The Pittsburgh Steelers will soon be lacing up for their first game of the 2023 NFL season. This battle against the San Francisco 49ers has been much anticipated since the NFL schedule release was first announced. Now Mike Tomlin's team is preparing for the ultimate test.
The 49ers have been to two straight NFC championship games and last year, they had the league's best scoring defense -- allowing a mere 17.2 points per game on the season to their opponents. At the same time, they still managed to finish 6th in the league in offensive scoring (25.9 points per game).
All of this equated to a 13-4 record during the regular season and a 12-game winning streak from Week 8 of the regular season until the NFC championship game. Head coach Kyle Shanahan is a brilliant offensive mind that the Steelers must try to game plan against in Week 1, and slowing down his offense with players like Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel won't be easy.
Fortunately, the Steelers practically have a clean bill of health for Week 1 and were able to escape the summer with just one big injury to rookie CB Cory Trice (who landed on IR with an ACL tear). The 49ers, meanwhile, are a bit more banged up in this contest with 11 players showing up on the injury report early in the week.
Steelers vs. 49ers predictions
I think there's a reason Mike Tomlin played his starters as much as he did during the preseason. He wants to prove that the Pittsburgh Steelers can come out and play smashmouth football against an excellent opponent in Week 1. Tomlin will look to establish the run early on offense while staying disciplined against Shanahan's deceptive offensive scheme that is known for getting the defense flowing away from the play.
Recently, I wrote about some of the advantages that Pittsburgh holds in this contest. Between playing their starters during the preseason, coming away healthy, and playing at home, this is a game that the Steelers could come away with.
Of course, this is anything but an easy contest. The 49ers were one of the top 3 or 4 teams in the NFL last season, and they could very well be Super Bowl contenders again in 2023. However, Shanahan has a habit of starting the season off slow, and Tomlin could catch him off guard.
I think the Steelers come out swinging in this contest as they look to make a statement early in the season. Kenny Pickett could show signs of a franchise quarterback in this game, but they probably won't be able to score at will against a strong defense that will have Nick Bosa teeing off on the QB.
On the other side of the ball, however, T.J. Watt has a very favorable matchup against right tackle, Colton McKivitz. If the 49ers don't devote ample attention to Watt, he could get 49ers QB Brock Purdy flustered early.
This should be an exciting game between two talented teams looking to start the 2023 season on the right note. In the end, I have the Pittsburgh Steelers claiming a victory on their own turf at Acrisure Stadium. With a manageable slate of games early in the season, this could help them have a strong start to the year.
Score prediction: Steelers 20, 49ers 17
All stats and rankings courtesy of ESPN.