The NFL season starts in less than eight hours (and at the Funk Sports Bar and Grill). For the first time ever, the Titans are part of the opening game festivities. I can’t decide if I’d rather see the Titans always as a small-market, in-the-weeds kind of franchise or if I’d like them to have a larger national footprint. Tonight’s game is huge in that regard. Most prognosticators, in all of their anti-boldness, have picked the Titans to be a Wild Card team at best. The Colts still cast a large, shall I say Manning-sized, shadow over the division.

The Titans being an underrated franchise isn’t new. After making the playoffs in 2007, they were relegated to fourth place in the AFC South by some. No one knew that Kerry Collins would take over and play well, and Chris Johnson was just a fantasy sleeper. The defense was a given. The season unfolded in a way that few predicted.

It’s the same for the rest of the league. There are more people paid to be experts, yet the truth is we know nothing and only will know a little after this weekend.
I want to be overconfident about the game tonight. The Titans are good enough to beat the Steelers. I’d be more nervous if the Titans were playing the Patriots, or the Ravens, and maybe even the Colts.

The final score in last year’s game was 31-14, which looks like a blowout. It was not. With 9:41 to go in the third quarter, the Steelers led 14-10. On third and 20, Kerry Collins hit Justin McCareins (surprisingly out of work this fall, I say sarcastically) for a 19-yard gain. It was fourth and one. Normally, Jeff Fisher kicks the field goal. He went for it. Chris Johnson took the wide pitch, broke one tackle and scored easily. Jason Jones, an unknown when he was drafted out of Eastern Michigan in the second round, made 3.5 sacks. These were the players unconsidered before the season. When it was time to make plays, they were made.
One of the keys to the 2008 team was that when they were down, they immediately responded. After the Steelers took the lead, the Titans scored on the next possession, picked Roethlisberger off, and scored a near game-clinching touchdown. It’s impossible to tell if this team has a similar makeup.

Jared Cook will likely miss the game. That’s too bad. Scaife and Crumpler are fine, but they are not matchup problems for the Steelers. Nate Washington will be limited. They’re going to need him all year, so another ten days to rest seems like a good idea. He may get in the game for a few plays. Everyone else seems healthy. Early season health can’t be taken for granted.

I won’t make any game-time predictions. If the Titans hold on early while the Steelers feed off the emotion of the night and the home crowd, it’s going to be a great game. I wonder if Collinsworth will say “Boom!” just once, for nostalgia’s sake.

Here’s an interesting article from Football Outsiders. The Titans are projected to have the 6th best defense, 5th best offense (not sure about that) and the 32nd best special teams (could be true). If I could decipher the numbers better I might be able to tell you how a team with a top-six offense and defense finishes third in their division (although they think that’s good enough for the playoffs).

I’ll be at the Funk Sports Bar (Grill is closed tonight) this evening with a Belgian Ale. It will be good to see my old friend football again.

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