Why this game is intriguing: Two of the NFL's marquee teams. Two of the game's most entertaining quarterbacks. Who cares if it's an inter-conference game? There is so much intrigue in so many places. How will these suddenly run-happy Pittsburgh Steelers and bulldozing back Jonathan Dwyer go after a New York Giants team that just held the Dallas Cowboys to 19 yards on the ground? How will the Giants' fierce front four attempt to bring down Ben Roethlisberger, who is almost as big as his pass-rushing counterparts? Is a well-rounded Steelers receiving corps featuring explosive weapons Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown primed to decimate a Giants secondary that allowed Tony Romo to throw for 437 yards? It's a fascinating matchup -- one that'll keep me glued to the TV.
Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger will be forever linked as multiple Super Bowl winners after being selected in the 2004 draft.
The star quarterbacks have split their first two matchups heading into Sunday, when thePittsburgh Steelers visit a New York Giants team looking to win its fifth straight.
These traditional franchises have each won two Super Bowls since New York (6-2) traded for Manning on draft day in 2004 and Pittsburgh (4-3) selected Roethlisberger at No. 11. Although there are numerous statistics associated with these potential Hall of Famers, the most important may be Manning's 8-3 postseason mark and Roethlisberger's 10-4 record.
"The big thing is I think it's a fair assessment to call both of them winners," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Both guys have been to the big dance and delivered. That's what this profession is about. That's what that position, particularly, is about."
These teams met in the quarterbacks' rookie seasons, with Pittsburgh coming back to win 33-30 at Giants Stadium during its 15-1 campaign. Their other matchup was in 2008, when Manning rallied the Giants to a 21-14 victory at Heinz Field in a season in which the Steelers went on to win their most recent title.
This is the first time quarterbacks in opposite conferences with multiple championships are meeting in a regular-season game since Joe Montana's 49ers beat Jim Plunkett's Los Angeles Raiders in 1985.
Roethlisberger and Manning won't meet again for another four years unless they go head-to-head first in a Super Bowl.
"He's obviously a great player and it would be fun to play him (more), but I think you lose the fact that it's not him versus me," Roethlisberger said. "It's their team versus our team and I think he'll tell you the same thing."
Manning will be up against the NFL's top-rated pass defense in a Steelers unit that is yielding 182.6 passing yards per game. That's despite a pass rush that has produced a meager 12 sacks and the fact that star safety Troy Polamalu is set to miss his fourth straight game with a strained right calf.
"They do a good job against the passing game in general, so we've got to make sure we're sharp in our protections, picking up the different blitzes and their looks and having time to get open," Manning said.
Pittsburgh's defense has been helped by first-year coordinator Todd Haley's offense that is holding onto the ball for more than 34 minutes a game for the league's second-best mark. Roethlisberger, who has been sacked just 13 times, has guided a unit that leads the league in third-down conversions at 51.9 percent thanks to his NFL-best 117.1 passer rating on third downs.
"Much has been said about the way in which they've directed and changed their offense over there," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He has been well protected, he has not been hit nearly as much, nor is he forcing anything."
Jonathan Dwyer has amassed 229 yards rushing in the last two weeks, but he might not get a chance at a third straight 100-yard game, as he's listed as doubtful with a right quad strain. Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) is also doubtful, leaving Isaac Redman as the healthiest feature back remaining.
Redman, who started the first three games of the season, missed the last two contests with sore ankles.
Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark returned to practice after leaving last week's 27-12 win over Washington with a concussion.
One glaring difference between these teams is New York's NFL-best 24 takeaways compared to seven for the Steelers that tie them for the second fewest. Giants safetyStevie Brown, the NFC defensive player of the week, has three of his five interceptions over the last two weeks.
New York's pass rush is also heating up with 13 sacks over its last three games after totaling eight in its first five.
The Giants are in a familiar position, having started 6-2 for the sixth time in nine seasons under Coughlin. They have never improved to 7-2 in those campaigns, losing four times at home.
New York is 1-7 in game No. 9 under Coughlin.
"We're very happy to be 6-2," said Coughlin, whose team won 29-24 at Dallas last Sunday. "We have a long way to go. We have a lot of work to do to be the team that we want to be."
Pittsburgh is 13-3 in regular-season games against NFC foes since losing to New York four years ago. Manning is 11-5 as a starter at home against the AFC.
"Obviously we are playing the defending world champs in their place," Tomlin said. "That is varsity ball, as we say in our business."
The Steelers will leave for New York on Sunday morning and depart Sunday evening because the hotel the team is booked to stay at in Jersey City was still without power as of Thursday afternoon due to Hurricane Sandy.
NFL teams are required to travel the day before a game, but the league allowed the Steelers to alter their plans.