by Barry Wilner
AP Pro Football Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — When the Pittsburgh Steelers are around, flags fly.
Despite playing one fewer game than most teams, the Steelers lead the AFC in penalties with 37. It’s something they must clean up soon.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh (No. 9 in the AP Pro32), the opponent this week is Tennessee (No. 30), perhaps the most disappointing team in the conference. When they meet Thursday night in Music City, the Steelers (2-2) will be a 5 1/2-point choice over the Titans (1-4), whose main problem is a sieve of a defense that has yielded a league-high 181 points.
If the Steelers don’t stop attracting those yellow handkerchiefs, though, taking advantage of Tennessee’s inability to stop anyone will be difficult.
“They’re just small mental errors,” Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said. “It’s a part of football. Sometimes it happens. That’s something that we’ve got to tighten up if we want to be the team we want to be.”
Handing the opposition more than 86 yards per game in penalties just won’t cut it, especially on the road, where the Steelers are 0-2 and played their worst game of the season — and perhaps several seasons — in a sloppy 34-31 loss at Oakland.
The Titans will take anything anyone wants to hand over, and backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck — Jake Locker is out with a left shoulder injury — will be comforted by the absence of star safety Troy Polamalu (right calf) and All Pro linebacker Lamar Woodley.
“We’re all trying to get better,” Titans safety Michael Griffin said. “In the past, you started seeing a lot of finger pointing, things of that nature. Right now we’re all still together.”
And still losing together.
No. 28 Oakland (plus 9) at No. 2 Atlanta
Raiders are rested after bye, but still mediocre. Falcons are a lot better than that.
BEST BET: FALCONS, 38-15
No. 15 Denver (plus 2 ) at No. 13 San Diego, Monday night
Both teams showed defensive weaknesses a week ago. More of same …
UPSET SPECIAL: BRONCOS, 31-28
No. 7 New York Giants (plus 5) at No. 3 San Francisco
Rematch of super NFC title game in January. This time, Niners squeeze through.
No. 12 Green Bay (plus 3 1/2) at No. 1 Houston
After Benson injury, Aaron Rodgers might throw 50 times. Watch out for J.J. Watt, Aaron.
No. 22 Detroit (plus 5) at No. 11 Philadelphia
Eagles don’t win anything easily this season.
No. 18 Dallas (plus 3 1/2) at No. 4 Baltimore
Difficult month for Cowboys starts off poorly.
No. 5 New England (minus 3 1/2) at No. 15 Seattle
Tough place to visit, but Patriots might be ready to go on long roll.
No. 14 Cincinnati (minus 2) at No. 32 Cleveland
Might have gone with Browns had Bengals not lost last week.
No. 22 Indianapolis (plus 3) at No. 24 New York Jets
After huge win, Colts won’t be so amped at Meadowlands.
No. 29 Kansas City (plus 3 1/2) at No. 25 Tampa Bay
Could be a difficult game to watch, especially for Chiefs fans.
No. 17 St. Louis (plus 3 1/2) at No. 20 Miami
Rams look great at home. South Florida isn’t home.
No. 27 Buffalo (plus 5) at No. 10 Arizona
Bills lost wandering in the desert? Not quite, but close.
No. 8 Minnesota (OFF) at No. 19 Washington
RG3’s health takes this one off board. If he plays, go with Skins. If not, try Vikings.
REDSKINS 23-20 with Griffin
VIKINGS, 20-13 without Griffin
Against spread: 5-9 (28-47-2). Straight up: 9-5 (43-34)
Best Bet: 3-1-1 against spread, 4-1 straight up.
Upset special: 3-2 against spread, 2-3 straight up.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL