Opportunity will be the underlying theme of what should be a great Monday Night Football match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers. After seeing teams ahead of them squander valuable chances to clinch divisions or home-field titles, both squads have a little added motivation heading into this contest.
For Pittsburgh, while they were tied with their rivals from Baltimore heading into Week 15 action, the Ravens actually possessed the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh, meaning a divisional crown would be tough to attain. However, that’s all in the past, as San Diego’s manhandling of an awful-looking Baltimore squad Sunday evening has opened the window of opportunity for the Steelers to jump to the top of the heap in the AFC North in an attempt to secure a potential first-round bye. For a veteran-laden and injury-plagued team like the Steelers, a week off would be paramount to any post-season success.
On the other side of the football, the 49ers look to continue their surprising season. Already clinching their NFC West division, the 49ers now have the opportunity to try and push for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs after a stunning Packers upset loss cost them that privilege. Sure the 49ers will need help along the way, but this is a much better team at home, and will look to capitalize on this unexpected chance.
Injuries are also of huge importance to this pivotal contest. Pittsburgh’s MVP Ben Roethlisberger is questionable to play, but recent accounts say he will tough it out and give it a shot. There is no doubting the toughness of Roethlisberger, but it’s a big risk seeing as he has been listed questionable all week with a reported high-ankle sprain. That said, injured or healthy, Big Ben is imperative to the success of the Steelers and a one-legged Roethlisberger is likely a better alternative to the back-ups Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon. James Harrison will serve his one-game suspension in this match-up for an illegal hit to the head of Colt McCoy last week, while offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey, and linebacker LaMarr Woodley may also miss this game due to nagging injuries.
The Niners meanwhile will also have huge injuries of their own to deal with. Star linebacker Patrick Willis will likely remain out of this game, and he will be sorely missed in terms of stopping the run and applying pressure to Roethlisberger. The 49ers will be looking to get back on track following a bad loss last week at Arizona as they look to enter the play-offs on a high and push Green Bay for the available home-field dates in the upcoming post-season.
Steelers at 49ers Spread, Line, and Betting Odds:
Pittsburgh Steelers +3 (-120)
@ San Francisco 49ers -3 (+100)
Over 38.5 (-110)
Under 38.5 (-110)
Steelers at 49ers Pick:
For all of the Monday Night duds we the fans have been forced to endure, this one’s for us as the holiday season approaches. An early gift for the football-loving fanatic in what promises to be a close, hard-fought battle, pitting two of the sport’s most storied franchises against one another. Both the Niners and Steelers rush the ball incredibly well, the only issue being they both rank in the top-5 in stopping the opposition’s ground game. Since they will both likely cancel each other out with the run, look for both quarterbacks to turn to the air. This aspect is where Roethlisberger and the Steelers will outduel his counterpart in Alex Smith. Even though Roethlisberger will be hampered by his injury, he remains an incredible thrower, with great rapport with his wealth of dangerous receivers. Meanwhile, San Francisco has an abysmal passing attack, ranking 29th in the NFL. Going against the number one ranked pass defense in Pittsburgh could be a recipe for disaster. Big Ben and the Pittsburgh aerial offense should be the deciding factor in an otherwise evenly matched and tight affair.
Additionally, San Francisco has shown vulnerability to teams that employ 3-4 defenses this year. They were awful in games against Dallas, Arizona, and Baltimore, and coincidentally lost all three of these contests. Pittsburgh too employs this strategy and it will be interesting to see if they can have the same success the teams before them have generated.
A large part of being a winning team means capitalizing on opportunities when they’re readily available. The Ravens have opened a door for Pittsburgh, and the Steelers will be pumped to take advantage of the mistake of their bitter rivals. Pittsburgh knows how to win, when to win, and won’t miss out on securing a huge road victory against a 49ers squad primed to fall back to earth. Look for Pittsburgh to keep the game tight for its majority, ultimately squeaking out a late victory in the final quarter.