NFL Kickoff Preview: Tennessee at Pittsburgh

Charlie Boccanegra | Updated Oct 04, 2017

Sports betting enthusiasts rejoice – it’s finally here! The 2009 National Football League season kicks off tomorrow night with a grudge match between the AFC’s top two seeds from a season ago – the Tennessee Titans (+6.5) and Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s break down the specifics:

When Pittsburgh has the ball…

All eyes will be on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben had a tumultuous offseason, dealing with accusations of sexual harassment and the subsequent media scrutiny. How that affects his focus remains to be seen, but all the familiar faces surrounding him on the Pittsburgh offense should have his comfort level high. All the key pieces are back: Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward at receiver; the one-two RB combo of Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall and TE Heath Miller, Roethlisberger’s receiving security blanket from the last few seasons. The big question, of course, is if Pittsburgh will be able to put up points against a stout Titans defense. Tennessee allowed an average of only 14.6 points per game last season and is a nightmare to run the ball against. Even with All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth now plying his trade in Washington, Tennessee’s defensive front of Jevon Kearse, Tony Brown, Jason Jones and sackmaster Kyle Vanden Bosch is still a force.

When Tennessee has the ball…

The Titans will have to be wary of the “Blitzburgh” defense. Simply put, there’s not a finer 3-4 linebacking group in the NFL – LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons and reigning defensive player of the year James Harrison can get after the quarterback like nobody’s business. And on Thursday, the quarterback in question is 36-year-old Kerry Collins, a solid game-manager but one that lacks the foot speed and elusiveness to handle the blitz. Thankfully for Collins, he’s got a dynamic running game to take the pressure off. In LenDale White and Chris Johnson – the “Thunder & Lighning” backfield – the Titans can run the ball 35-40 times a game and feel comfortable doing it. Johnson ran for 1228 yards a season ago while found the end zone 15 times. The big question for the Titans is if they can move the ball effectively through the air – with projected No. 1 wideout Nate Washington still dealing with hamstring injury, the WR depth is weak. That leaves things up to Justin Gage and rookie Kenny Britt, neither of whom seems capable of handling a large receiving load.

Best bet…

Tennessee is a big moneyline underdog, currently listed at 3.35 at Sports Interaction. However, this makes for a tantalizing play when you consider the Titans whipped the Steelers 31-14 last year (and set off a furor when LenDale White did a sideline stomping of Pittsburgh’s Terrible Towel). So there’s something to think about. When it comes time to bet on NFL football, be sure to pay attention to the Over/Under for this contest – it’s currently listed at 35 points, a reasonably low number for two teams that averaged 21.7 (Pittsburgh) and 23.4 points respectively a season ago.