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The Battle for the AFC's King of the Hill
The AFC's top two seeds meet this Sunday, as the AFC South Champion Tennessee Titans (12-2) host the AFC North Champion Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3).
The Titans and Steelers are the only AFC teams, so far, to clinch a playoff berth.
While both teams have clinched a first-round playoffs bye, this Sunday's game will likely determine which team gains homefield advantage in the AFC.
A win by the Titans guarantees them the AFC top seed. If the Steelers win, the Steelers would also need a win against the Cleveland Browns the following week to clinch the conference's top seed.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) at Tennessee Titans (12-2)
The Steelers have won 5 straight games and have not allowed an opponent more than 13 points in any of those five games, allowing just 10.2 points per game.
During the current 5-game winning streak, Pittsburgh has outscored its opponents 104-52 while giving up 235.8 yards per game. On offense, the Steelers are averaging 331.2 yards per game and 20.8 points per game. The Steelers time of possession is 33:37 this season, holding their opponents to 26:23.
The Steelers lead the NFL in pass defense (163.3 avg.), total defense (239.1 avg.) and scoring defense (13.7 avg.), and are second in rush defense (75.8 avg.).
The Titans have outscored their opponents by 147 points, or 10.5 points per game. They have accumulated 344 points while allowing 197. Their point differential ranks first in the NFL.
The Titans are 10th in the NFL in scoring (24.6 points per game) and second in the league in opponent scoring (14.1).
The Titans currently rank second in the NFL in scoring defense. They are allowing opponents an average of 14.1 points per game and have kept opponents to 17 points or less in 12 of 14 contests in 2008. The only teams to score more than 17 points on the Titans this season were the Indianapolis Colts (21) on Oct. 27 and the New York Jets (34) on Nov. 23.
Through 14 games, the Titans are allowing their opponents an average of 281.0 net yards per game. That average is good enough to rank fourth in the NFL. The Titans are fifth in pass defense (187.6 per game) and ninth in rushing defense (93.4 per game).
Steelers - Titans Series
The Pittsburgh Steelers are 38-28 in regular season games all-time against the Tennessee Titans, including a 23-11 advantage at home and a 15-17 mark on the road. The Steelers are 1-7 in Tennessee since the Titans moved there in 1997. The Steelers only victory came on November 25, 2001 by a final score of 34-24.
The teams last played September 11, 2005 as Pittsburgh defeated the Titans 34-7 at home. In that game, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes and finished with his first career perfect passer rating. Pittsburgh RB Willie Parker rushed for 161 yards & 1 TD in his NFL start.
NFL 2008 Week 15: Pittsburgh Steelers 13, Baltimore Ravens 9
Pittsburgh won its fifth straight game improving their record to 11-3. The win clinched the AFC North Division title and guaranteed the Steelers a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.
The Steelers came back from a fourth-quarter deficit by scoring 10 points in the final quarter.
After a scoreless first quarter, Baltimore struck first following a 46-yard punt return by Ravens S Jim Leonhard. QB Joe Flacco led the Ravens to the Pittsburgh 10-yard line before the drive stalled, and K Matt Stover came on to hit a 28-yard field goal to give Baltimore a 3-0 advantage.
The Steelers responded with a field goal on the next possession. QB Ben Roethlisberger drove the Steelers deep into Ravens territory, but the Ravens stopped the Steelers inside the red zone. Steelers Kicker Jeff Reed tied the score at 3-3 with a 31-yard field goal.
Baltimore regained the lead when Stover hit a 26-yard field goal with 52 seconds remaining in the first half. The first half ended with a Ravens 6-3 advantage.
The Ravens improved their lead to 9-3 midway through the third quarter when Stover kicked his third field goal of the game (28 yards) following Ed Reed's recovery of a Santonio Holmes fumble at Pittsburgh's 16-yard line.
Five minutes into the final quarter, Reed kicked a 30-yard FG to narrow the Ravens lead to 9-6.
The 9-6 lead came close to holding up as the Ravens pinned the Steelers at their own eight-yard line with 3:36 remaining. But Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 92 yards in 12 plays, culminated by Roethlisberger four-yard TD pass to Holmes with less than one minute remaining.
CB William Gay picked off a Flacco pass intended for WR Derrick Mason to seal the Steelers victory.
Roethlisberger completed 22-of-40 passes for 246 yards with one touchdown for a passer rating of 81.9. WR Hines Ward caught eight passes for 107 yards (13.4 avg.).
Defensively, the Steelers gave up only 202 yards to the Ravens, including 90 net yards passing. DE Aaron Smith and LB Lawrence Timmons had the Steelers' sacks. S Ryan Clark had the Steelers other interception.
NFL 2008 Week 15: Houston Texans 13, Tennessee Titans 12
The Titans suffered their second loss of the season last week at Houston. Four field goals by Rob Bironas were all the Titans could muster in a 13-12 loss. It was the first time this season the Titans did not score a touchdown in a game.
