Steelers-Titans: The AFC's Top Two Square off in Nashville

Leo HayesCorrespondent IDecember 14, 2008

Week 15 was very exciting in the NFL with many rivals meeting to determine who advances in the season. Week 16 can match that intensity as the likely one and two seeds in the AFC playoffs going head-to-head.

The Steelers are coming off of a huge win to secure a playoff appearance, continuing a very impressive run against talented teams. The Titans, however, lost to the Texans today, meaning that this matchup can do a lot to determine playoff seeding.

This game will mean everything to both teams. For the Steelers, this includes having run the gauntlet of the toughest schedule in 25 years and finishing with the best record in the conference. For the Titans it will mean getting that much closer to the best season in their history. For both it will do much to determine who earns home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Expect the Steelers defense to continue to show up against tough opponents and create pressure for Collins. At the same time expect the Titans defense to do some of the same against Pittsburgh.

The difference here is that the Steelers defense is much more tested, and has passed the test better than anyone, ranking first in many categories of defensive statistics. The Titans, however, have struggled in a few games, and haven't faced as many high caliber offenses.

The defense of Pittsburgh also does something better than anyone else: creating pressure on the quarterback and causing sacks. When we examine the Titans loss to the Texans, a big part it was the amount of pressure that the Texans put on Collins, making him quite uncomfortable.

If the Texans could get to Collins and make him play poorly, you can count on the Steelers doing the same, and doing it better. 

When Collins is under this pressure players like Polamalu and Clark will be flying around the field picking off the errant passes. Turnovers don't help against any team, and against Pittsburgh it usually means losing.

The way the Titans can balance this out is doing much of what Baltimore did and changing up their line formations, willingly sacrificing one or two receivers, and putting extra blockers on the Pittsburgh pass rushers.

This will give Collins a little more time to throw, but it does sacrifice receivers, which will not help against Pittsburgh's top ranked passing defense which allowed only 90 passing yards against Baltimore.

The Titans can also use a running attack, but against a top-ranked rushing defense in Pittsburgh this will only go so far. The Titans must establish a balance quickly and find some way to slow down a top ranked pass rush from Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have also shown very good signs of improving their offense against a second ranked Baltimore defense. The Steelers out-matched Baltimore throughout much of the game in terms of offensive yards gained, it was only poor field position that enabled Baltimore to gain an early lead. 

As the game progressed, however, Pittsburgh began to find their offensive strengths, and when they needed offense, Ben Roethlisberger shouldered the game and led his team to the 17th game-winning drive of his career in the fourth quarter. If Pittsburgh can use the momentum from the end of the win against Baltimore it will be very difficult for Tennessee to win the game.

Tennessee must find a way to exploit Pittsburgh's weakness, the offensive line, if they hope to win. Pittsburgh, however, showed improvements in this category, as well, allowing three sacks against a very good Ravens defense who were playing for the division against a hated rival.

The running game of the Steelers is beginning to perform, which was difficult against a defense like the one found in Baltimore, and Tennessee must work to prevent the Steelers from establishing themselves in this area, above all else, if they hope to win. In games where the Steelers had a running back with 99 or more yards, they are 5-0.

In fact the Steelers are 18-2 in the past three years when they have a running back with 99 or more yards.

The Steelers' passing attack has also matured as of late with Roethlisberger throwing for over 630 yards in the past three games. Big Ben has also thrown four touchdowns and only one interception during that span.

In the past four games Tennessee has played Houston, Cleveland, Detroit, and the Jets. Tennessee lost two of the four, only managing to beat winless Detroit and a Cleveland team that was on their third string quarterback, Ken Dorsey, and in a downward spiral toward the bottom of the league.

Meanwhile they lost one of those games to a Jets team that has managed to lose to teams like San Diego, San Fransisco, and Oakland. They also lost to a Texans team that has only become a .500 team after beating the Titans. 

The Steelers however have beaten teams like New England, and Dallas, and Baltimore in consecutive weeks. Not only have the Steelers won, but they have shown that they are a very complete team, especially defensively, that does not need to rely on any one player to win a game.

Though the Titans have more wins and are currently the best team in the AFC, the Steelers should win this game if they continue to play at their current level. I predict the Steelers to win 28-10. 

That being said, this is the most dangerous Steelers team that I have seen in a long time; they are playing a very similar style to the team that won the Super Bowl in the 2005-2006 season, except with an even better defense this time around. The Steelers are prepared for a strong playoff run with a great chance of ending in Tampa with a record sixth ring to show for it.