Just how good are the New York Giants?
The defending Super Bowl champs were being labeled the best team in the NFL a few weeks ago after they dismantled the Seattle Seahawks at home. Since then, they stumbled once, but many still think they're the Super Bowl favorites this year.
The Giants, the Steelers' opponent this Sunday, have a 5-1 record, but that's a little deceiving.
The Giants opened the season with a big home win over Washington, but since then they've beaten the winless Bengals at home in overtime, the West Coast's Seahawks and 49ers at home with early kickoff times, and they won in St. Louis when the Rams were struggling at the beginning of the year.
They also were pounded in Cleveland, 35-14, on a Monday night game for their only loss.
The Giants are also playing without last year's standout defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, and wide receiver Plaxico Burress has been his usual distracting self.
The Giants were a team last season that peaked at the right time; they weren't necessarily the best overall team. At this point a year ago, not many had them figured to be Super Bowl winners.
Most recent teams that had surprising runs to championships this decade - Steelers, Bucs, Ravens - were not as good the following years. The Giants may yet go on another run again - they have as good of depth as any team in the league - but how good they truly are right now is debatable.
We'll get a better idea after Sunday's game at Heinz Field.
n Outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have been nothing short of fabulous for the Steelers this season. In Dick LeBeau's defense, they're the ones who are supposed to be getting the glory, and they haven't disappointed.
n You have to wonder if Willie Parker really re-aggravated his knee injury last week by supposedly stepping in a hole at the Steelers' training facility. The fact that Parker was told to be mum about it leads one to speculate whether or not the Steelers decided to give him an extra week off because they were playing the Bengals.
n I didn't realize the ''F'' in NFL stood for ''fines.''
NFL Week No. 8
Game of the week: Giants at Steelers, 4:15 p.m. Sunday (FOX).
Upset special: Cincinnati (+10 1/2) at Houston.
Fantasy tip: Five of the Jaguars' first six opponents came against teams with current .500 or better records. Five of their next six opponents are against teams currently with losing records.
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.