It’s a tough Monday to be at work. Between the holiday’s and a big Monday night matchup between the Steelers and 49ers, I’m betting plenty of Steelers fans will have issues focusing today. With that in mind, here are 10 thoughts I have on tonight’s matchup between Pittsburgh and San Francisco on Monday Night Football.
1. It looks like Ben Roethlisberger will play. This is good and bad. I think winning tonight and hopefully clinching a first round bye in the playoffs is important. But it’s not worth injuring the $100m QB over. Assuming the Steelers get the 5th seed in the AFC, the first round matchup shouldn’t be too difficult. They are likely playing the AFC west winner. If Big Ben is getting beat up early and often and too injured to scramble, I’m taking him out.
2. The 49ers gave up pass plays of 60, 53 and 46 yards last week against John Skelton and the Arizona Cardinals. The gameplan will likely call for Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball quickly, but San Francisco is beatable deep.
3. San Francisco has injury issues of their own. Patrick Willis, the best inside linebacker in the game, didn’t practice all week and is likely out tonight. LT Joe Staley hasn’t practiced with contact all week after suffering a concussion last week. Looks like he might go though.
4. The 49ers have allowed 18 sacks in the last three games. While it would be nice to have James Harrison available (especially if Staley is out), look for LaMarr Woodley to have a big game.
5. Alex Smith’s QB ratings the last three games: 61.1, 142.3, 62.3.
6. Here’s a whale of a tidbit: San Francisco hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown yet this season. They are the league’s top defense against the run. The Steelers don’t rely on the run too much anymore and don’t expect that to change tonight.
7. Pittsburgh has been potent on their first offensive drive, scoring touchdowns in six of their opening posessions. Again, the 49ers haven’t allowed an opening drive touchdown all year long.
8. 49ers with ties to Pittsburgh: TE Nate Byham, LB Navorro Bowman, CB Shawntae Spencer, P Andy Lee.
9. Even if the Steelers lose tonight, they could still win the division. The Steelers finish the year playing two cupcakes: St. Louis and Cleveland. Baltimore plays Cleveland and then ends the year at Cincinnati. The Ravens have been an awful team on the road for much of the year and could easily lose that season finale against a Bengals team that will likely be playing for a playoff berth.
10. Prediction: 49ers 20 Steelers 14