Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3 SU, 6-6 ATS) at San Francisco 49ers (10-3 SU, 10-2-1 ATS), Monday Night Football, December 19th, 2011. 8:30PM EST, NFL Football Week 15
Candlestick Park San Francisco, Ca
By Jay Horne, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Pit OFF/SF OFF
Over/Under Total: OFF
Big time football hits the Monday Night stage this week when the San Francisco 49ers host the Pittsburgh Steelers inside Candlestick Park. Both the Steelers and the 49ers currently sport the 2nd best records in the NFL at the 10-3 mark behind only the Green Bay Packers. Not only have both teams played extremely well this year, but each has the potential to make a run at their respected conference championships. Luckily the nation will get the privilege of watching a rare late season match-up between two of the best from the AFC and NFC.
The Steelers scored a big Thursday night win against Cleveland last week 14-3 and will have a few extra days rest advantage over the 49ers. However, QB Ben Roethlisberger was hurt in that game with a high ankle sprain. Even though Big Ben returned to action to in the 2nd half in the victory over the Browns, his status is still ‘day to day.’ However, it’s highly unlikely anything will keep Roethlisberger out of the game even if he is not at 100%. Even while Roethlisberger was hobbling on one good ankle last week, he still managed to complete 16 of 21 passing for 280 yards for 2 scores and 1 pick. Therefore, I would not expect Roethlisberger to be anything but himself on the Monday Night Football stage.
So far this season wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown have been seemingly unstoppable in the passing game. Wallace leads the team with 1,034 receiving yards with 8 touchdowns while Brown has tallied 925 receiving yards with 2 additional scores. Collectively the Steelers receiving core should present some challenges for the 49ers defense especially if Big Ben has another strong performance. Though San Francisco has been rock solid on defense this year, they have had some difficulty against the pass giving up 235 yards per game. Therefore, it will be up to the Pittsburgh passing attack to continue to exploit any type of weakness in that San Francisco secondary.
On the other side of the field, San Francisco will have the unfortunate challenge of trying to overcome one of the tougher defensive units they have faced all season. Pittsburgh always has one of the better defensive units in the NFL and this season is no different. The Steelers currently rank 2nd in the NFL allowing just 276 yards and 15.2 points per game. However, don’t expect that to scare the 49ers who should have a chip on their shoulder after letting a close game against Arizona slip through their fingers last week. The 49ers had a 19-7 lead in that game before the Cardinals rallied from behind to steal a 21-19 victory.
So far this season, QB Alex Smith has had a surprisingly impressive year. Smith has completed 62% passing for 2,565 yards with 15 scores and 5 picks. The most important statistic is the interceptions that have been scarce this season. The type of football the 49ers play is only successful when the offense protects the ball. Therefore, that will priority number 1 in what is expected to be a close game this Monday.
Rest assuredly the 49ers offense will rely heavily on running back Frank Gore when the battle the Steelers. Gore has been the workhorse for the offense all season carrying the ball 234 times for 1,034 yards and 6 touchdowns. Gore carried the ball just 10 times for 71 yards in the loss to Arizona last week, but I would expect much more carries this week. In my opinion, the success San Francisco has running the football Monday Night will have a big impact on their chances to win. The Steelers normally are extremely tough against the run and if the 49ers do not run the ball well they could find their selves on the long side of the field. Therefore, keep a close eye on how effectively San Francisco moves the ball on the ground.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: There’s no line out for this game at time of print, but we’re likely to play the UNDER here if it comes out at 37 or more. SF is absolutely nasty at home on the defensive side of the ball and Pitt can hold their own as well. Points should be at a premium Monday night!
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