcoming Schedule

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    It’s no secret that the second half of the season for the New York Giants poses a much tougher assignment than the first half.

    I hope the G-Men enjoyed their bye week; it’ll be the only their only respite until January (unless you count the upcoming game at home against the Miami Dolphins as a week off).

    Despite the fact that the Dolphins should provide a relatively painless way for the Giants to ease their way back into the season, the schedule doesn’t do them any favors after that.

    They’ll play at New England, at San Francisco, against Philadelphia, at New Orleans and against Green Bay in what might be the most difficult five-game stretch any team in the league will have to face.

    If the Giants are to have any shot at making it to the Super Bowl, they’ll need to play out of their minds over the next six weeks. I’m counting their upcoming schedule against them in their pursuit of a Super Bowl XLVI berth.

FACT: The Steelers Have a Relatively Light Workload

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    By contrast, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a much easier schedule the rest of the season; except for their next two games against New England and Baltimore, the Steelers are looking at a calendar with Cincinnati (twice), Cleveland (twice) and St. Louis penciled in.

    I’m pretty sure Pittsburgh isn’t worried about the latter half of their schedule.

    Granted, no team in the NFL should be taken lightly, and Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin will definitely make that known to his players. But if he had to sign off on a schedule that would assure his team of a few victories, Tomlin would definitely be OK with what’s been laid out for him.

    The Steelers know that making the playoffs is the main goal—once there, anything can happen (read: 2005-2006 Pittsburgh Steelers). An easy schedule the rest of the way should allow them to earn a playoff spot without much trouble.

    The schedule for the Steelers is a plus when it comes to them possibly making the Super Bowl.

FICTION: The Giants Play in the NFL’s Toughest Division

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    Remember when the NFC East was considered the most difficult division in the NFL? That was so last season.

    Arguments can be made that the AFC East or the NFC North can lay claim to the title of NFL’s toughest division, but those arguments are for another time.

    With the ineptitude of the Philadelphia Eagles and the inconsistency of the Washington Redskins in the NFC East so far this season, it seems like a very winnable division for the New York Football Giants.

    And even if they can’t pull off an NFC East regular season title, there’s little threat for a wild card spot. The Giants have four divisional games left to consolidate their early lead and guarantee themselves a playoff spot.

    Like I said for the Steelers: Once the Giants make the playoffs, anything can happen. Even a Super Bowl berth.

FICTION: The Steelers Still Have Their Swagger

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t seem to have the air of invincibility they’ve had in years past. Injuries have certainly played a part in that, but maybe the rest of the league has finally caught up to them.

    An embarrassing loss at Baltimore in Week 1 was highlighted by the amount of turnovers committed by the Steelers, usually one of the teams with the best turnover ratio in the league.

    For a team that prides itself on being able to force turnovers on defense and pound the ball on offense, Pittsburgh hasn’t really shown it so far this year.

    They’ll have to get back to old-school Steelers football in the coming weeks if they’re going to reassert themselves as the meanest team in the NFL. As for now, it seems like they’re struggling to reestablish that identity.

    Without that swagger, a Super Bowl trip might be out of the question for this year’s edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

FACT: The Giants Are Starting to Get Healthy

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    New York started the season in the worst possible manner, losing literally everyone on defense to a serious (sometimes season-ending) injury. At least it seemed like everyone went down.

    It looks like things are starting to turn around for the G-Men.

    Prince Amukamara, their first-round draft choice, is getting close to seeing the field for the first time as he returns from a broken foot suffered in training camp.

    Also making their returns to practice are defensive end Justin Tuck, running back Brandon Jacobs and right guard Chris Snee.

    With players starting to return to practice, the future for the Giants looks a little brighter. Although it’ll take some time before the team is closer to full strength, when key players get back in the lineup, it’s always a welcome sight.

    With the Giants slowly replenishing their roster, talk of the playoffs and even the Super Bowl is starting to take shape.

FACT: The Steelers Have Been Bitten by the Injury Bug

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    The offensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers has been makeshift at best, inept at worst. It's been a trying first few weeks for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, as he's spent most of his time avoiding the pass rush.

    Whereas the Giants are on their way to returning injured players, the Steelers are going in the opposite direction.

    In fact, the Steelers are so thin along the offensive line that they only have one player listed on the depth chart at each of the following positions: center, right guard and right tackle. They can't afford another injury to the right side of the line if they want to keep opposing defenses away from Roethlisberger.

    No teams are going to feel bad for the Steelers, though, as is always the case in the NFL. Injuries are a part of the game; they might prove to be Pittsburgh's downfall come playoff time.

FICTION: The Giants Have a Reckless Quarterback

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    People always seem to bring up interceptions when the topic is Giants quarterback Eli Manning. The truth is, he's not as inaccurate a passer as the critics make him out to be.

    True, there are INTs on his stat line, but what people fail to realize is that many of those picks are the result of tipped passes. Case in point, the backbreaking pick-six Eli threw in the closing minutes of the 25-36 loss to Seattle that bounced off Victor Cruz's hands and right to the defense for a return touchdown.

    This season, Eli has put up solid numbers. He's thrown for 1,778 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions; it all translates to a quarterback rating of 101.1 on the year.

    Manning does a good job of managing an offense that might cause a less-talented quarterback to have fits. And, he's won a Super Bowl before—how quickly we all forget.

    Who's to say he won't lead the Giants to another?

FICTION: The Steelers Don’t Have Enough Weapons

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    Grinding out low-scoring games has always been a hallmark of Pittsburgh Steelers football. Lately, though, they've shown an ability to put points on the board; the fact that they can outscore opponents instead of holding them down on defense is an important aspect of their style.

    In terms of big play wide receivers, Mike Wallace is quickly climbing the rankings of the league's best (if he's not at the top already).

    He's currently on a six-game streak with at least one 40-plus yard reception. His latest long touchdown was a casual 95-yard pass play last Sunday in a 32-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Long story short, this dude is a burner.

    Rashard Mendenhall hasn't put up the numbers expected of him yet, but opposing head coaches will tell you that they still game plan to stop the Pittsburgh running back.

    And Hines Ward is still a viable option as a third down pass catcher—he's never been shy about going across the middle to make critical conversions.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't hurting for talent on offense. With the skill players around quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, this team has the offense capable of making a playoff run.

FACT: The Giants Have Experience

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    "The Helmet Catch."

    "18-1" (in reference to New England's bid for an undefeated season).

    New York Giants: Super Bowl XLII Champions.

    It wasn't too long ago that the Giants were on top of the football world. Experience is an aspect of a football team that can't be quantified; if it could, the Giants would rank highly as they're on the short list of recent Super Bowl winning teams.

    Often used as the deciding factor when two teams are evenly matched otherwise, experience plays a critical role in the postseason. The Giants have earned their stripes in that department.

FACT: The Steelers Have Experience, Too

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    A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

    The Steelers might have something to say about being an experienced team. After all, they've won two Super Bowls and played in another over the past five years.

    Pittsburgh fans might argue that the Steelers have been the NFL's most consistent team with regards to postseason success, and I'd be hard-pressed to disagree. Having been to multiple Super Bowls in a relatively short time span, the Steelers know all about playing in big games.

    It's that kind of experience that can't be taught; it has to be earned.

PREDICTION: Super Bowl XLVI Will Be Without Giants and Steelers

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    As much as I’d like to see this matchup in the Super Bowl, I don’t see it happening. For all the positive signs shown by the Giants and Steelers, there are too many question marks surrounding these teams for me to say that they’ll play for the Lombardi Trophy.

    It’s easy to look at each team in a vacuum and assess whether they have the characteristics of a Super Bowl contender, but in reality, there are simply better teams in each league that will likely edge the Giants and Steelers out for a berth in the Super Bowl.

    I’d like to think that all the positive aspects of the Giants’ season previously discussed are enough to get them to the Super Bowl; the same goes for the Steelers. However, I have my doubts about both teams (e.g. the Giants’ tough schedule, the Steelers’ injury woes).

    Furthermore, it’s hard to put an NFC team ahead of Green Bay or an AFC team ahead of New England when it comes to predicting a potential championship matchup.

    At least we still have a few months to see how everything plays out.