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2023 NFL Week 1 Betting Preview: San Francisco 49ers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

49ers (0-0) at Steelers (0-0)

Spread: Steelers +2

Total: 41.5

Weather: Chance of light rain

Line Report

The line for this contest opened as Pittsburgh Steelers +2.5 with a few +2 options out there. It’s since fluctuated between Steelers +3 and Steelers +2.5 for most of the offseason. Curiously, as DL Nick Bosa signed an extension Wednesday, the line has since moved to Steelers +2 at some shops.

The total opened at 43.5, while gradually falling down to as low as 40.5 before bouncing back up to 41.5 in the past few days.

Steelers Offense vs. 49ers Defense

Before we get into the Steelers' offense, Bosa’s return has a major impact on this contest. With Bosa, the San Francisco 49ers enter the season with the league’s best defense and arguably the best front four. San Francisco’s defense has a trench advantage in this contest.

Steelers second-year QB Kenny Pickett is well-positioned for a strong sophomore campaign. Pittsburgh improved its offensive line this offseason, has two quality running backs and has a solid group of pass catchers. If Pickett takes a step forward, the Steelers' offense could be a fringe top-10 unit. 

San Francisco allowed the sixth-most receiving yards to opposing wide receivers last year, including the eighth-most fantasy points to perimeter receivers. Diontae Johnson led the league in perimeter snaps last year, while George Pickens was 13th. We wouldn’t call the 49ers a below-average pass defense by any means, so those production stats are a little misleading.

However, Johnson and Pickens are in a better matchup than most would believe. Pat Freiermuth is a top-10 pass-catching tight end, but he draws a slightly negative matchup against the 49ers.

San Francisco allowed the fewest rushing yards per game to running backs last season. We expect the Steelers' backfield workload to be split with Najee Harris at 65 percent and Jaylen Warren at 35 percent. This is a poor matchup for both runners, but we’ll monitor Pittsburgh’s exact running back deployments.

49ers Offense vs. Steelers Defense

TE George Kittle is trending toward being limited for this contest, if not outright missing it. The Steelers' defense didn’t have any truly exploitable areas last season, but their cornerbacks are the most questionable group on the team.

Even if Kittle misses this contest, QB Brock Purdy still has Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. Once Purdy took over in Week 13, Aiyuk’s 24.7 percent target share slightly led Samuel’s 22 percent. Kittle had a 22 percent target share with Purdy in the regular season. Last season, Pittsburgh was a middle-of-the-pack defense against wide receivers and tight ends.

49ers LT Trent Williams is arguably the best offensive lineman in the league. That said, San Francisco’s offensive line is otherwise questionable. The Steelers have a top-five front, and they have a trench advantage.

Kyle Shanahan is one of the NFL’s best game planners, and he’ll help mitigate that disparity, but Pittsburgh’s front can affect Purdy. The only premium front Purdy played a whole game against last season was Dallas'. San Francisco scored just 19 points against the Cowboys in that playoff matchup.

What You’re Betting On

This is a contest between two well-coached, similarly well-built rosters that both have second-year quarterbacks.

If the Steelers are going to win, they have to make Purdy uncomfortable. The Steelers' pass rush is capable of accomplishing that, even though Shanahan will put Purdy in the best possible position to succeed. For Pittsburgh’s offense, the 49ers are a tough opening day draw. Even though the Steelers’ offense will likely be better this season, it’s hard to expect a breakthrough performance against San Francisco. Ultimately, a bet on Pittsburgh is primarily a bet on the Steelers' defense and a bet against Purdy.

Purdy has one of, if not the best, supporting casts in football. The 49ers have the league’s best defense, a loaded skill group and a high-end head coach. The Steelers have one of the league’s best defenses, an ascending young skill group and a high-end head coach themselves.

The 49ers enjoy a talent advantage against virtually everyone, but the margin is closer than many might expect against Pittsburgh. If San Francisco plays its best game, it will be hard to beat. But ultimately, this matchup boils down to Purdy.

We saw what he could do last season in the 49ers' system when he's comfortable. When he wasn’t, against Dallas, we saw a close, defensive-driven contest. A low-scoring game is the most likely outcome in this matchup. One way or another, Purdy will be the difference in this scenario.

Score Prediction: Steelers 20, 49ers 17

Ryan’s Recent Betting Record

ATS 2021: 49-31

ATS 2022: 48-32

Props 2022: 60-40

Ryan is the associate director of fantasy and betting at The 33rd Team. Ryan has been covering NFL betting markets for five years. Follow Ryan @RyanReynoldsNFL on TwitterInstagram or Facebook.