The Pittsburgh Steelers might be the most confusing team in the NFL. Pittsburgh has two of the best wins by any team in the league -- destroying the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts in back-to-back weeks. But it also has two of the worst losses -- it gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their only win of the season and just handed the New York Jets victory No. 2. So which Steelers squad will show up on Monday Night Football against the Tennessee Titans?
The Steelers' inconsistency is not the only hurdle that the team will have to overcome if it's going to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and snap its string of mediocre 8-8 records. The AFC North is arguably the most competitive and unpredictable division in the NFL. Each team entered Week 11 at least two games over .500 and there have been four different division leaders so far. Well into the season and there appears to be no clear-cut favorite. That means that the Steelers, despite a 6-4 record and a couple of really bad losses, have as good a chance as any of the other three teams in this chaotic mess to emerge with a playoff spot.
The Titans surprised everyone with a win in Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs, but since then have lost seven of eight games, and their only win in that span is against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Quarterback play has been an issue for Tennessee, which is now on its third starter this season in rookie Zach Mettenberger. The sixth-round pick out of LSU has been unimpressive so far, completing 62 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and three interceptions in three games. His Total QBR of 24.8 is the third-worst among players with at least 60 attempts this season.
If the Steelers are going to make the playoffs, they need to stop their maddening habit of losing to teams they should beat. Since 2012, Pittsburgh is 3-10 against teams that enter the game with a .200 record or worse, and 19-10 against everyone else. The Steelers will be on upset alert again this week against a 2-7 Titans team that is basically playing for the No. 1 pick in the 2015 Draft. Tennessee also has the advantage of knowing it can beat the Steelers, having won the last two matchups between the teams. In fact, Ben Roethlisberger has never won at LP Field in his career, losing there in 2008 and 2012.
The key to a bounce-back win for the Steelers on Monday will be to re-establish the power running game against the Titans. Pittsburgh has rushed for 91 yards on 42 carries -- a pathetic average of 2.2 yards per rush -- in its last two games, and hasn't scored a touchdown on the ground since Week 3. Le'Veon Bell ranks third in the NFL in rush yards this season (747), but has just 56 in the last two games. The Steelers need to give the ball to Bell early and often against Tennessee, which has allowed the second-most rushing yards per game (136.6) of any AFC team.
The most glaring issue for this Titans team is its struggles on the offensive side of the ball. Tennessee has scored the fewest points in the league (144) and is averaging the third-fewest points per drive (1.5). It simply has not been able to move the chains this season, ranking last in the NFL in third-down conversion rate (29.9 percent). The Steelers defense has been less than impressive this season, ranking 20th in points allowed per game (23.9), so perhaps this is the week that Tennessee finally breaks out of its offensive slump.
NFL Week 11
NFL Week 11
Who to Watch
Martavis Bryant - The fourth-round pick out of Clemson didn't dress for the first six games, but has quickly emerged as one of the key cogs in the Steelers passing attack. He has six touchdown catches since his debut in Week 7, the most by any player in his first four career games in NFL history. Bryant is also coming off his best performance of the season, with 143 yards on four receptions in the loss to the Jets. He is making a claim as the second-best receiver on the team, and his snaps should only increase as he continues to produce this season.
Bishop Sankey - The first-year running back has carried the load as the feature back for the Titans this season, but has yet to really have a breakout game. Sankey has shown consistency during his rookie campaign, with four games of at least 50 rushing yards. However, his season-best on the ground is only 61 yards and he has only one carry of more than 20 yards. Sankey's improvement in becoming a more explosive runner this season could go a long way toward fixing the Titans' offensive woes.
LP Field opened its doors in 1999, two seasons after the Titans made the move from Houston to Tennessee. Situated on the East Bank of the Cumberland River, the 69,000-seat open-air stadium offers picturesque views of downtown Nashville. It features 175 private suites and 12,000 club seats, and is also home to the Tennessee State University football team.
How to Watch
Where: LP Field, Nashville
When: 8:30 p.m. ET
Announcers: Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden
The Steelers are expected to roll in this game, with every expert at ESPN and SB Nation taking Pittsburgh. Two guys at CBS Sports are going against the grain, predicting an upset by the Titans at home. Given the Steelers' tendency to play down to their competition, this might be a good time to bet on Tennessee.
For more on the Steelers, check out Behind The Steel Curtain.
To keep up on the Titans, head over to Music City Miracles.