Steelers Titans NFL Opening Game Preview
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 9/8/2009
The spoils are many with a Super Bowl win. One of the most overlooked benefits of capturing the Super Bowl Trophy is something that happens seven months after all the victory parades and trips to Disney World.
Since 2004 the NFL has awarded the defending Super Bowl champions a home game to kick off the NFL season on the Thursday after Labor Day and two days before anybody else takes the field.
The NFL kickoff game, as it has come be know, comes complete with a pre-game concert, presentations honoring the home team and so far a win for the home team.
Since the league started playing the game in the defending champions' stadium, the home team is 5-0 SU and 4-0-1 ATS.
This season the six-time Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Tennessee Titans Thursday night at Heinz Field on the North Side of Pittsburgh at 8:30 p.m. ET.
The Steelers opened as five-point favorites at most sportsbooks and even as low as 4.5-point favorites at others. As the game approaches most books have bumped Pittsburgh up to a six-point favorite. The total has remained steady at most places at 35.
In years past during the NFL opening game the combination of the emotional pre-game presentation and the atmosphere of the home crowd on a Thursday night nationally televised game has proved to be somewhat of a difference.
In 2004 the defending champion New England Patriots got past the Indianapolis Colts, 27-24. That was the only game where the host did not cover, the three-point favorite Patriots pushed. In 2005 the Patriots won, 30-20, as 7.5-point favorites over the Raiders.
At the very same field as Thursday night's game, the Pittsburgh Steelers opened their title defense with a 28-17 win over the Miami Dolphins in a game where the Steelers were only one-point favorites.
The last two seasons it was the Colts (41-10 over the Saints) and the Giants (16-7 over the Redskins) easily covering the point spread.
Some may consider the situation a little different this season. It was the Titans who looked as if they would be wearing Super Bowl rings and playing the NFL opener at home. They opened the season 10-0, and even after two regular season losses still bounced back and throttled Pittsburgh, 31-14, in Nashville. If not for a couple unlucky bounces, it may have been the Titans once again hosting the Steelers in the AFC title game. As it turned out the Ravens upset Tennessee and advanced to the AFC title game that was played in Pittsburgh.
Tennessee, one of the most undervalued teams last season even during the 10-0 stretch to start the season, thrives as an underdog. The Titans are 7-0 ATS in the last seven games when it found itself as an underdog of 3.5-10 points. The last two seasons Tennessee has started the season with wins, 13-10, at Jacksonville as 7.5-point underdogs two years ago and against the Jags, this time at home, 17-10, as three-point underdogs.
On the other hand the Steelers, maybe more so than any other defending Super Bowl Champion, will benefit the greatest from the home field atmosphere. The Steelers thrived under the lights last year, winning both night playoff games at Heinz Field. During the regular season the Steelers went 3-0 SU in primetime games and overall on the season the Steelers were 5-0 SU and 4-1 ATS in primetime.
In terms of personnel the Steelers return nearly entirely intact from a year ago while the Titans have undergone some noticeable changes. The loss of Albert Haynesworth may be the biggest loss any team faced in the offseason. The loss of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to the Detroit Lions is an overlooked loss but a critical one nonetheless.
The addition of Nate Washington, a former Steelers No. 3 wide receiver, may be one of the most overrated additions in the offseason. Washington was a mere footnote in the Steelers passing attack that revolved and will continue to revolve around Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward and Heath Miller. The Titans receiving corps is one of the worst in the league and will remain so. The odds are against journeyman Kerry Collins duplicating his 2008 success. The Titans' running game is still dynamic but the Steelers return nearly everyone from the top rush defense in the NFL a year ago.
Last year's score may be a little misleading to some bettors. Tennessee did win the game, 31-14, but the Steelers led late in the third quarter, 14-10, and were in comfortable control until a Titans' fourth-and-one conversion turned into a Chris Johnson 21-yard touchdown run. The Titans added another score in the fourth quarter to pull ahead, 24-14, and a last chance desperation Steelers pass was intercepted for an 83-yard touchdown.
And in case the Steelers or their faithful needed any other reason to hate the Titans, last year's Terrible Towel stomping issue is still fresh in many people's minds. LenDale White and Keith Bulluck stomped on the Steelers signature rallying towel in last year's regular season meeting and the footage quickly circulated around the league. Before this year's game White said he would do it again.
The Cincinnati Bengals were the last team to publicly deface the Terrible Towel. They did it after a 38-31 regular season win in 2005. One month and four days later in the AFC Wild Card Round the Steelers rolled over the Bengals, 31-17, on the road.
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