Titans vs. Steelers 2013 game preview: Optimism will be put to test in Week 1

Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE

After offseason tweaks, the Steelers and Titans enter Sunday's Week 1 game optimistic about their prospects in the 2013 season.

Neither participant in Sunday's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans made the playoffs in 2012, but they enter the 2013 season with renewed optimism that they can do just that this year. That optimism will quickly dim for one team when the two teams face off at Heinz Field and one leaves with a loss.

Meet the Steelers

The Steelers' defense promises to be as strong as usual in 2013 after allowing the fewest yards in the NFL during the 2012 season. All-American pass rusher Jarvis Jones has been added to the fold, too, so  the defense added to a pass rush that finished with 37 sacks in 2012 but didn't manage to produce a player with double-digit sacks.

Where the Steelers struggled most, however, was running the ball. After allowing Rashard Mendenhall to leave in free agency and releasing Jonathan Dwyer in final cuts, the Steelers will instead rely on Isaac Redman and new additions Felix Jones and Le'Veon Bell.

Meet the Titans

The Titans weren't as close as the Steelers in 2012, finishing in the bottom 10 of the NFL in points scored and dead-last in points allowed. With a very different looking roster that features several new starters -- including Andy Levitre and Bernard Pollard -- the team is optimistic that they'll be able to get over the hump with head coach Mike Munchak.

The story of the year will undoubtedly be the play of quarterback Jake Locker. Entering his third season in the NFL, the offensive line of the Titans has provided him with plenty of excuses for his slow start with the team. With glimpses of his rare athleticism on display at times, there's reason to believe that he could turn the corner ... but until he makes that turn on the field, the Titans will continue to be looked at as a non-threat in the AFC.

Local Takes: Steelers

Neal Coolong from Behind The Steel Curtain spoke with Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster about the team's running scheme and about the prospects of the 2013 season in the AFC North.

"People have gotten after us about not being very old, or even not that experienced, but that's not the case," Foster said. "All our guys have played games. We've got a group of smart and athletic linemen here."

Local Takes: Titans

Music City Miracles says that Titans fans might be overlooking Jake Locker's deficiencies because of their desire for the team to find success at quarterback.

I was a champion for Vince Young for years longer than I should have been. I must admit that his relationship with Steve McNair played a small role in this. I held onto his abilities and overlooked the negatives. I constantly defended Young and would point out how amazingly accurate he was with the deep ball. I blamed Norm Chow and others for not letting him play his game. I eventually conceded to reality around the time he threw his pads in the stands and sulked off the field.

Are Locker defenders doing the same. Is the desire to have him be good shading our judgement? Or is 12 starts on a dysfunctional team truly not enough of a sample size?

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Behind The Steel Curtain and Music City Miracles, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

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Prediction

From the Week 1 picks:

Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (-7)

Once upon a time, someone listed Ben Roethlisberger's name in the player comparison section of a Jake Locker scouting report. Nate Washington made that same link in July. The Better Business Bureau has been notified of this misleading advertisement.

Odds

The Steelers are favored by as many as 7.5 points, according to Oddsshark, after opening as 6.5-point favorites earlier in the week.

Next Week

The Steelers will travel to face the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2 to kickoff AFC North play. The Titans will also begin divisional play when travel to face the Houston Texans.

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