When the Tennessee Titans visit the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the teams will be eyeing a win for very different reasons.
The Titans (9-4) sit in a three-way tie atop the AFC standings with four games remaining and have a chance to fend off the New England Patriots (9-4) and Kansas City Chiefs (9-4) for the conference’s top seed and only postseason bye.
Pittsburgh (6-6-1), meanwhile, needs every win it can get in order to squeeze into the postseason.
Tennessee, which snapped a two-game losing streak last weekend with a 20-0 blanking of the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, possesses very little margin for error.
“I think we’ve kind of got back to our brand of football a little bit,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “Defense did a great job of making plays on the ball, and obviously (pitched a) shutout. They did everything good. Offensively we did some good things. Obviously have some things to clean up, but excited to get a win and get rolling in that right direction.”
The Titans can clinch the AFC South with a win and an Indianapolis Colts loss to the Patriots on Saturday.
The Steelers have only one victory in their past five games — a run that began with an embarrassing home tie against the Detroit Lions and continued Sunday with a 36-28 road defeat to the Minnesota Vikings.
The Steelers stormed back in that one, nearly erasing a 29-0, third-quarter deficit, but they ultimately fell short on the final play. Now they find themselves 11th in the AFC standings, although they are a mere half-game behind a pack of five teams that sit at 7-6.
Veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains focused on making a playoff push in what may be his final season with the team.
“I’m living right here, right now and we’ve got to make a run,” Roethlisberger said. “We’ve got to play good football. We’ve got play great football, and that starts with me. I can’t get caught looking at the end because I need to focus on right here and this week.”
Roethlisberger has multiple TD passes in four of the last five games, and he threw for 308 yards last week — his second-highest total of the season. However, the 39-year-old veteran also took five sacks against Minnesota and acknowledged Wednesday that he was sorer than usual following the contest.
Tennessee had enough offense to get past Jacksonville last week, but it likely will need to be sharper against Pittsburgh. Tannehill has thrown multiple TD passes only once since late September, and the running game, without star tailback Derrick Henry, has hit a bit of a wall.
D’Onta Foreman has been held below 50 rushing yards in four of his five games this season. Perhaps he can get going against a Steelers run defense that allows 139.5 yards per game — third worst in the NFL.
Roethlisberger (pectoral/shoulder) did not practice Wednesday but should be good to go for Sunday. Cornerback Joe Haden (foot), who also sat out Wednesday’s practice, is in danger of missing his fifth straight game. Star linebacker T.J. Watt (groin) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and will have his status determined closer to game day.
For the Titans, seven players sat out practice Wednesday, including cornerback Janoris Jenkins (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold III (shoulder). Linebacker Harold Landry III, who leads the team with 11 sacks, was limited due to a hamstring injury.
The Steelers have won three straight in the series, including a 27-24 victory last season as Roethlisberger and Diontae Johnson hooked up for a pair of scores.
–Field Level Media
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