Two teams hoping to climb back in the AFC playoff picture clash in Week One, as the Pittsburgh Steelers welcome the Tennessee Titans to Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon.
Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs after going 2-5 in the final seven games of the season, despite a defense that was ranked first overall.
The Steelers were 26th in rushing yards, with the core of Johnathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman struggling out of the backfield. Dwyer has since been cut, and Redman would have lost his job to LeVeon Bell, had the rookie not suffered a Lisfranc injury during the preseason.
The offense did lose receiver Mike Wallace via free agency, but Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders should pick up that slack while waiting for tight end Heath Miller to return from a torn ACL.
Leading tacklers Larry Foote, Lawrence Timmons, and Ryan Clark return for head coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau’s defense. But the club did watch five-time Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison switch sides to rival Cincinnati via free agency, losing an invaluable presence and veteran voice.
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The Titans also made some waves in free agency this offseason, with the biggest splashes coming from new guard Andy Levitre and safety Delanie Walker.
Levitre should provide some solid protection for quarterback Jake Locker in his supposed make-or-break year, and lead a blocking scheme for running back Chris Johnson. Joining Levitre at the line of scrimmage is highly touted rookie guard Chance Warmack, who was taken with the tenth overall pick this spring.
A shoulder injury sidelined Locker for all but six games, but entering his third year the 25-year-old will need far better accuracy than the 56.4 completion percentage and 2,176 yards he posted last year.
Locker will certainly target veteran Kenny Britt, who is playing for a new contract this season, and second-year wide out Kendall Wright, who led the team with 64 catches a year ago.
The game begins at 1 p.m. ET and will be broadcast by CBS or watch a live online stream by purchasing NFL Game Access here.
Betting Odds: Pittsburgh is favored by 7 points.
Over/Under: 42 points.
Prediction: Tennessee 27, Pittsburgh 10