Titans Need Win To Clinch AFC's Top Seed

By: Teresa M. Walker, Associated Press
By: Teresa M. Walker, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans will give the NFL the kind of show Sunday the league wants in late December and so rarely gets.

Home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs is on the line. The Titans hold the NFL's best record at 12-2, with Pittsburgh at 11-3, in only the sixth game since 1995 pitting teams with five or fewer losses combined in the final two weeks of the season.

The formula is simplest for Tennessee: win, and the AFC road to the Super Bowl runs through Music City. Pittsburgh must win out, first beating the Titans and then downing Cleveland in the regular-season finale.

"This is about as big as they get for a regular-season game," Titans center Kevin Mawae said.

"It's going to be one of those everybody wants to watch because there's a lot to play for. Playing for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs is a huge factor in who gets to the Super Bowl and who has the easier road. There's nothing easy about it. But hopefully, we'll come out on top."

The Steelers last had home-field advantage in 2004 and won the 2006 Super Bowl despite having to go on the road for every game. The New York Giants knocked off the NFC's No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the last playoffs en route to their own championship.

That doesn't mean the Steelers, who have won five straight to contend for the top seed, including last week's 13-9 win over Baltimore, don't want it now.

"That's why we play, to be here in Pittsburgh," Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "Looking into it a month ago, everybody was thinking there was no way we could get it, but if we go out there and play well Sunday, we have a shot at it."

These teams haven't met since the 2005 opener, but this marks the revival of an old AFC Central rivalry.

Tennessee has played only Cincinnati more than the Steelers since 1970, and Pittsburgh holds a 38-28 lead overall. Yet the Titans have dominated this series in winning 11 of the last 15. Pittsburgh has won only once in eight games in Tennessee since the former Houston Oilers relocated in 1997.

Steelers receiver Hines Ward said he isn't looking forward to coming to Tennessee with so much on the line. In the Steelers' last regular-season game in Nashville, then-Pittsburgh quarterback Tommy Maddox had to be taken from the field in an ambulance and Steelers linebacker Joey Porter had hot chicken broth tossed on him by the Titans' strength coach.

"It's a hostile place to play there," Ward said.

"Coach (Jeff) Fisher has been in the league it seems like for ages; since I've been in the league he's been there. He's going to get those boys jacked up. Any time you're playing in Tennessee, they're a passionate city, they love their Titans, and I'm pretty sure nobody expected them to be at where they are this year but they're doing a tremendous job."

The NFL's top two scoring defenses will be on display.

Pittsburgh is allowing a mere 13.7 points per game, just ahead of Tennessee's 14.1. The Steelers can set an NFL record if they hold the Titans to less than 300 yards, something they've done in each of the first 14 games this season to match the 1973 Los Angeles Rams.

Tennessee will be without Pro Bowl tackle Albert Haynesworth because of a sprained knee and end Kyle Vanden Bosch (groin), with rookie Jason Jones replacing Haynesworth. But Steelers linebacker James Farrior said the Titans are a little like themselves defensively.

"When we go up against these teams with good defenses, we definitely have a chip on our shoulder and want to try to outplay them. We know that's not the most important part of the game. The most important part is winning. But we definitely want to try to outplay their defense," Farrior said.

Ben Roethlisberger has provided the spark late in games for a Pittsburgh team that has struggled offensively, running around to give receivers time to get open. Last week, he drove the Steelers 92 yards for the winning touchdown inside the final minute for the 17th fourth-quarter comeback of his career.

Kerry Collins struggled in the Titans' 13-12 loss at Houston, and LenDale White and Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson were limited to 100 yards combined. The Titans have lost five of their 17 turnovers in the past two games and must eliminate mistakes that led to 20 penalties in that stretch.

"We definitely feel like we've got some redeeming to do this weekend," Collins said.

Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck can't wait for this game and predicts any players not aware of the rivalry will learn quickly.

"The guys can get a feel of what the rivalry was," Bulluck said. "They know what's at stake and what we're playing for, as well as getting their first glimpse of what it's going to be like in January."


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