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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 6:30 PM

For a team projected by many to be fighting for the AFC championship in January, the Pittsburgh Steelers sure have looked bad on the road this year! They hope to put an end to that alarming development Thursday Night in Tennessee, against a Titans team that has been one of the worst in the league so far in 2012.

Of course, you can say the same thing about the Oakland Raiders in terms of being one of the worst teams, and they just beat Pittsburgh a few weeks ago 34-31!

Oakland’s other games:

San Diego 22, Oakland 14 (Raiders missed the spread by 9)

Miami 35, Oakland 13 (Raiders missed the spread by 23)

Denver 37, Oakland 6 (Raiders missed the spread by 24)

Oakland’s been awful…but they won when hosting Pittsburgh. The Steelers also had a poor result in their season opener at Denver, losing 31-19 to a Broncos team that hasn’t posted any other good results vs. playoff contenders. 

That gives some hope to a Tennessee team that’s only been competitive one time in five…and that was because they scored three non-offensive touchdowns in a game they barely won against Detroit! The Titans lost their other games by 21, 28, 24, and 23 points. Since the Detroit win was in overtime, you can see that the same thing would have happened vs. the Lions if not for the three non-offensive scores.

If Pittsburgh is truly a serious championship contender, then they can probably name the score Thursday Night in Tennessee. But, if this is a team that only shines at home, then finds its weaknesses exposed in hostile territory...things could get very interesting indeed.  Let’s see what some of our indicator stats say about this Steelers-Titans showdown...

PITTSBURGH STEELERS at TENNESSEE TITANS (8:20 p.m. on NFL NETWORK)

Las Vegas Spread: Pittsburgh by 5.5, total of 42.5

The market has Pittsburgh rated about 8 to 9 points better on a neutral field, meaning they’d be -11 or -12 if this game were in the Steel City. That’s higher than the -4 Pittsburgh was laying in Oakland. It’s also nowhere near the typical losing margin for the Titans this year. Arguably the spread isn’t a big deal here. It’s either going to be a blowout or a nailbiter depending on what Pittsburgh brings to the table. Tennessee has established that they can’t do anything against anybody who knows what they’re doing.

WON-LOST RECORDS

Pittsburgh: 2-2 (at Denver, vs. NY Jets, at Oakland, vs. Philadelphia)

Tennessee: 1-4 (vs. New England, at San Diego, vs. Detroit, at Houston, at Minnesota)

We’ve run through much of this already. Tennessee is really an 0-5 team that might be a 2-14 caliber team with their current roster, attitude, and head coach. Everybody’s down in the dumps after that tough start. The offense isn’t moving for either Locker or Hasselbeck. One of the great running backs of recent times is suddenly a mannequin in the backfield. Pittsburgh looks like an 11-5 type team at home, but a 7-9 type team on the road. Do you want to ask for a TD victory or more from a team that doesn’t have any road credentials?

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL

Pittsburgh: +2

Tennessee: -6

Pittsburgh is showing improvement after last year’s extreme disappointment in this stat. But, plus two after a month of action isn’t a sign that the old Steel Curtain intimidation factor is in play. The defense has only forced five turnovers in four games. And, continuing with the home/road theme, Pittsburgh is +3 at home but -1 on the road. Those mapping out the future of the AFC race may learn a lot about the Steelers true hopes in Thursday’s game. They’re just not scaring people any more and they need to start!

OFFENSIVE STATS

Pittsburgh: 347.8 yards-per-game on 5.1 yards-per-play

Tennessee: 305.0 yards-per-game on 5.2 yards-per-play

Pittsburgh’s posted more raw yardage because they have a veteran quarterback who knows how to move the chains. Tennessee moves in fits and starts, and padded their stats in their one good game vs. Detroit (437 yards to go along with their cheap scores vs. a Detroit team that may have been very overrated entering the season). Virtually the same yards-per-play here…but Pittsburgh knows what to do with their yards.

