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The 2013 NFL season is already underway, and already a team from the AFC North is 0-1. This is good news for the Pittsburgh Steelers as they kick off the season hosting the Tennessee Titans, a seemingly deadlock pick for any suicide pool. However, the Steelers, much like AFC North, tend to have more questions than answers this year. Last year the Steelers went 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009. This year they lost their stud wide receiver Mike Wallace and are going to miss another Roethlisberger favorite, Heath Miller, for at least the first couple games. The Steelers and Roethlisberger seem more comfortable with Todd Haley's offense and their defensive workhorses Troy Polamalu and Lamar Woodley are healthy entering this year, but the real deciding factor of this team's success begins and ends with the five players protecting the quarterback.
Meanwhile, the Titans hope Chris Johnson can establish himself early this year. Their defense is nothing to joke about, as they proved at times last year. But, if the Titans have any chance of progressing and if Jake Locker has any future with the Titans, the running game has to be there. So, what can we expect from this game? These are my three bold predictions.
1. Markus Wheaton will have over 100 yards receiving.
Markus Wheaton is a third-round draft pick out of Oregon State University. He was drafted in hopes of filling Mike Wallace's shoes, without having to fill Wheaton's wallet as they would have done to Wallace's. Wheaton may not have the speed of Wallace, but he runs a 4.45 which can easily take the top off a defense. He is only a rookie, but he is already being praised in the locker room. Ike Taylor said of Wheaton, “He's not playing like a rookie, he doesn't act like a rookie.” The Titans may have been the seventh best defense against the pass last year, but somebody has to catch the deep ball from Roethlisberger.2. Chris Johnson will be held under 50 yards rushing.
The beginning of the last two seasons have left everyone, especially fantasy owners, scratching their heads when it comes to Johnson. In the past two opening days combined, Johnson has rushed for a total of 28 yards. This opening day does not bode well for Johnson either, as the Steelers were the second best rush defense in 2012 without Polamalu. Yes, the Steelers lost run-stopping James Harrison to their division rival Cincinnati Bengals, but the Steelers still expect opposing coordinators to scrap running plays from the playbook.
3. Roethlisberger will not be sacked more than 2 times.
Roethlisberger is notorious for being a sack-lunch for opposing teams. He has been sacked four or more time in 38 career games. Some of the fault lies on the his always shaky offensive line, and some of it is due to the fact that Roethlisberger holds on t
o the ball for far too long. Last year, the majority of sacks occurred when Roethlisberger held onto the ball for 2.6 seconds or longer. In addition, when he held onto the ball for longer than the 2.6 seconds his completion percentage dropped by 11 percent. Roethlisberger is now in his second year with snap-and-throw offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and Roethlisberger sacks have decreased since 2009. The Titans were tied for ninth in league with 39 sacks, but only sacked Roethlisberger once in their outing last year.Everything points to the Steelers coasting in their first game of the season. But what do you think, can the Titans pull an upset and get some early momentum to their season?