NFL football in November is finally here. This is the month where teams start to separate themselves into playoff contenders or they start looking at next year. This week (Week Nine) the NFL gave us a Thursday Night matchup of the Tennessee Titans (3-4) at the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3). Neither of these organizations made any moves to buy or sell at the October 31st Trade Deadline, which leads me to believe that they don’t really know where their respective team sits at this point.
The Titans are tied for second place in the AFC South with the Houston Texans, while the Jacksonville Jaguars are starting to pull away with a record of 6-2. The Indianapolis Colts are just one loss back from the Titans and Texans at 3-5. Tennessee has had the 12th most difficult schedule so far this year, playing against teams that have a combined .537 winning percentage. Meanwhile, they’ve only given up eight more points than what they’ve scored, a true middle-of-the-road team.
The Steelers are tied for second place in the AFC North with both the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, while the Baltimore Ravens are also emerging as one of the AFCs best teams at 6-2. Pittsburgh has had the 9th most difficult schedule so far this season, playing teams that have a combined .556 winning percentage. They have struggled to score points though and have given up 35 more points than what they have scored. For having a record of 4-3, you would think they would be on the positive side of the point differential, which might just show they aren’t quite as good as their winning record would indicate.
Tennessee Titans (3-4)
Coming into the 2023 season I had projected the Titans would finish with a 6-11 record, and after tonight, they might be right on track to do just that. Offensively the Titans have struggled this season, even after the addition of DeAndre Hopkins. Their WR room wasn’t much to look at before that, so you can’t expect D-Hop to just carry the load, however, he is leading the team with 31 receptions for 504 yards and three touchdowns. The Titans have not been good in the passing game, ranking 29th in Passing Yards per Game.
Tennessee has excelled on the ground though, where they rank 13th in Rushing Yards per Game, behind Derrick Henry, who is currently 5th in the NFL with 526 Rushing Yards. Total Yards per Game, the Titans are 24th, and Points Per Game they rank 23rd; both indicative of their 3-4 record. Henry was a big name being thrown around at the trade deadline to the Baltimore Ravens, but a deal never got done because Tennessee wanted more than what the Ravens were willing to give up.
Titans QB, Ryan Tannehill has not been playing very well, but luckily for Tennessee, he’s injured and will not being playing this week. Tannehill has completed 62% of his passes for 1,128 yards, six interceptions and only two touchdowns. Ryan’s Passer Rating is a 71.9 and his QBR is a measly 32.7, which is the worst of his career. Tannehill’s replacement: 2023 second-round draft pick, rookie, Will Levis; who was criticized in the preseason, and even surpassed on the depth chart by Malik Willis. Levis saw his first NFL playing time last week and completed 65.5% of his passes for 238 yards, zero INTs and…FOUR TDs. That’s a Passer Rating of 130.5 and QBR of 60.7. We may be witnessing another Drew Bledsoe/Tom Brady type situation here.
Defensively the Titans are only just as good as their offense. They rank 22nd in yards given up per game, 20th in passing yards, and 16th in rushing yards. Tennessee is 13th in points given up per game, and 12th in total sacks with 21, but dead-last in interceptions with only two. They’re tied for 18th in turnover differential with a -2, which is also why they are on the wrong side of .500. Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair leads the team and is tied for 9th overall in tackles with 73, Defensive End Damico Autry is leading the team in sacks with 5, followed by dirty Defensive Tackle, Jeffrey Simmons with 4.5.
Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)
Seeing the Steelers at 4-3 at this point is not a shocker. I predicted them to be 9-8 on the season while playing in the toughest division in the NFL. I said in the beginning of the year that second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett is just not that good; despite Colin Cowherd projecting the Steelers to be a playoff team. Najee Harris is also proving to be grossly overrated, ranking 30th in rushing yards with 313, and an average run of 3.7 yards. IF Pittsburgh loses this game tonight at home against the Titans, you might just see a change of QB for this team as well.
The offensive output from the Steelers will have you wondering how on earth this team has a winning record. Pittsburgh is 30th for Yards Per Game, 28th in Rushing Yards per Game, 25th in Passing Yards per Game, and 29th in Points Scored per Game. Pickett is 26th in passing yards with 1,330. That’s 190 passing yards per game. Kenny is also 28th in TDs with FIVE (reminder: Levis has FOUR in ONE game), 29th in QBR with a 35.5, and 27th in Passer Rating with a score of 80.6. Pickett’s only “saving grace” is that he’s 23rd in interceptions, having only thrown four, and tied for 14th in sacks taken.
I know what you’re thinking: “the defense must be AMAZING!”. No…no, they aren’t. The Steelers are 30th in Yards given up per game, 27th in Rushing Yards Given up per game, and 24th for Passing Yards given up. The good news is that they’re 18th in Points Allowed per game, and are tied for second in the NFL in turnover differential with a +7. Pittsburgh is also 11th in Sacks and tied for 9th in interceptions. Linebacker TJ Watt is tied for third in the NFL and leads the Steelers in Sacks with 8.5, and Cornerback Levi Wallace (who is questionable for tonight) is leading the team in INTs with two. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is leading the team in tackles, is listed as Out for tonight’s game.
It’s not the matchup that anybody asked for, but it’s the one we’re going to get. Looking at the numbers, it would be really easy to pick the Titans to win this game, and to be honest, if they were playing in Tennessee, I think I would probably give them the edge. The Steelers are only 2-2 at home, but the Titans are 0-3 on the road. With rookie QB, Levis going against TJ Watt, and the coaching prowess of Mike Tomlin…I see the Steelers squeaking one out in the end…again. The Titans make too many mistakes, and the Steelers capitalize. Starting Right Tackle, Chris Hubbard is also listed as Out for Tennessee, so look for Watt to take advantage of some mismatches to get in the backfield.
The ONLY way that the Titans pull this off for the W is if they get out in front first and can rely on King Henry to carry to rock often and effectively against the Steelers front that been underwhelming. Final Score: Pittsburgh 20, Tennessee 19. Thanks for the “read”!