Historic NFL franchises meet to start their 2023 seasons as the San Francisco 49ers visit the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is San Francisco’s first trip to Pittsburgh since 2015 where the Steelers destroyed the 49ers, 43-18. Things have changed since and the NFL Week 1 odds favor San Francisco in this matchup by a field goal (-3).
As both are also stalwart defensive outfits, the total is only set at 41 points. Pittsburgh has been elite defensively at home hence why 9 of their last 12 home games have gone under the total. In contrast, six of San Francisco’s last nine games have gone over.
But with San Francisco’s confusing quarterback room, it’s tough to gauge how the 49ers will look heading to this season opener. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, could be a legitimate contender again if sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett is better.
What’s Changed for the 49ers and Steelers in 2023?
The 49ers lost depth on the defensive line while star left tackle Mike McGlinchey left for the Denver Broncos. His absence could prove problematic for San Francisco as this franchise has struggled to keep its quarterbacks healthy.
Former third overall pick Sam Darnold will likely take the reins to start the season. Brock Purdy and Trey Lance are on the mend. Darnold actually played well in his six games with Carolina going 4-2 with a career-best 92.6 passer rating. He could be better with Kyle Shanahan, which is why the 49ers remain favored on the NFL odds.
Defensively, San Francisco should still be a top team. The unit stayed mostly healthy in 2022 thus why it allowed the fewest points (16.3 per game). The Steelers’ three All-Pro starters will return, led by Nick Bosa, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
The Steelers raise Bosa with their own T.J. Watt. Pittsburgh went 8-2 with Watt in the lineup. The team finished strong winning six of its last seven games.
The Steelers’ defense finished 10th in scoring and should be better as it addressed the secondary by adding Patrick Peterson and Joey Porter Jr. Pittsburgh can improve its passing defense, which ranked 28th in touchdowns allowed.
As for the offense, Pickett should improve. His numbers were modest last season but he was clutch enough to lead the team to some close wins. He had three fourth-quarter comebacks and four game-winning drives.
49ers vs Steelers: Where Each Team Has the Edge
Pittsburgh had issues stopping opponents’ passing attack. The team averaged a 17.4 pressure rate, which put it third-last in this category. This should improve with Watt staying healthy and the secondary playing better.
Still, San Francisco ranked third in expected points contributed by its passing offense. That was mainly with Jimmy Garoppolo and Purdy. Darnold may just be good enough to maintain the team’s prolific quality.
San Francisco also dominated thanks to its ability to force turnovers. The 49ers led the NFL in interceptions (20) and went 11-1 when forcing at least two turnovers in games.
Pittsburgh struggled with turnovers early in the 2022 season. But the team went 7-2 in the latter half of the season thanks to taking care of the ball better.
Shanahan and Mike Tomlin have faced each other once, which Shanahan won 24-20 in San Francisco in 2019. The 49ers and Steelers have also alternated beating each other in their last six meetings. The home team won the last five matchups despite what the NFL lines suggest here.
Fun facts about the San Francisco 49ers
- Founded in 1946, the 49ers became the first professional sports team to be based in San Francisco
- San Francisco’s first regular season game was against the New York Yankees; this isn’t a typo! The Yankees were an All-American Football Conference (AAFC) team from 1946 to 1949
- The 49ers led the NFL in overall attendance figures in 2022; their games averaged a 103.1% capacity in fan attendance
Fun facts about the Pittsburgh Steelers
- The Steelers are tied with the Patriots with most Super Bowl victories at six; they are the only franchise to have back-to-back Super Bowl victories more than once (1974-75 and 1978-79)
- Pittsburgh has an all-time winning record against its division rivals (Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Baltimore)
- The Steelers are one of six NFL teams to not feature a cheerleading squad; Super Bowl XLV against the Packers in 2011 was the first Super Bowl to feature teams without cheerleaders