The loss ended the Titans franchise-record string of eight consecutive regular season road wins.
The Titans were unable to capitalize on an opportunity to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. Trailing by one point with 3:55 on the clock in the fourth quarter, they took possession at their own 17-yard line.
Quarterback Kerry Collins connected with Justin Gage for a 34-yard reception to push the ball past midfield. After another first down, Brandon Jones' eight-yard reception left the Titans with a fourth-and-three at the Houston 32.
The Titans elected not to attempt a field goal into the wind. Instead, Collins tried to connect on a pass with Justin McCareins as the receiver streaked down the left sideline. The pass was long, however, and fell incomplete on the first play after the two-minute warning.
Although left with three timeouts, the Titans failed to get the ball back, as Texans rookie running back Steve Slaton tacked on 48 yards and two first downs. Slaton ended the day with 100 yards on 24 carries.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (11-3)
- - The Steelers clinched the AFC North title last week for 2nd consecutive season under head coach MIKE TOMLIN and a first round bye in the AFC playoffs with their 13-9 win over the Ravens last week in Baltimore.
- - The Steelers defense ranks first in the NFL allowing only 13.7 points per game. With the NFL's stingiest defense, the Steelers also rank first in least yard allowed per game (426.2), passing yards allowed (163.3) while ranking second rushing yards allowed (75.8)
- - Pittsburgh is playing for their 6th consecutive win and homefield advantage throughout the playoofs
- - QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER (2,862) needs 138 passing yards to reach 3,000 for a 3rd consecutive season. In only career start vs. the Titans, Roethlisberger completed 9 of 11 passes (81.8 pct.) for 218 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 interceptions & 158.3 passer rating. Including playoffs, the Steelers are 29-2 (.935), when Roethlisberger has 100+ passer rating
- - RB WILLIE PARKER aims for 2nd consecutive game with 100+ yards vs. Tennessee (161 on 9/11/05)
- - In past 3 at Tennessee (including postseason), WR HINES WARDS has totaled 24 receiving for 349 yards (14.5 average) with 4 TDs. WR SANTONIO HOLMES has 2 TDs in past 3
- - Club ranks 2nd in NFL with 47 sacks (Dallas, 53)
- - LB JAMES HARRISON (15) & LB LA MARR WOODLEY (11.5) have totaled 26.5 sacks in 2008. Harrison (15) needs .5 sack to surpass MIKE MERRIWEATHER (15 in 1984) for most sacks in franchise history
- - S TROY POLAMALU has interception in 4 of past 5
TENNESSEE TITANS (12-2)
- - Dating back to 12/16/07, the Titans have won 14 of past 16
- - Since 2007, club is 19-3 (.864) when posting 30+ rush att
- - QB KERRY COLLINS has 12-5 (.705) record as a starter with Tennessee. For his career, Collins is 2-0 against Steelers & has 3 TDs vs. 0 interceptions & 94.4 passer rating
- - Rookie RB CHRIS JOHNSON (1st round, No. 24) ranks 2nd in AFC with 1,159 rush yards. Johnson is averaging 108.6 rush yards per game in past 3 (326 total). RB LEN DALE WHITE (14) needs 1 rush TD to surpass EDDIE GEORGE (14 in 2000) for 2nd-most rush TDs in franchise history. Has rush TD in 2 of past 3
- - WR JUSTIN GAGE averages 18.9 yards per catch in 2008 (29 receptions for 547 yards)
- - TE BO SCAIFE has career-high in receptions (53) & receiving yards (528) in 2008
- - CB CORTLAND FINNEGAN & S MICHAEL GRIFFIN are tied for 2nd in NFL with 5 interceptions (6 others have 5)
- - Defense ranks 2nd in NFL allowing 14.1 pts per game
- - S CHRIS HOPE spent 4 seasons with Steelers (2002-05) & registered 32 starts.
PREDICTION: Tennessee Titans 17, Pittsaburgh Steelers 14
The Titans and Steelers are essentially mirror-images of each other. No wonder they're the best two teams in the NFL this season. Perhaps, the Steelers and Titans are, currently, the best two teams in the NFL.
The Titans 2 losses this season in the end will add up to aberrations. Ironically, this week's game against the Steelers would have been meaningless if not for the Titans loss last week to the Texans.
In 2008 the Titans have only one material weakness. The Titans rank 20th in the NFL with a 29:41 average time of possession which play right into the Steelers hands.
However, the Titans are second in the NFL in turnover differential. They have 18 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries to give them 27 takeaways. Meanwhile, they have committed 17 turnovers to give them a ratio of plus-10. The Steelers have thrived on turnovers this season and have been able to turnaround and win games against their competition.
The lack of turnovers and, ultimately, home field advantage this week will lead to a Titans 17-14 victory.