Pittsburgh at Tennessee
* Time, TV: 4:30 p.m., WUSA-9, WJZ-13.
* Radio: WRC-1260.
* Records: Steelers 11-5-1, Titans 11-5.
* The lowdown: For motivational purposes, it seems the Steelers, who escaped with a 36-33 comeback win over the Browns last week despite surrendering 409 passing yards, would focus on the Titans' receiving corps, which is as thin as a sheet of phyllo dough. But instead, Pittsburgh has settled for a cup of coffee.
At least that is the psychological gambit taken by Steelers LB Joey Porter, who told reporters that Titans assistant coach Steve Watterson threw coffee on him as he tumbled out of bounds during Tennessee's win over the Steelers on Nov. 17. "I was hoping we'd get to play them again," Porter said.
The Titans responded that it was an accident, and that the hot liquid in question was not coffee, but chicken broth. Nonetheless, this contrived excuse for bad blood had Steelers safety and quote machine Lee Flowers practically yelling, "Remember the Starbucks!" "It's just uncalled for a coach to do that to a player," Flowers told reporters. "What if the coffee was scalding hot?"
"Scalding hot" does not describe Tennessee's passing game, which has produced a total of just 387 net yards and one touchdown in the last three games. Derrick Mason, who had 79 catches for 1,012 yards during the regular season, is the lone established threat among the injury-depleted wideouts. Drew Bennett, a quarterback at UCLA, will start opposite Mason, with Justin McCareins and Eddie Berlin as backups.
Nonetheless, the Steelers expect to be challenged in the air. Pittsburgh's secondary has been shaky all season, and injuries to CB Chad Scott (who missed the last two games with a broken thumb) and LB Kendrell Bell (sprained ankle) don't help. Plus, the NFL's second-best run defense stacks up well against the Titans, who averaged 145.9 rushing yards in winning 10 of their last 11 games.
Atlanta at Philadelphia
* Time, TV: 8 p.m., WTTG-5, WBFF-45.
* Radio: WRC-1260.
* Records: Falcons 10-6-1, Eagles 12-4.
* The lowdown: Strange as it seems, Eagles Coach Andy Reid has had to defend starting QB Donovan McNabb, in his first game back from a broken ankle, instead of rookie A.J. Feeley, who went 4-1 as the team's starter.
Why start McNabb, who could show some rust? To paraphrase: It's the playoffs, stupid! Would you keep your team's best offensive player on the bench during an elimination game in favor of a rookie?
McNabb's importance goes beyond experience. In 10 games before his injury, McNabb averaged 228.9 passing yards per game, with 17 touchdowns and just six interceptions, for a passer rating of 86. Feeley, meantime, is averaging 198.8 passing yards, with five touchdowns and five interceptions, for a rating of 75.4. McNabb averaged 46 rushing yards per game and has run for six touchdowns to boot, compared to six total rushing yards for Feeley. Plus, the offense as a whole simply put up better numbers with McNabb on the field (26.9 points, not counting defensive and special teams touchdowns, and 376.5 total yards per game) than without (19.2 points and 302 yards per game).
If that doesn't settle matters, who would you rather see go up against Falcons QB Michael Vick?
Vick was mistake-free in his first playoff game, last's week's 27-7 shocker at Green Bay, and with 64 yards on 10 carries ignited a running game that totaled 192 yards.
Of just as much concern to the Eagles will be the Falcons' 3-4 defensive scheme, which while considered out of fashion in the NFL, forced five turnovers last week and effectively sealed the upset with a second-quarter goal-line stand -- only the second time in Packers QB Brett Favre's last 50 first-and-goal situations that the Packers' offense failed to scored a touchdown.
-- David Larimer