This game is huge: in a possible preview of this year's AFC championship game, both the Titans and Steelers are guaranteed a first-round bye; whichever team wins this week is nearly guaranteed home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
At 12-2, Tennessee has the easier road; all they have to do is prevail against the Steelers and the top seed is theirs. A somewhat meaningless game against the Colts at Indy would give them an extra week to rest some of their starters, although allowing the Colts to enter the postseason on a winning streak could come back to bite them later.
On the other hand, Pittsburgh has to take care of business in Nashville first, then go home to face Cleveland, which is never pretty.
At 11-3, the Steelers need both wins for the top seed.
However, if Steelers fans are pulling for the No. 1 seed thinking this will give them the best chance of making it to the big show, they may want to look at history. The last time Pittsburgh held homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, they lost the AFC Championship to New England.
Pittsburgh's successful Super Bowl XXL run in 2005-2006 was done entirely on the road; Tennessee sat that year out, which made the Steelers road easier.
The last time Pittsburgh played the Titans in the playoffs, they lost...in Nashville.
But those games are in the past, right? I mean, these are two totally different teams.
The Steelers are smaller on offense in years past, but they are faster. Their once-suspect defensive secondary has turned the corner and leads the league in pass defense—finally keeping pace with the run defense, which has always been stalwart.
In addition, Ben Roethlisberger is on the road to having a Hall of fame career, with a better passer rating at this point in his career than both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, two of the last three Super Bowl quarterbacks and potential Hall of Famers he is frequently compared to.
On a side note, he's also the only one of the three to have a passer rating over 100 in his first five years in the league.
And what about the Titans? They are bigger than ever, and even with a 320-pound hole in their front four, these Titans have been stingy against the run. They also have Pro Bowl defensive backs in Cortland Finnegan and Chris Hope, and like the Steelers are averaging less than 300 yards of total offense allowed per game.
Funny thing about history, though; it tends to repeat itself until you learn from it.
If the Steelers win out and become the last stop on the way to Tampa, you just know that the sportswriters are going to jump all over the last AFC championship game played in Pittsburgh.
On the other hand, if the Titans prevail this week, and the Steelers and Titans make it back to the championship game, you just know that the sportswriters are going to jump all over the last playoff game against these two in Nashville.
Either way, Pittsburgh needs to be ready: I can think of at least one writer who will find something to make the Steelers the underdog no matter where the championship game is held.
Are you reading this, Pete Prisco??