The New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers look to re-enter the playoff elite as they begin preseason play on Saturday night at Heinz Field.
Both clubs missed the postseason last year, due to the glaring lack of a running game for Pittsburgh, and an unusually porous defense from the Giants.
Ranking 26th overall on the ground last year, the Steelers will give rookie running back Le’Veon Bell his first taste of the NFL, with his debut being compared to that of Pittsburgh Hall of Famer Franco Harris, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In his final year at Michigan State, the bruising Bell tallied 1,740 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Training camp injuries have also created some opportunities for several young Steelers. Tight End Matt Spaeth is expected to miss eight to 10 weeks after suffering a Lisfranc injury in his foot, which gives second-year players David Paulson and Jamie McCoy a chance to impress head coach Mike Tomlin.
Veteran receiver Plaxico Burress also tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder, leaving Pittsburgh in search of a No. 3 receiver. The Steelers already have Jerricho Cotchery, but third-round pick Markus Wheaton has reportedly already worked with the first team.
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Pittsburgh won’t see many of New York’s starters, including defensive ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, and receiver Hakeem Nicks, according to ESPN New York. But most of the eyes will be on rookie defensive linemen Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore.
New York was 28 thin pass defense and 25th against the rush last season, areas where Hankins and Moore could have an immediate impact. Out of Ohio State, Hankins earned first-team All-America and Big Ten honors, while Moore may be a steal in the draft considering his first-team All-SEC work at Texas A&M.
Quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants first string offense are expected to get in about 15 snaps against Pittsburgh, and it will be New York’s first exposure to real hitting and tackling as they’ve gotten rid of hard hits in practice, according to Giants.com.
The game kicks-off at 7:30 p.m. ET and a live online stream is available by subscription on the NFL’s official site here.
The national broadcast can be seen on NFL Network, while Pittsburgh’s KDKA and New York’s WNBC-4 will have the local feeds.
Betting Odds: Steelers are favored by 2.5 points.
Over/Under: 36 points
Prediction: Pittsburgh , New York