As everyone knows, the highly anticipated matchup between the 3-0 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 3-0 Tennessee Titans had to be rescheduled from this past week (Week 4) to Week 7 due to numerous COVID-19 cases reported within the Titans’ organization. At the time of release, the Titans have had 16 COVID-19 cases amongst players and coaches since playing the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3. Heck, even the bus driver driving the Titans (and the Houston Astros too, they were both in Minneapolis last week) got COVID-19. Luckily for the Minnesota Vikings, the virus did not cross the metaphoric goal line, and the Vikings picked up their first win on Sunday against the offensively depleted Houston Texans in another close game. Rather than focus on who is to blame for the spreading in Nashville and determine who gets punished, I want to look ahead to a contested matchup that deserves prime time more than people realize.
When the initial statement came out regarding the movement of the Steelers-Titans game, I was disappointed that the game got moved to 1 p.m. instead of a prime-time slot such as 8:20 p.m. or 7 p.m. I understand there are already games in place on Thursday night (Giants-Eagles), Sunday night (Buccaneers-Raiders) and Monday night (Bears-Rams) for Week 7, but if there were two fantastic Monday night games this past week (Patriots-Chiefs and Falcons-Packers), why can’t the Steelers and Titans do the same thing, or at least play under the lights? The lack of fans attending is not even a factor here. Nashville hosted 14,500-15,200 fans in their Week 2 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The biggest factor is the hype regarding this game as there is talent on both sides of the field for both teams that deserves attention.
The visiting Steelers have erupted for another dominant start to the year, defeating the Giants, Broncos and Texans in somewhat close games, all while having fun in the process. Ben Roethlisberger is looking like a robot with his impressive performances as a 38-year-old recovering from a season-ending elbow surgery last year (currently, he has 777 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception). In addition, Big Ben has had nice performances from JuJu Smith-Schuster (160 receiving yards and three touchdowns), Chase Claypool (151 yards receiving and one touchdown), James Conner (224 rushing yards and two touchdowns), Eric Ebron (113 yards receiving and a touchdown) and more. On the defense, the Steel Curtain is still holding as strong as ever. TJ Watt (3.5 sacks and an interception) anchors a defense that also features Cameron Hayward, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Bud Dupree, Terrell Edmunds and other incredible defensive stalwarts. Chris Boswell has also been himself and kicking proudly this season, having recorded five successful field goals this season. Has their road been easy so far? No. As the Eagles, the Steelers’ Week 5 opponent, proved last Sunday Night in San Francisco, no game is ever easy. But their talent, competition and motivation always have them coming out on top. With their current talent and a lead in the competitive AFC North, a playoff spot seems like almost a lock this season.
The Tennessee Titans have also been impressive this year if not better than last year’s 9-7 team. In addition to replacing Jurrell Casey with Jadeveon Clowney, the Titans’ defense has skilled athletes such as Kevin Byard, Malcolm Butler, Kenny Vaccaro and more. The Titans have kept games close, winning nail biters against the Broncos, Jaguars and Vikings.
Even better, the Titans’ next opponent, should their COVID-19 cases go down significantly, is the undefeated Buffalo Bills in what is expected to be a legendary showdown. The underdog team that made the AFC Championship game last year returned most of their offensive prowess as well. Derrick Henry (319 rushing yards, fourth in the league) is rushing like he is playing in the second half of the season, Ryan Tannehill has been the quarterback the Dolphins could have hoped for (809 yards passing, six touchdowns, and an interception) and the combination of AJ Brown (five receptions for 39 yards) and Corey Davis (206 yards receiving and a touchdown) gives Tannehill incredible options. The most important man on the team after three games is former Patriot Stephen Gostkowski though; he has kicked a game winning field goal in every game so far and went 6-for-6 on field goals in Week 3.
Most important, neither team has had season ending injuries that shake up the team unlike the 49ers (Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas and more) or the Broncos (Cortland Sutton, Von Miller and more), amongst others. The fans would prefer to see Roethlisberger and Tannehill sling the pigskin around the field rather than watch a decently contested matchup with no hype such as, no offense, the Dolphins and the Jaguars. Even a rushing battle between Derrick Henry and James Conner would entice fans and improve ratings. Questions could arise such as if one team’s defense will shut down the opposing offense or will a team’s offense run the floor on the enemy defense. It will be interesting to see how Mike Vrabel and Mike Tomlin find ways to climb this mountain.
Obviously, this opinion of mine might be too early for reality, and both the Titans and Steelers might lose or tie their next few games, but that comes down to how the teams perform on the field. I am not Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, but in a season where everything and everyone must be flexible with the COVID-19-related changes in society, this change is more of a necessity to fans everywhere. Consider it an apology letter to the fans, even though the NFL did nothing wrong but postpone and move the game out of an abundance of caution and player safety, just like the Patriots-Chiefs game.