2002 Season NFL Football Past Picks

January 11, 2003

This pick was released to clients on August 13, 2012 at 5:05PM ET.


Pittsburgh at Tennessee

Saturday 01/11 04:30 PM Eastern

4 units on Tennessee -4 (-110) (risk 4 to return 7.64)  RESULT: LOSS

In a postseason full of hot teams, Tennessee is the hottest. They remind me a little of last year’s New England Patriots – not dominate statistically but they find a way to win. They never blew anyone out in the regular season, and aside for a stellar run defense, they are middle-of-road in all meaningful statistical categories. Pittsburgh, as everyone knows, is riding Tommy Maddox to the W column. This is the toughest of the four games this week to call. But I do like Tennessee for the reasons below.

The last matchup between these two teams was one of Pittsburgh’s and Tommy Maddox’s worst performances. Tennessee won the game and held Maddox to 194 yards on 50% passing and one TD to three picks before knocking him out of the game. Tennessee had a comfortable 31-7 lead in the fourth quarter of that game. Edge: Titans.

How about injuries? The bye week will undoubtedly help ailing Titans Steve McNair and Eddie George. The Steelers are without safety Mike Logan, lost last game to a knee injury. Pittsburgh might have DB Chad Scott back for this game but could be without impact LB Kendrell Bell. Bell is a crucial part of that stingy Steelers run defense. If he can’t go full speed, it will have a big impact. Edge: Titans.

These teams are very close statistically. Both run the ball well (Pit 131 per game, Ten 121 per game) and defend the run well (Pit 86 ypg, Ten 89 ypg). Pittsburgh has a very slight edge in offensive categories while Tennessee has the better defense, especially over the last 11 games. During this time period, Tennessee is allowing just 15 points per game, putting them in the same league as Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. And, the Titans did not have Jevon Kearse in those games. He is back and expects to play the entire game this weekend. Edge: Titans.

Can anyone match up against the league’s best receiver threesome? If anyone can, it is Tennessee CB Samari Rolle. This guy is exuberant and cocky and backs it up with great aggressive play. You need someone with the moxie and pride of Rolle to step up to this challenge. On the other side of the ball, McNair has to be foaming at the mouth after watching Kelly Holcomb light up the Steelers’ secondary for 429 yards and three touchdowns last week.

While most teams give up on the run against Pittsburgh, I believe Tennessee will not. In their first meeting this year, Tennessee ran the ball 40 times which led to 36 minutes of possession. Even though they only got 3 yards per carry, they controlled the game.

As I said, this game is a close call. It may just come down to big plays, where Tennessee has the edge. They get ‘em, while the Steelers tend to allow ‘em. One measure of big plays is points per yard. You want this number to be high for your offense and low for your defense. Tennessee scores more points per yard gained than Pittsburgh and the Steelers allows more points per yard than any other team in this year’s playoffs (including the four that exited last week). Just look at what Cleveland did to Pittsburgh last week. Kelly Holcomb riddled the Steelers with deep passes on the outside all day long. Dennis Northcutt scored on two long pass plays and if he didn’t drop a 3rd and 12 pass in the bread basket in the fourth quarter, Cleveland would be playing this weekend and Pittsburgh players would be at home on the couch.

Tennessee has home field advantage and extra week of rest. Pittsburgh meanwhile, is coming off just six days of rest. And I give the coaching edge to Tennessee. Jeff Fisher and his team know how to win in the playoffs. They were one foot away from being crowned 2000 Super Bowl champions. Bill Cowher, although an excellent coach, is 0-2 in road playoff games with the Steelers.

Close call but I am going with the Titans.



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