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 PITTSBURGH (AP) -Tom Brady's injury, the Colts' fall to earth, San Diego's slide and the Titans' rapid rise are upsetting the AFC's balance of power. The Pittsburgh Steelers, off to their usual good start, are about the only old reliable in the mix.
The Steelers may not need to wait any longer than Sunday to find how exactly good they are.
Too early to call the pivotal New York Giants-Steelers interconference game a possible Super Bowl preview? For sure. With 10 weeks left in the NFL season, the powers of October often are long forgotten when the playoffs begin in January.
Still, the track records and stay-with-the-basics styles of two of the NFL's most tradition-steeped franchises suggest these Giants (5-1), the reigning Super Bowl champions, and the Steelers (5-1), the champs of 2005, will be very much in play once the postseason starts.
important to us,'' Giants quarterback Eli Manning said.
It might be a big game for a lot of reasons, and may remain so for the rest of the season if both teams keep playing the way they are now. The Giants lead the league in rushing, are second in offense and fourth in defense. The Steelers are first in defense, tops against the pass and second against the run.
Run the ball without fail, shut down the big play, get after the quarterback with aggressive pass-rush schemes and stuff the run. The teams are eerily similar, much like their records each of the last four seasons.
In 2005, when the Steelers were the champs, each went 11-5. In 2006, each slipped to 8-8. Each rebounded to 10-6 last season, when the Giants took the same route as the '05 Steelers by winning four playoff games away from home to win the Super Bowl.
The approaches are the same, the rosters similar in makeup, the records identical.
``Pittsburgh is 5-1, we're 5-1,'' said wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who left the Steelers after the 2004 season to join the Giants. ``I know those guys well. I know the defense and they're going to be coming from everywhere. We will have to try not to let their pressure and their noise affect us and go out and make some plays.''
Given the teams' comparable personalities, this one may be decided by which runs the ball better, forces turnovers and gets after the quarterback better.
e 264-pound Brandon Jacobs averaging 5.4 yards per carry and 86 yards per game, the Giants' running game will be a major test for a Steelers defense that has allowed only one team to gain 100 yards.
So will controlling Burress, especially with the Steelers' biggest cornerback, Bryant McFadden, out with a broken right arm.
``Eli puts him in a lot of positions where he has an opportunity to go up against a smaller defensive back,'' safety Ryan Clark. ``It's tough when you've got a guy who's 6-5 with that type of leaping ability.''
The Steelers lead the league with 25 sacks, with linebackers James Harrison (8) and LaMarr Woodley (8) combining for 16, and they want to keep the Giants out of favorable running downs by forcing Manning to make mistakes. The Giants, with 21 sacks, plan to apply similar pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, who has been sacked 18 times to Manning's six.
``But we're not going to get consumed in that subplot,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. ``Our goal is to win the game. I would rather win the game and have no sacks then have 10 and lose.''
And about all those sacks allowed by Pittsburgh, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said, ``They certainly compensate on the other side of the ball.''
two weeks.
``That just adds another dimension to our team,'' wide receiver Santonio Holmes said.
Remarkably, for all their similarities and successes - weren't the Giants ready to draft Roethlisberger in 2004 if they couldn't swing that trade for Manning - this will be only the eighth meeting between the one-time NFL division rivals since the 1970 merger.
The clubs met twice a year from 1945-67, and have played 77 times, yet this will be the Giants' first game in Pittsburgh in 17 years and only their second in 37 years, or since the now-demolished Three Rivers Stadium was 1 year old in 1971.
Franchise founders Tim Mara of the Giants and Art Rooney Sr. of the Steelers probably wouldn't have believed during the NFL's halcyon days that two teams so intertwined - there have been marriages between Mara and Rooney family members - would play so infrequently.
More than a few Maras and Rooneys wouldn't mind a revival of the old days and another Giants-Steelers game later this season. The only way that can happen, of course, is a Super Bowl rematch between two of the NFL's last three champions.
Then again, it's probably too early to be thinking about that, right?

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