The soft underbelly of the Steelers schedule has, for the most part, ended with them winning four of seven, but only one of those teams sports a winning record.
Now come the big boys, starting with the reigning Super Bowl champions Sunday and, two weeks after that, the defending AFC North champions twice in a three-week span.
If the Steelers believe they are a team on the rise after consecutive victories for the first time since last season, they have the perfect chances to show it, starting Sunday with the New York Giants on the road.
"I see it as an opportunity to go out there and show what we can do," linebacker James Harrison said.
The Giants look better today than they did most of last season, when they squeaked into the playoffs on the final day with a 9-7 record, good enough to claim the NFC East Division title. They then won four in a row to claim another Lombardi Trophy.
"We are playing the defending champions at their place," coach Mike Tomlin said. "That is varsity football, as we say in our business. 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."
They do the kinds of things on defense the Steelers no longer do, like intercept passes (16) and sack the quarterback (21). As a comparison, the Steelers have three interceptions and 12 sacks.
And the Giants offense ranks fourth in the NFL, sixth behind Eli Manning's passing attack. While the Steelers have done a much better job protecting Ben Roethlisberger this season allowing 13 sacks, Manning has been sacked just six times.
"We are looking forward to measuring ourselves against a group like this," Tomlin said. "We need this challenge. Obviously, we won the last time we were on the road. That has been an issue for us in the past."
Troy Polamalu (calf) and Marcus Gilbert (ankle) will miss the game against New York, Tomlin said. Ryan Clark (concussion) will have to pass a "battery of tests" in order to play.
Jonathan Dwyer (right thigh) is not scheduled to practice today, and Tomlin said he's hopeful he can go Thursday. Isaac Redman (ankle), who missed one game, will practice Wednesday. Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) will start individual work Wednesday, and Tomlin said "that's a step in the right direction for him.''
The coach would not commit to naming a starter if both Redman and Dwyer are healthy.
"I'm not a big hypothetical guy. I'm going to live day to day throughout this week and work with the guys that are healthy in preparation and kind of make the decision as we go."
LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) may be limited in early practices. Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) is "very questionable."
Brandon Johnson (hamstring) is scheduled to practice after missing one game.
Rookie guard David DeCastro, who has been out since a preseason knee injury, "is working individually and working his way back to us," Tomlin said.
Tomlin took Antonio Brown to task privately and publicly for his taunting penalty on an punt return against Washington.
"I not only spoke to Antonio, but I spoke to our team about it," Tomlin said. "Briefly, simply what I said is that it was not respectable. Those of us that know Antonio and watch him work on a day-to-day basis, if one word describes him professionally it's respectable. How he prepares, what he's willing to do, what kind of teammate he is, and that's represented in his play. That's the way we approached it.
"I thought it was an awesome learning opportunity for the entire group because, as professionals, I think that's a word everyone would want to describe their play.
"I think people that don't see you work on a day-to-day basis are capable of making judgments about you personally and professionally based on what they see, so we want to do what's respectable. That's what we talked about and kind of moved on."
The NFL does not expect problems to develop that would prevent the Steelers from playing Sunday at Giants Stadium in the wake of tropical storm Sandy that struck the East Coast this week.
"The stadium apparently is fine," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an email. "We are going to prepare to play and will stay in close touch with public authorities."
Tomlin said: "We'll just simply wait to hear what they have to say or not say in regard to it. In the meanwhile, we're going to proceed with the plans and continue to do so until we hear otherwise."
The Steelers must make a roster move by 4 p.m. today after rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu was reinstated from his two-game suspension.
"Obviously, we're going to do what's best for us professionally here in an effort to win this game this weekend," Tomlin said. "Obviously, he's still in play. Obviously, we've got a decision to make and we'll make it at the appropriate time."
Tomlin said of Ta'amu, arrested two weeks ago on 15 charges after a car chase by police, "He's got in-house issues. Of course, he has legal issues and he has National Football League issues. Such is life."
The Steelers released defensive end Corbin Bryant from their practice squad and added two familiar players to that unit, guard John Malecki and tight end Jamie McCoy.Steelers - mobilehome
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published October 31, 2012 4:00 AM