After Baltimore's loss on Sunday night, the Steelers have their chance to take sole possession of the AFC North and head into the final stretch before the playoffs with a shot at the No. 1 seed.
Both teams come in at 10-3 with defenses to thank for their success. Many believe the suspension of the Steelers' superstar linebacker gives the Niners the edge, but don't underestimate the “Steel Curtain.”
The Pittsburgh defense is ranked sixth in the NFL in stopping the run. They give up only 97 yards on the ground per game, while their pass defense is the top-ranked secondary in the league and hold opponents to 179 yards through the air.
Yes, Harrison’s suspension will alter the style of play on the Steelers’ part, but this team has played without Harrison this year and they’ve played well. The depth on the Steelers sideline will surely show its superiority at the linebacker position in players like Jason Worilds, who are able to step in and play important minutes.
In Pittsburgh’s 25-17 victory over the New England Patriots in Week 8, the Steelers were without Harrison and fellow linebacker James Farrior. Even so, they still managed to hold Brady and company to 213 total yards. Having Farrior in at linebacker will benefit the defense in slowing the Niners' offense.
Sure, the Niners have surprised the masses with their domination on the defensive end this season. However, the fact of the matter is, they too face the task of putting up some numbers on the offensive side of the ball.
The Steelers have faced some worthy opponents this year and have been able to keep their consistent high statistical rankings on the defensive side of the ball. On the other hand, the Niners offense has shown they have the ability to move the ball on the ground.
The 49ers rush game averages over 125 yards a game but weren’t able to prove it in their Week 14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The Cards (6-7) were able to hold the Niners' ground game to a mere 90 yards on 21 carries, while San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith managed 175 yards through the air on 18-for-37 passing.
Surely the Steelers’ defense is more dominant than Arizona’s defense and—even with Harrison’s suspension—Pittsburgh will show it on Monday night.
Expect the Steelers defense to slow the Niners' ground game early, just as the Cardinals did, and force multiple turnovers once Smith is forced to try and move the ball through the air.
Prediction: Steelers hold Niners’ rush game under 100 yards and pass for over 250 yards, while forcing two 49ers turnovers. Steelers win 31-13.