DEFENSIVE STATS

Pittsburgh: 280.0 yards-per-game on 5.1 yards-per-play

Tennessee: 423.8 yards-per-game on 5.9 yards-per-play

This is a mismatch obviously. Tennessee has one of the worst defenses of the past few years, though a killer opening schedule has helped magnify their problems. It would be easier to cut them some slack if they hadn’t been so dominated by Minnesota last week at the point of attack. There’s no comparison right now between these defenses.

LAST WEEK’S BOXES

PITTSBURGH 16, PHILADELPHIA 14

Total Yardage: Philadelphia 246, Pittsburgh 343

Rushing Yards: Philadelphia 78, Pittsburgh 136

Passing Stats: Philadelphia 20-30-0-168, Pittsburgh 21-37-0-207

Turnovers: Philadelphia 2, Pittsburgh 0

Third Downs: Philadelphia 40%, Pittsburgh 43%

Vegas Line: Pittsburgh by 3.5, total of 43

This definitely sets up a potential letdown spot here because Pittsburgh just beat a state rival in a physical battle in a must-win spot. Pittsburgh would have fallen to 1-3 had they dropped this game. Good numbers up and down this boxscore. But, they represent peak intensity in a home game. What happens if the Steelers lose intensity in a short preparation week for an opponent that doesn’t get their juices flowing?

MINNESOTA 30, TENNESSEE 7

Total Yardage: Tennessee 267, Minnesota 433

Rushing Yards: Tennessee 52, Minnesota 175

Passing Stats: Tennessee 29-48-1-215, Minnesota 25-35-2-258

Turnovers: Tennessee 2, Minnesota 2

Third Downs: Tennessee 47%, Minnesota 27%

Vegas Line: Minnesota by 5.5, total of 44

Yes, the schedule has been tough. But, Minnesota is no juggernaut…yet they posted dominant numbers vs. the Titans. Tennessee is just plain bad, in a league where bad sometimes jumps up and bite people when it’s least expected (as Detroit can attest about this very team). It’s worth noting here and throughout the season that Tennessee hasn’t been able to put points on the board even after falling behind. They’re not currently a threat for a backdoor cover until they prove otherwise. Even Cleveland is finding ways to get on the board with a rookie quarterback. Tennessee has scored 13-10-14-7 outside of their one fluky win over Detroit.

BEST EXPECTATION

There’s just not much confusing here in our view. Pittsburgh controls its destiny. Handicappers must determine how good a job of that they’ll do in a short preparation week against a lame opponent. If the Steelers show up, they can name the score in a game nobody will be watching after halftime. Should they kick the ball around a bit, as happened in Oakland, then we may have a surprising thriller that casts serious doubt about Pittsburgh’s postseason chances.

JIM HURLEY has been working with his sources to gauge the mindset of the Steelers, and the “towel tossing” potential of the Titans. Remember that Tennessee is on the short list of teams who could tank out from this point forward with an eye on the 2013 draft. You don’t want to bet on a team that isn’t trying to win. You don’t want to bet against a team that’s sick and tired of losing either. Motivation will be the single biggest factor in terms of who gets the money in this one.

You can purchase the official NETWORK play midday right here at this website. Don’t forget that we also have baseball playoff action on the card as well, along with Arizona State/Colorado and UTEP/Tulsa in college football too. Log in for the best Thursday BETS here, or call the office at 1-800-323-4453 for more information.

Back with you Friday to talk about what’s turning into a HUGE matchups between Stanford and Notre Dame Saturday afternoon on NBC (who saw THAT coming to this degree?!). Saturday we’ll look at the prime-time showdown between South Carolina and LSU that will have important SEC and BCS ramifications. NFL coverage resumes Sunday and Monday with stat previews of the prime time games.

Be sure you’re with us EVERY DAY in the NOTEBOOK so you know what’s really happening in the world of sports. And, log in DAILY for BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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