Steelers QB Kenny Pickett is going to get the ultimate test in Week 1

Steelers, Kenny Pickett
Steelers, Kenny Pickett / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Now that that the Pittsburgh Steelers have officially released their 2023 schedule, we can't start looking ahead to some of their biggest matchups. Last year, Mike Tomlin's team botched some early games they should have won before a brutal slate before the bye that included blowout losses to the Bills and Eagles.

The Steelers were no doubt hoping to ease into the action in 2023. Sadly, that won't be the case. Though they, fortunately, avoid an important divisional matchup in Week 1, the competition couldn't get much stiffer for Kenny Pickett and the offense to begin the season.

In Week 1, the Pittsburgh Steelers will host the San Francisco 49ers. Over the final two-thirds of the 2022 season, the 49ers were unquestionably the hottest team in the league -- winning 10 straight games to close out the season.

They followed up a remarkable 13-4 regular season with playoff wins against the Seahawks and Cowboys before getting knocked out of the tournament by the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.

49ers head coach, Kyle Shanahan, is an offensive mastermind thanks to his ability to get the defense flowing in one direction and exploit the middle of the field with players who are outstanding after the catch. However, their top-notch defense is even more of a threat, and Pickett will get the ultimate test in Week 1.

Steelers and Pickett will face the best defense from last season in Week 1

By nearly every metric, the San Francisco 49ers had the best defense in the NFL in 2022. In addition to surrendering just 299.7 yards per game (2nd behind the Eagles), they were the number one scoring defense in the league -- allowing only 17.2 points per contest, via Team Rankings.

Likewise, the 49ers had the number one DVOA defense in the NFL last year as well. It's not hard to see why. Their front seven is loaded with talent and they have the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Nick Bosa. Their remarkable defense somehow got even stronger with the addition of DT Javon Hargrave in free agency.

In Week 1, Kenny Pickett may face the best defense he will see all year. The second-year quarterback is going to have to trust a newly-assembled offensive line to keep him upright as he tries to outscore a talented 49ers team.

Statistically, Pickett wasn't very good as a rookie. His yards per attempt and adjusted yards per attempt were near the bottom of the league, and he only passed for 7 touchdowns in 12 starts, per ESPN stats. He also threw 9 interceptions last year (though some of his picks weren't his fault).

It would have been ideal for Pickett to start his second NFL season with confidence-booster against a pedestrian defense, but that won't be the case. We need to see a big year-two leap from the Steelers quarterback, and it's going to be hard to expect a great performance from the date -- especially considering the offensive line will need some time to gel.

Steelers schedule 2023: Game-by-game predictions. dark. Next

In my game-by-game predictions, I chalked this up as a loss of Pittsburgh. If they can somehow catch the 49ers napping, this would be an outstanding win that could help them get on a run early before a brutal slate of games to close out the 2023 season. Pickett will have from now until September 10th to prepare for this contest. Let's hope he's up for the challenge.