Q. Why is this game so important?
A. The Tennessee Titans (12-2) play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) this Sunday in a battle for supremacy. By defeating the Titans, Pittsburgh would most likely clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs and take over as the top seed in the AFC.
Q. How well is each team playing this late into the season?
A. The Steelers are fresh off a 13-9 defeat of the Baltimore Ravens last week. By winning a game in which they did not take a lead until the final few minutes of play, Pittsburgh was able to clinch the AFC North for the second year in a row.
They also silenced the critics who thought the Ravens No. 2-ranked defense could out perform the Steelers No. 1 ranked.
The Titans are recovering from last weeks embarrassing 13-12 loss to their division rivals, the Houston Texans. With 1:55 left in the game, head coach Jeff Fisher made the questionable call to pass on 4th-down instead of kicking a field goal that was well in range for kicker Rob Bironas.
The loss dropped the Titans to a single game lead in the AFC standings.
Q. How will injury factor into the game for both teams?
A. Going into the game Pittsburgh appears to be fortunate injury wise. Though it is not reflected in their performance, the Steelers defense is sore and tired. As of Thursday, all defensive players were listed as probable. Offensive tackle Marvel Smith did not practice and it's once again doubtful he'll play Sunday.
Tennessee will suffer a blow to their defensive front after loosing Pro Bowl nose tackle Albert Haynesworth for the remainder of the regular season due to a knee injury last week. Also ruled out of the game is defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch who is bothered by a groin injury.
Q. What does each team need to do to win?
The Pittsburgh Steelers:
If the Steelers are to walk away with a victory, they are going to need to beat a Titans defense ranked fifth against the pass and ninth against the rush. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians needs to take advantage of the Titans injury plagued defensive line, and establish a strong running game.
Arians has a lot of depth at RB, so hopefully he will use it. He should splits carries with Mewelde Moore and Willie Parker, while giving short-yardage situations to full back Carey Davis.
Chances are the Steelers will have a rough time on offense based on past performances. The offensive line needs to step it up and open holes for the ball carriers and protect Ben Roethlisberger.
If given the time, Big Ben should be able to pick apart the Titans secondary and produce decent numbers through the air. Nate Washington will be a great target given his incredible speed and ability to make big plays.
The Tennessee Titans
The Titans have enjoyed a stellar run game all season. Chris Johnson has used his outstanding speed and quick moves to make huge gains and score points. Lendale White handles the short yardage and red zone duties with ease.
They do face one problem though. They have not faced a defense as stingy as the Steelers. Pittsburgh has done a swell job against every running attack it has defended. Tennessee needs to try to establish their running game early and keep it going.
If they are unable to make progress running, then they need to develop a passing game. In the past few weeks veteran QB Kerry Collins performance has began to decline.
This is also the case with some of their receivers. If they want to be productive through the air, Collins needs to step up and complete passes. WR Justin Gage and TE Alge Crumpler are both threats to make big plays and will if given the opportunity.
Q. Based on both teams' performances in past games this season, what kind of game should be expected?
A. This game will be a defensive battle between two top-ranked teams. Chances are that neither the Steelers nor Titans will produce much on offense. Pittsburgh kicker Jeff Reed and Tennessee Kicker Kris Brown will both be called upon frequently.
Both kickers need to be accurate and make the kicks if they want to win. Its going to be a close game but the team who can defend the best and find a way to score will come out on top.
I think that Pittsburgh will come out with the victory. They will do a top-notch job at shutting down the offense, which is why they are going to win. Pittsburgh is going to struggle offensively the whole game but will find a way to score points.
As was the case during the last two games the Steelers have played, it will be a low-scoring game won with defense. It most likely will also be won with a late-game surge from Big Ben and crew.
Pittsburgh 12, Titans 10