But, the Steelers will need more than 9 wins to earn at least the 3rd seed in the AFC. In fact, for the Steelers to earn one of the top two seeds (due to the tie), they would most likely have to go no worse than 6–1 in the final 7 games. With the game at Tampa Bay staring us right in the face as the most probable loss, this week's game against Tennessee becomes very important.
The Steelers not only need to win this week in Tennessee to keep the pace for one of the top 2 seeds in the AFC (and a bye), but also they need a big win to calm their nerves. As our own Dirtwinston asked earlier this week, "Is 34 points no longer good enough for a Steeler defense?"
I mentioned in my Steeler Power Core Preview back in August that the Steeler defense would need to be bailed out more than once by the offense. It's very difficult in today's NFL for one defensive unit to lead the league two years in a row.
My problem with the defense is that they aren't getting off the field consistently like they did last season. Sure, the offense is striking quicker than we are accustomed to, but more often than not, the defense allows what used to be 6-play drives and then punt to be 9-play drives and a punt or field goal.
Pittsburgh – NFL Rank 18 (Rush 4th, Pass 26th): The Steelers have been burned on 3rd downs consistently this year. The Falcons converted three 3rd and 20+ plays last week. For all their speed, the defense is susceptible up the center, more than it should be with James Farrior, Casey Hampton, and Kendrell Bell. They need to attack a hobbled Steve McNair (if he even starts)
Tennessee – NFL Rank 19 (Rush 12th, Pass 23rd): Tennessee faces a dilemma. Do they try to stop Tommy Maddox or the ground game? Maddox has shown the ability to be successful without the rushing attack. So look for the Titans to force Maddox to go for his hot reads and the underneath stuff. They may not have depth to completely double Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward all game, so the chances of a big play are there for the taking.
Advantage: I like the Steelers but they will come out one week and play up to last year's level and the next they look awful.
Pittsburgh – NFL Rank 5 (Rush 9th, Pass 9th) The return of Jerome Bettis will be helpful in the 4th quarter. Burress had two huge games last year against Tennessee and looks primed to once again show why he is a monster. Look for a number of trick plays, since the Titans will be aggressive on defense. The Steelers have run 12 trick plays in the last two weeks.
Tennessee – NFL Rank 24 (Rush 21st, Pass, 20th) The Titans are on a 4-game winning streak due to their ability to run the ball. They have averaged 32 attempts and 137 yards per game on the ground. A huge dose of Eddie George will be prescribed. But look out for Derrick Mason deep on Chad Scott.
Advantage: The Steeler offense shapes up as one of the most potent and diverse.
Touchdown Tommy Maddox leads the AFC with 8.1 yards per completion. He needs to get through a game though without an interception. This may be the week.
Steve McNair might not play because of turf toe, but he's beaten us when he's had worse ailments. But, if McNair can't go then it's everyone's favorite Benedict Arnold, Neil O'Donnell who will start.
Advantage: I'm giving Maddox the advantage today. He'll have big day through the air with Ward and Burress.
Outlook: In my Apple Pie I said that the Steelers would lose by 3. But, now that I look even closer (McNair might not play, weak secondary), I'll flip it. I'm following Vegas and giving the Steelers the win by 3.
--The Steel Apple