You don't hear the word “rebuilding” when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers very often, but that certainly appears to be the case in 2013. It seems like a long time ago that this team played Green Bay in the Super Bowl. The Steelers were "Tebowed" in their wild-card game in 2011 and then missed out on the postseason entirely last year with an 8-8 mark, the team's worst since 2006. The good news is that the previous four years the Steelers missed the playoffs, they returned the following season. I'm not sure how that's going to happen this year after the Steelers lost the likes of Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall, Keenan Lewis, James Harrison, Casey Hampton and Willie Colon. This team must keep Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu healthy, but that is rather unlikely at this point in their careers.
Free $60 in Member NFL Picks No Obligation Click Here
The Titans haven't been to the playoffs since 2008 and finished 6-10 last year in Coach Mike Munchak's second season. I'm a tad surprised he wasn't fired after 2012 as the Titans were embarrassed a few times -- 51-20 to Chicago and 55-7 to Green Bay to name two -- and had one of the worst point differentials in the league at -141. The defense was wretched, allowing a league-high 29.4 points per game.
Titans at Steelers Betting Story Lines
This not only will be a likely make-or-break season for Munchak in Nashville but also quarterback Jake Locker. The former first-round pick is now the unquestioned starter with Matt Hasselbeck having left. Locker's backup is former Bills bust Ryan Fitzpatrick. With an excellent QB class likely waiting in the 2014 draft, the Titans may have to start over at that position if Locker doesn't have a breakthrough season. Locker really needs No. 1 receiver Kenny Britt to stay out of trouble (and healthy). That group could be better with Kendall Wright showing some signs in OTAs after a quiet rookie season and Justin Hunter picked in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Tennessee.
Of course, the Titans have one of the NFL's better backs in Chris Johnson. He was up-and-down last year but still is arguably the best big-play back in the league. The Titans got him a solid backup/change of pace in former Jet Shonn Greene, who will be “Mr. Inside” to Johnson's “Mr. Outside”. The team also emphasized the offensive line, signing former Bills guard Andy Levitre and taking Alabama guard Chance Warmack with the No. 10 overall pick. Tennessee didn't really do a whole lot to fix the defense, however. Maybe the addition of former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as an assistant will help. For some reason, Jerry Gray kept his D-coordinator job even though Tennessee set a franchise record by allowing 471 points, gave up at least 30 points in seven different games and ranked 27th in yards allowed.
Pittsburgh has major questions on the offensive line. Four projected starters are 25 or younger, although one of them is three-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey. The line last year allowed Roethlisberger to get pummeled, and Pittsburgh ranked just 26th in rushing. The Steelers are incorporating new zone blocking schemes under first-year position coach Jack Bicknell Jr. With Mendenhall gone, the running game belongs to Jonathan Dwyer and 2013 second-round pick bulldozer Le'Veon Bell out of Michigan State. Many think Bell will be the starter right away. Roethlisberger remains an elite quarterback and was having one of his best seasons before a shoulder injury. He's played all 16 games just once in his career, and I'd be stunned if he did this year. Losing Wallace is a blow. Bruce Gradkowski is Big Ben's backup, and the team has high hopes down the line for Oklahoma rookie Landry Jones.
The defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL last year, led by a secondary that led the league with just 185.2 yards passing per game. Pretty impressive considering Polamalu played in just seven games. The once-feared linebacking corps is now counting on young players like Jason Worilds and 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones out of Georgia. The defense should always be good as long as coordinator Dick LeBeau sticks around.
Titans at Steelers NFL Week 1 Betting Odds and Trends
At WagerWeb, Pittsburgh is a 6.5-point favorite with the total at 43.5. Tennessee was 6-10 ATS last season (2-6 on the road) and 9-7 “over/under” (5-3 on the road). The Steelers were 6-9-1 ATS (3-4-1 at home) and 7-9 O/U (1-7 at home). They covered just two of their final eight games. The Titans failed to cover their final three road games. Tennessee was 1-4 ATS as an underdog of at least 6.5 points last year.
Titans at Steelers Picks and Week 1 NFL Betting Predictions
These teams met in Nashville on a Thursday night quick turnaround game in Week 6 in 2012. Hasselbeck threw a five-yard touchdown to Britt to tie the game at 23 with a little over four minutes left, and then Rob Bironas kicked his fourth field goal, a 40-yarder as time expired, to win it, 26-23. That was the first game of last season in which Tennessee didn't allow 30 points. Johnson rushed for 91 yards on 19 carries. Big Ben threw for 363 yards and one score. He passed Terry Bradshaw as the team's all-time passing yardage leader. The Steelers played without key defensive players Polamalu and linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Pouncey injured his right leg on the Steelers' first play from scrimmage and was ruled out for the rest of the game.
Tomlin is 3-2 in his career against Tennessee. I don't see any way that Locker will be able to go into Pittsburgh against a presumably healthy defense and move the ball much. The Steelers haven't lost a home opener under Tomlin, winning 10 straight, and won't here. Take Pittsburgh and the under.
Want free NFL picks? Doc’s has you covered. New clients can take advantage of this great offer of $60 in free Doc’s Sports members’ picks for any handicapper on Doc’s Advisory Board. Just check out these guys’ pages and see what great work they have done making money for themselves and their clients over the years. Click here for this exclusive $60 picks offer.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews