Week 1 of the NFL season has finally arrived, and the Lineups team has you covered with written and video content across the site and our YouTube channel. In this article, you can find a breakdown of the matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers including a full game prediction and best bet.
San Francisco 49ers Vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Prediction
The Pick: Steelers +2.5
I’m a believer in second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett after what he put on film to close out last season. Pickett led the Steelers to a 7-2 record over their final nine games of the season, and he was eighth in EPA per play among quarterbacks over that stretch. The only quarterback with a better PFF grade from Week 12 on was Joe Burrow.
The 49ers will certainly present a challenge after allowing the fewest points per game last season, but I have some questions about their defense heading into this year. Former defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is now the Texans’ head coach while the potential absence of Bosa could put further pressure on a secondary that lost two starters, corner Emmanuel Moseley and safety Jimmie Ward.
Brock Purdy’s ascension from Mr. Irrelevant to the 49ers’ starting quarterback was one of the most fun underdog stories of the 2022 season, but he didn’t play an above average pass defense by passer rating allowed until the playoffs. Minkah Fitzpatrick can take advantage of Purdy’s lack of experience on Sunday.
— Steelers Depot 7⃣ (@Steelersdepot) September 4, 2023
One of my biggest concerns for the 49ers heading into this season is their offensive line, and this will be a great test to see if they can hold up. Pittsburgh boasts a lights out pass rush featuring T.J. Watt, who is now fully healthy. The potential absence of Kittle would only exacerbate this team’s potential blocking issues as he’s one of the best blocking tight ends in the league.
Mike Tomlin has been excellent in Week 1 throughout his career as his teams are 10-5-1 in opening games. Tomlin has also been very profitable as an underdog, picking up a 53-30-4 ATS record (63.8%). In the last two years, the Steelers have beaten the Bills and Bengals outright as significant underdogs. I believe they make it three years in a row of upsetting a top Super Bowl contender.
San Francisco 49ers Vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Odds
The spread for this game opened with the Steelers catching the full 3 points at home, before the market backed Pittsburgh and pushed it to 2.5. The total has also taken money to the under with it coming down from an open of 42 points to the current 41 points.
Two of the most important 49ers’ players are currently questionable for this game as George Kittle is working through a groin injury and Nick Bosa is in a holdout. If either or both are ruled out this week, the odds might change for this game, so keep an eye out for news leading up to kickoff.
San Francisco 49ers Vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Key Matchups
Will George Pickens be able to consistently win his matchup against Charvarius Ward? How will 49ers tackle Colton McKivitz hold up against TJ Watt? Check out the key matchups and mismatches that could decide Niners vs Steelers.
George Pickens vs. Charvarius Ward
While there were certainly areas for improvement in his rookie season, George Pickens excelled in his specific role. He ran more go routes than any receiver in the league per Sharp Football and had 32.1% of his targets 20+ yards downfield, which ranked sixth. He ranked third in contested-catch rate, so that role made plenty of sense.
In this game, I expect he’ll see shadow coverage from Charvarius Ward. The 49ers’ top corner ranked 8th out of 67 qualified cornerbacks in PFF coverage grade, and he excels at the catch point as he finished with nine pass breakups last year. Ward is the team’s best bet for guarding Pickens given the losses in the secondary.
George Pickens breakout season coming soon? 👀 pic.twitter.com/8iGWgMF8LP
— NFL (@NFL) August 27, 2023
The 49ers might need to get creative to find ways to slow down Pickens as a downfield receiving threat. They ranked 31st in EPA allowed on passes of 15+ yards last season, and Kenny Pickett can hit the deep ball with 15 big-time throws to just two turnover-worthy plays on 20+ yard passes last season per PFF.
Colton McKivitz vs. T.J. Watt
The 49ers watched Mike McGlinchey walk out the door in free agency, and that puts their right tackle position in serious jeopardy. Colton McKivitz takes over at that spot, and that’s a serious downgrade. McKivitz is a former fifth-rounder with just five starts through four seasons, and his 7.5% pressure rate allowed over the last two seasons would have ranked 62nd out of 67 qualified tackles last season.
Now, McKivitz is tasked with blocking T.J. Watt, one of the best pass rushers in the league. After suffering through a pectoral injury last season, Watt is now fully healthy and will be out for blood in this game. Watt has 83 sacks through six career seasons, and I fully expect him to add to that tally in this game.
The 49ers better block TJ Watt with 3 or 4 guys if they wanna stop him week one at Acrisure Stadium. pic.twitter.com/p5Fuck7okN
— Billy Hartford (@BudDupreeFan) September 1, 2023
This would be less of an issue if Kittle was fully healthy, but as of now it appears he’s trending towards not playing. The 49ers will likely need to slide further protection in the direction of Watt, which will leave Cameron Heyward and Alex Highsmith with one-on-one opportunities in which they can feast.