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By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger were both drafted back in 2004. Manning was selected No. 1 overall by the San Diego Chargers and refused to play for them, forcing a trade with the New York Giants.
Since then, Manning has been Super Bowl MVP twice and made two Pro Bowl appearances.
Roethlisberger didn't have a problem joining the Pittsburgh Steelers and also is a two-time Pro Bowl selection. Big Ben has won the AFC title three times and, like Manning, has a pair of Super Bowl rings.
The two decorated quarterbacks will square off Sunday at MetLife Stadium in a matchup of heavily-favored teams pegged to represent their respective conferences in the Super Bowl.
Manning and the Giants have won four in a row, going undefeated in October, and sit alone atop the NFC East standings with a solid 6-2 mark. It's the third year in a row New York is 6-2 at the halfway mark of the season. The team avenged a Week 1 loss to Dallas by handing the Cowboys a 29-24 setback Sunday in the Lone Star State. It wasn't easy, however, as the Giants blew a 23-0 lead and eventually trailed, only to come back and win for the sixth time in seven tries.
"Every time we come here it's a nail-biter in some way, shape or form," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said. "We're happy to win."
For the first time this season, Manning did not throw a touchdown pass and was intercepted once. He passed for a season-low 192 yards and was carried by New York's weakest link, the defense. Even though New York allowed 434 yards to the Cowboys, it picked off Tony Romo four times, sacked him four times and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul returned an interception 28 yards for a score.
Defensive back Stevie Brown had two interceptions and Corey Webster had one for the Giants -- the highest total since they picked off four Roethlisberger passes at Pittsburgh back on Oct. 26, 2008. Perhaps the Giants can do that again Sunday. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is a believer.
"That is varsity football, as we say in our business," Tomlin said of the Giants. "Looking at what they have done this year, it's equally as impressive. They are 6-2. They've won their last four games. They do things that winning teams do."
The Giants resemble the New Orleans Saints of a few years ago; a team that can shoot the lights out on offense to make up for a below average defense. The Giants are 19th against the run (113.0), 24th in yards allowed (386.5) and 26th in pass defense (273.5). New York, though, is eighth in points allowed, surrendering just 20.1 PPG.
Pittsburgh has won two straight and three of four games, and is coming Sunday's 27-12 victory over the Washington Redskins. Roethlisberger was precise in completing 24-of-33 passes for 222 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He has thrown two or more TD passes four times.
Roethlisberger is fifth in the NFL in both passer rating (101.4) and completion percentage (66.8), and is seventh with 14 touchdown strikes.
The Steelers may have found a diamond in the rough with running back Jonathan Dwyer, who enjoyed his second straight 100-yard performance with 107 yards on 17 carries. Dwyer had 122 yards on 17 touches the week before at Cincinnati, and has filled in admirably for both Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.
"He has answered the call and taken advantage of the opportunity and that's what we expect from all of our young people," Tomlin said of Dwyer. "We don't discount what any of them are capable of."
Dwyer is trying to become the first Steeler since Willie Parker in 2007 to record three straight 100-plus yard rushing games. He could be a major contributor Sunday against the Giants' run defense. Both Mendenhall (Achilles) and Redman (ankle) are still banged up, but are expected to practice this week in preparation for Sunday. Either one of the running backs will not have the luxury of following offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert, who is expected to miss his third straight game with a balky ankle.
Since 2000, Pittsburgh is 36-14 against NFC teams during the regular season and hopes to get after Manning on Sunday with its aging, yet ferocious defense. Ranked first against the pass (182.6), second in yards allowed (274.1) and ninth in both rushing yards permitted (91.6) and points surrendered (20.6), the Steelers now New York presents a challenge.
"We are looking forward to measuring ourselves against a group like this. We need this challenge," Tomlin said. "Obviously, we won the last time we were on the road. That has been an issue for us in the past. We anticipate this environment being a hostile one, as it should be. Hopefully we are up to the task."
Sunday's showdown marks only the fifth time New York and Pittsburgh have met since 1994, with both teams splitting the last four contests. The Giants came out on top, 21-14, in the previous meeting on Oct. 26, 2008. A Steelers' win would make them 5-4 in this series since the 1970 merger.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Steelers only sacked Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III once last week, and will face one of the toughest offensive lines at New York. Manning has been sacked just six times this season and just twice in the previous five weeks. Pittsburgh can forget about using safety Troy Polamalu on blitz packages, since he has been ruled out with a calf injury. He hasn't played since a win over Philadelphia on Oct. 7.
Pittsburgh has history on its side, as it boasts a 16-6 record against the NFC under Tomlin. Tomlin is looking to capture his 60th career win, and a strong defensive effort against Manning and the Giants will be key. Not only do the Steelers have to worry about running back Ahmad Bradshaw, but receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz can cause problems as well.
The Giants are third in points scored (29.2), fourth in total yards (396.8) and sixth in passing yards (282.1).
Manning, who is third in the NFL with 2,301 passing yards, has won his last eight matchups against the AFC, including Super Bowl XLVI. He has 14 touchdown passes and five interceptions for a rating of 94.7 in that time. But the primary focus for the Giants should be getting Bradshaw going early. When Bradshaw rushed for 100 yards, the Giants are 10-0.
Coughlin gave his take on the Giants this week.
"It's a huge plus to be where we are. We've battled back from looking at, from being at 1-2 in the division, to being 2-2 in the division," he said. "We know how difficult this league is, we know how difficult these games that we play and our divisional opponents play week-in and week-out. It's very difficult in this league to win and there is tremendous parity. It's just a point that we've got to keep going here and we've got a very, very tough opponent coming in next week. It just gives you something to move on from."
Keep an eye out for New York's defense, which blew a huge lead in Dallas, but managed to win the turnover battle to come out on top. Roethlisberger rarely turns the ball over as evidenced by three INTs and one fumble lost, and can extend drives with his ability to avoid the sack. Big Ben has helped the Steelers to an NFL-best 51.9 percentage on third down.
While Roethlisberger has feasted on NFC opponents to the tune of 6,672 yards, 41 touchdown passes, 20 interceptions and a passer rating of 94.4, he will find it laborious to find success this week on the road. In what is pegged to be a tight-knit battle, Manning and the Giants are rolling right now and want to avoid last year's collapse at the halfway point. A key turnover will benefit the Giants in keeping their distance atop in the NFC East.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 23, Steelers 19
11/01 16:02:45 ET
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