TENNESSEE AT PITTSBURGH
The Steelers didn’t look so hot in the pre-season. The offensive line looked like they will continue having trouble keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright and rookie RB Le’Veon Bell was lost for a few weeks to injury. Add in the fact that WR Mike Wallace now plays in Miami and TE Heath Miller is out with a knee injury. But the likely key for Pittsburgh this year will be that offensive coordinator Todd Haley now appears to be on the same page with Big Ben after a bumpy first season in 2012. With Roethlisberger healthy at the moment, and the preseason never being much of an indicator of what will happen when the real games start, it’s reasonable to expect that the Steelers offense won’t be too bad.
The Titans defense allowed a league-worst 29.4 points per game in 2012. Improving the defense may have been at the top of their agenda this offseason, and bringing in new defensive coordinator Gregg “Go For the Head” Williams and late-hit specialist Bernard Pollard won’t hurt (actually, they likely will hurt someone this season), but they aren’t gonna turn into the ’85 Bears overnight. Big Ben often does his best work under pressure, so even if the allegedly now-healthy O-line isn’t quite ready for prime time, Roethlisberger still has Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and speedy rookie Markus Wheaton as improv partners at wide receiver for when plays break down.
On the other side of the ball, I think this total is a relatively low 42 because people think of the Steelers as a defensively dominant team (and rightfully so: they gave up a league low 275 yards/game last year). I expect the Steelers defense to be very good again this year: Troy Polamalu is healthy (for now) and even though LB James Harrison is gone, Pittsburgh has historically been fine following the departure of big-name LBs (Joey Porter, Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland, and Chad Brown all left the Steel City and the sky never fell). So yea, I’m sure this could be a long day on the road for the Titans young QB Jake Locker. But Tennessee has built up a potentially dominant offensive line to open holes for RB Chris Johnson. He’s bound to break off a couple big runs, and Locker also has the nifty feet to escape some pressure and make a few plays himself. Even last year’s great defense in Pittsburgh still gave up close to 20 points per game. So if the Steelers can hang 24 or 28 points on this Titans defense, which they should be able to, this game should go over the total of 42 pretty easily.
I also think there’s a public perception that a Steelers-Titans game should be a grinding low-scoring affair. First, obviously the Steelers are involved and playing at home; but also the Titans are not thought of as any kind of offensive juggernaut. Add to that a couple games we all might remember: a few years ago on the opening Thursday Night Kickoff game, the then-champion Steelers struggle to eke out a 13-10 victory against the Titans and that ugly 19-11 game these teams played in 2010. But the Steelers-Titans games from the last 2 seasons actually averaged a total of 53 points. In fact, 8 of the last 10 Steelers-Titans matchups in Pittsburgh have gone over the total and 9 of the last 11 Steelers Week 1 games have also gone over the total. BEST BET: Steelers-Titans OVER 42.