TENNESSEE TITANS (3-4) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (4-3)
LINE: Pittsburgh by 2.5
CHEWABLE: While Kenny Pickett says “for sure” he’ll play through the rib injury that sidelined him for the second half of the Steelers 20-10 loss to the Jags on Sunday, the bigger question involving the quarterbacks in the Week 9 opener is this: What does Will Levis do for an encore?
A second-round pick who was third on the Titans QB depth chart as recently as last week, Levis threw for 238 yards and four touchdowns in his debut, a 28-23 home win over the Atlanta Falcons and their sixth-ranked defence.
A peek at the league stats suggests Levis will face an easier opponent Thursday night — Steelers pass defence is 24th — but expect Mike Tomlin to throw in few wrinkles and new looks to confuse the 24-year-old rookie.
— Oh, and while Levis says “I’ve played in loud stadiums before,” it’s unlikely he’s witnessed anything like the ground-rocking bedlam that occurs when Steelers pump up the fans and team with the Styx hit Renegade just before the defence faces a must-stop series in the fourth quarter. It’s also a certainly that Levis has never had to deal with a T.J. Watt or Alex Highsmith before.
— Wearing Titans colours this season, DeAndre Hopkins had only one 100-yard game and zero touchdowns prior to his first day catching passes from Levis. Against the Falcons, the two combined for 128 yards and the first three-TD day of Hopkins’ illustrious 152-game career.
— The Steelers are expected to get stud DT Cameron Heyward back from a groin injury. He’s a difference-maker.
— While the Steelers’ secondary will be missing its best defender in Minkah Fitzpatrick, promising rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. should see a lot of Hopkins in a matchup that could dictate the outcome.
— Only five teams have surrendered more rushing yards per game than the Steelers, which means a healthy Derrick Henry could have a field day. Henry, who had just his second 100-yard game of the season against Atlanta, has been a “limited” participant in back-to-back practices this week because of an ankle injury, but the guess is he’ll be good to go Thursday.
— After having so much success going to George Pickens in back-to-back wins over the Ravens and the Rams, the Steelers completed just one pass to their 22-year-old sophomore WR against the Jags and he caught it for a 22-yard touchdown. Against the 29th-ranked Titans pass defence, a little less Diontae Johnson, a little more Pickens should be in order.
— Pittsburgh has won the past four meetings with Tennessee and seven of the past nine, and while it’s true that Tomlin and never lost to Mike Vrabel, the Pittsburgh sideline boss is 82-94-2 (46.6%) ATS as a favourite while, as an underdog, Vrabel is 27-17-1 (61.1%) ATS.
— Steelers have 91 overall prime-time wins, which is second-most after the Cowboys’ 95 victories under the lights, and Pittsburgh’s prime-time winning percentage of .587 is fourth-best. But on Thursday Night Football, they are just 11-11.
— This one should be a close, grinding battle, but it’s tough to imagine Levis winning his first NFL road game, on a short week, at such an intimidating place as the stadium formerly known as Heinz Field. Especially after the Steelers fumbled away a winning streak last week in front of their fans.
TAKING: PITTSBURGH -2.5
SCORE (O/U 36.5): Steelers 20, Titans 17
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