5 reasons the Pittsburgh Steelers will win in Week 1 vs. the San Francisco 49ers

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Steelers will be special on Special Teams

If you look at the last two season-openers, special teams have played a big part in the Steelers posting upset victories on the road over the likes of Buffalo (2021) and Cincinnati (2022). 

Against the Bills, Miles Killebrew’s blocked punt was returned for a touchdown with 9:52 remaining and gave the Steelers a commanding 20-10 lead on the way to posting a 23-16 victory.

Last season, the Steelers’ Minkah Fitzpatrick blocked a potential game-winning extra point attempt with four seconds left in regulation to force overtime with the score tied at 20-20 in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh later won it on Chris Boswell’s 53-yard field goal with five seconds remaining in the extra session.

Speaking of Boswell, he returns for his ninth season as the team’s placekicker. He ranks third in field goal percentage (86.3%) among all NFL kickers with at least 200 field goals made since the start of the 2015 season.

Punter Pressley Harvin III averaged 44.5 yards per punt (41.1 net) last season, with 29.0% landing inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Dependable long-snapper Christian Kuntz also returns to the Steelers’ lineup. 

The 49ers’ special teams unit is in flux, at least at kicker. Rookie Jake Moody has been nursing a  quad injury. Former Steelers super sub, Matthew Wright, was recently signed in case Moody can't go on Sunday. Wright made 12-of-15 field goals (.857) and all seven of his extra points during his four-game stint for an injured Boswell last season.

49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky averaged 43.9 yards per punt (39.1 net) last season, pinning the opponent inside the 20-yard line a total of 32 times in 61 punts (.525).

Former Steelers receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, normally the 49ers’ starting kick and punt returner, has been cleared to return to play after undergoing surgery for a fractured wrist last month. He averaged 23.0 yards per kick return and 10.8 yards per punt return last season. If he can’t go, look for rookie wideout Ronnie Bell to handle those chores.